VALLE D'AOSTA -- LIGURIA WINES
Well in the shadows of its famous neighbor, Piemonte, are the mountainous
vineyards of the Val d'Aosta. Here you'll find truly high elevation
vineyards in relatively small parcels, planted hither and yon.
This small region is in northwestern Italy, within easy driving distance of
France, Switzerland and Piemonte.
The terrain is rugged, to say the least.
And it's a major ski resort in winter...
The climate does not really allow for vintners to produce big, deep,
concentrated, "gobs-of-fruit" sorts of wines. While summer
temperatures during the day can be rather warm, given the high altitude, the
night time temperatures tend to plummet, allowing the grapes to retain a tangy
level of acidity. This meteorological dynamic tends to produce wines of
fine aromatics, but don't expect "heavyweight" wines.
The grape varieties can be challenging or very familiar.
You'll find Piemontese varieties such as Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Moscato along
with French cultivars such as Gamay, Chardonnay, Syrah and Pinot Noir. The
Swiss have an influence, too, with Petite Arvine.
Then there are the local Val d'Aosta varieties:
Petit Rouge, Fumin, Prëmetta, Blanc de Morgex (which is also known as Prié
Now add to the story that Nebbiolo might be called Picotendo or Picoutener
and Pinot Grigio is known as Malvoisie and you're suddenly very easily
Then there are 7 DOC's:
· BLANC DE MORGEX ET DE LA SALLE
· ENFER D'ARVIER
· ARNAD MONTJOVET
Here's the roster of wines:
|Blanc de Morgex et de La
|Light floral notes, mildly minerally...crisp
acidity...typical 10.5% to 12% alcohol...
|Nus Malvoisie DOC
||Mildly fruity, flowery fragrances...dry...
|Nus Malvoisie Flétri
||A Passito-styled wine with elevated alcohol
(16%, or so)...
|Chambave Muscat DOC
||Usually intense, light yellow in color, dry
and slightly bitter, while fruity.
|Chambave Muscat Flétri
||Passito of Muscat, this is usually a honeyed
and somewhat jammy dessert wine.
||At least 70% Petit Rouge with Pinot
Noir, Gamay, Fumin, Vien de Nus, Dolcetto, Majolet or Prëmetta.
||Medium-full bodied red wine with mild
tannins. A slightly higher 'octane' version will bear the "Supérieur"
|Nus Rouge DOC
||At least 50% Vien de
Nus, with Petit Rouge (30%) and other authorized vines (20% max)
||Medium bodied red with mild red fruit notes
and often a lightly herbal/vegetal tone.
||At least 70% Nebbiolo with Dolcetto,
Pinot Nero, Neyret, Freisa and Vien de Nus comprising the rest.
||Somewhat leathery and earthy, along the lines
of a Piemontese Nebbiolo...a "Supérieur" version is
slightly more potent. Can be a bit aggressive.
|Enfer Arvier DOC
||At least 85% Petit Rouge with Vien
de Nus, Neyret, Dolcetto, Pinot Nero and Gamay.
||Despite coming from a site described as
reminiscent of inferno, this usually weighs in around 12.5%
alcohol. Garnet in color, medium-light bodied and mildly tannic.
||Minimum of 85% Nebbiolo
(called Picotendro) with Freisa and Neyret.
||"Mountain Barolo" is how some of
the locals characterize this wine. It used to be spelled Donnaz.
The Piemonte wine of Carema is its closest neighbor.
|Chambave Rouge DOC
||Petit Rouge must account for
at least 70% of this wine with Dolcetto, Gamay and Pinot Nero.
||Medium to medium-full bodied, sometimes a bit
rustic...mild tannins, dark red fruit notes...The 1961 from Ezio Voyat
is/was a legendary wine.
You'll also find numerous varietal
bottlings and these must contain 90% of the grape indicated on the
Fumin (a red grape that is very dark in color)
Prëmetta (another local red variety, often used for pink wine)
Cornalin (red grape. also known as Humagne Rouge)
Other local grape varieties include:
Mayolet (or Majolet)
You will also find generic wines labeled using the Valle d'Aosta name
along with Rosso/Rouge, Bianco/Blanc or Rosé/Rosato notations.
3900 feet above sea level, you'll have trouble getting most wine grapes to a
modest level of maturity.
But that's what Ermes Pavese does, toiling in the vineyards in the shadows
of Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco to the Italians).
The grape is called Prié Blanc and it's nicely suited to the rugged growing
conditions. For one thing, it doesn't waken from its winter slumber
until fairly late, so it can miss frost in the Spring.
Sometimes. And it ripens early. Luckily, since at its high
elevation of 1200 meters and shaded by high mountain peaks, it doesn't
exactly bask in the Summer sunshine.
The region is so rugged, the root louse Phylloxera never made it to these
difficult environs. As a result, Pavese is able to plant Prie Blanc on
its own roots, without having to graft onto Phylloxera-resistant root-stock.
Wine gurus and groupies speak about "terroir" in wine and they
sometimes use the term "minerality." Here's a shining
example of both, as this is a wine of modest alcohol level and moderately
high acidity. You can taste the almost stony notes in the wine and
it's crisp and tangy.
Some people describe this as having the fragrance of "Biancospino"
(hawthorn)...I find more of a stony quality and a barely ripe pear kind of
fruitiness. No oak.
We like this as a cocktail wine or we serve it early in a meal to help set up
a more important red wine. Pairing it with antipasti or a little seafood
pasta is ideal.
- Currently in stock: ERMES PAVESE BLANC DE MORGEX $26.99
- LES CRÊTES
Charrère family operates this 25 hectare estate with vineyard holdings
scattered in the towns of Saint Pierre, Aymavilles, Gressan, Sarre, Aosta
and Saint Christophe.
The family tree has roots dating back to around 1750 and various
generations have long been involved in agricultural pursuits...grape
vines, walnuts, apples for cider, wheat for flour and olives for
oil. Today they focus on wine production and the winery is very
highly regarded for its impressive roster of reds and whites.
- We often have bottles of their Petite Arvine, a mildly minerally and dry
white wine. This grape variety, you'll be told by the Swiss, originated
in Switzerland. Come to the Valle d'Aosta and you'll learn it is a
variety indigenous to this Italian locality. The fruit typically
takes until the end of September to be ripe and the juice is fermented in
stainless steel and left for about 6 months on the spent yeast to give it
a bit more "oomph." We like the faintly minerally,
hinting-at-grapefruit notes and they use just the right amount of oak:
Les Crêtes is well-known for its wood-aged Chardonnay, a wine which is
fermented in a couple of types of French oak barrels. It's given the
full treatment...with regular lees-stirring to add a toasty note to the
sweet wood spice. While we appreciate this wine, it does strike us
as costing much more here in California than comparable wines from
Burgundy, for example.
The barrels can easily be rotated and this is an efficient
method for doing a bâtonnage.
This property also produces several blended red wines, along with
mono-varietal Fumin, Syrah and Pinot Noir.
Currently in stock: 2006 LES CRÊTES PETITE
We can special order some of their other wines.
LA CROTTA DI VEGNERON
is a smallish grape grower's co-operative winery founded in 1980.
They're located in the town of Chambave, but have vineyards scattered in
ten different towns in the Valle d'Aosta. Chambave and Nus are their
The winery was founded in 1980 and had 25 growers participating.
Today they cultivate 37 hectares of vineyards and produce around 300,000
bottles of wine.
- Ives Burgay, the Father of Fumin is gentleman on the left.
He is also the Papa of Passito.
Burgay was instrumental in organizing growers who today form this
impressive, small winemaking cooperative.
have a red wine from this winery and it's made of the grape
"Fumin." This is a variety which is said to have a
long history in the region. It is some sort of "coloring"
variety which can make a deep, intensely pigmented wine. It is one
of the few black grapes that, when you squeeze it, yields juice with some
color. ((Most black grapes yield clear juice and only have
red/purple color when you macerate the skins of the grapes with the
So, Ives Burgay told us about his work with the Fumin grape. When he
was a youngster, his grandmother warned him about 'playing around' in an
old patch in the woods as it was, most likely, a place which was
"haunted." At least that was the local legend.
Baited by this, Burgay, of course, ventured into the forest and found
there were a few "wild" vines in this haunt. He ended up
propagating these and, later, the vines were analyzed by a local
university...now Fumin is rather widely-cultivated between Aymavilles and
Chambave thanks to Burgay's adventuresome spirit.
We like not only the color, but the dark fruit aromas and the mild tannins
and nice berry-like flavors. The 2010 is in stock
presently...nicely spicy, medium-bodied dry red. It's matured for about a year in
wood, but oak is not a major part of this wine. This is immediately drinkable and we're curious to see how it develops with bottle
aging. In "ghost-like" type on the label, you'll see
the name "Espirit Follet," a reference to the crazy
"spirit" which was said to have haunted that little vineyard in
the forest. They typically produce around 6000 bottles annually, a
drop in the world's wine bucket, if that!
Burgay, by the way, deserves credit for his work in making Passito wine in
the Val d'Aosta. It took him quite a few years, by trial and error,
and with the 1976 he finally got it right. Today, many Aosta
wineries produce some form of a Passito wine, following in the footsteps
of a fellow who's small in stature, but a veritable giant in local
Currently in stock: 2010 LA CROTTA DI VEGNERON
Bottles of wine made by Ives Burgay, long before the advent of the La
Crotta di Vegneron winery.
It's great to see this little slice of Val d'Aosta history being preserved
and in the spotlight in the winery tasting room.
CAVE DU VIN BLANC DE MORGEX & LASALLE
winery called the Cave du Vin Blanc was founded in 1983 and it comprises
something like 90 growers.
Winemaker Gianluca Telloli produces a bottling of the local white wine for
a US importer and this label is called 4000 Metres
Vin d'Altitude in honor of the high elevation of the imposing
mountains one can see (when the weather permits). The town of Morgex
(with about 1400 residents) is close to 4000 feet in elevation.
They designed a nice label for the wine and it's a good example of this
light, crisp, mildly minerally "mountain white" wine.
Our colleague Bob Gorman enjoyed this wine and has been surprised how well
it's being received by customers. When you're in an area where so
many people find a bottle of Rombauer Chardonnay to be the height of
sophistication, this wine is not likely to be well understood.
We suppose in an era featuring global warming and winemakers seeking to
make the biggest, most massive, potent wines possible, there might be a
few customers who appreciate a low alcohol wine with no oak, no sugar and
a bit of 'snap'.
So...here it is!
Gianluca Telloli shows off typical Val d'Aosta viticulture.
Tasting in the cellar.
They're making a bit of rather good sparkling wine, too.
Here are a couple of classic and ancient bottles which were
displayed in the winery...
Currently in stock: 2008 4000 METRES "Blanc de
Morgex & LaSalle" (list $24) Sold Out
- The Anselmet family winery is a fairly recent story, but the family's
roots go back to the 1500s in the Val d'Aosta.
In 1978, the patriarch of the family began making and bottling a tiny
amount of wine for personal consumption. He, apparently, enjoyed the
fruits of his labor to the point that he purchased more land and planted
more vineyards. They're not terribly large, though, making well less
than 10,000 cases annually.
I'd been interested to snoop around the Val d'Aosta, having driven through
on the autostrada a few times, but never having enough time to poke
around. I'd put together a modest itinerary and our Milanese friends
Andrea & Gloria insisted we stop at Anselmet, as the wines are of
'serious' quality. Gloria called Anselmet and they opened the door
And, indeed, we found good wines.
Muller-Thurgau, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Petite Arvine, Syrah, Pinot
Noir...and more! And all pretty good, too.
Back home, though, the wines were not easy to acquire. Until
The 2011 Chambave Muscat is sensational!
It's difficult to get worked up about Muscat, but this is a fantastic dry
Too bad the word "dry" is invisible to some people when they see
the name "Muscat."
But Chambave Muscat is typically a dry white wine of medium body.
Producers will tell you the wine often has a slightly bitter finish
because, well, they ferment all the sugar and it's inherently a tad
Anselmet's is remarkably intense and smells like a room full of baskets
and picking bins full of Muscat. It's that pungent. You can
smell the "green" in the grapes.
Well, we thoroughly were smitten by this wine at the picnic table
And the wine was a hit at our Thanksgiving Dinner...
- It did not take a back seat to Guigal's $100 bottle of Condrieu, by the
Muscat is a great match for asparagus, so if you're starting a dinner with
Prosciutto draped over some tender spears of Asparagus...this is your
Fried seafood? Yes.
Asian-styled dishes? Yes.
Steak? Not so much.
Currently in stock: 2011 ANSELMET CHAMBAVE
MUSCAT Sale $29.99
a somewhat well known sweet wine made in Liguria and we periodically have
a request for it.
Typically this comes from someone who spent a few days along the coast of
Italy, perhaps in the Cinque Terre region (in general) or the town of
Portofino or La Spezia (in particular).
The traveler was enjoying a wonderful meal and perhaps a spectacular
view...and they were offered a sip of a lovely sweet wine to finish their
meal. The wine is called Sciacchetra (it sounds like "shock-a-trah")
and these people are routinely "shocked" to learn this stuff
costs an arm and a leg.
The wine comes from sparse-yielding vines perched along the Italian Riviera
and the grapes are then left to dehydrate and dry before being crushed and
pressed. This is labor intensive and yields minuscule quantities of
The La Polenza estate makes 3000 half bottles annually of this
nectar. It's 80% Bosco and 10% each of Albarola and Vermentino.
After the fermentation, the wine spends 2 years in wood. The resulting
wine is golden/brassy in color and has aromas reminiscent of ripe apricots,
peach pie and some sort of tropical fruit note (papaya or is that mango?)...It's
sweet but not sticky.
This is supposed to sell for around $80 a half bottle. We
sale tag it at $59.99 since we're tired of watching people have a coronary seizure
when they hear the price.
Currently in stock: LA POLENZA SCIACCHETRA
Sold Out...Importer Gave up the Ghost for the moment...
- UNDER CONSTRUCTION
A Fancy Meal in the Val
In researching for our tour of the Val
d'Aosta, I'd seen good notes about this place. I sent an
e-mail asking about a reservation and immediately received a
response with a note asking if we had any food "allergies"
or "issues." I responded saying I was not a fan of
cheese and one other fellow was allergic to mussels and
oysters...they took note and tailored the menu to our tastes.
We threw caution to the wind and all ordered the
They pay attention to detail at cafe Quinson...
Other than our party of three, there was but one
other table occupied on a quiet Thursday night in May (2010).
We began with a small 'amuse bouche' while we perused the menu and
We then opted for the Menu Surprise and asked if they could pair
each course with an appropriate wine from the Val d'Aosta.
And they have quite a wine list...
Here's the menu we enjoyed (they sent it to me
And the wines we had along the way...
The "Insalata Russa" in a jar...
Then they brought out a "hamburger"
which was sort of like Piemontese Carne Cruda, except this was Tuna!
Salmon Trout and Ham...
Next was a remarkable course...brought to the table in individual
And unveiled simultaneously, revealing....
...little ravioli, house-made, stuffed at the last minute with sea
scallops and smoked with juniper wood...very aromatic and stunning.
Another pasta course followed...
Tagliolini pasta with pancetta, crab meat and tomatoes...simple and
One of the ladies then came out with a bottle of sweet wine and I
said "Oh my, this might be an indication that fegato grasso
(foie gras) is on the horizon!"
And, sure enough!
There was a cheese course next, with a 'spoon' of a sorbet made of
three types of milk.
Then some desserts...
And a dessert wine...
After the meal we went downstairs to have a look
at the Cafe Quinson cellar.
And we said a big "thank you" and "bravo" to
Chef Agostino Buillas
We look forward to a return visit!