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VALLE D'AOSTA  --  LIGURIA   WINES



VALLE D'AOSTA



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 Blanc)...
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 confused.

Then there are 7 DOC's:
· BLANC DE MORGEX ET DE LA SALLE
· ENFER D'ARVIER
· TORRETTE
· NUS
· CHAMBAVE
· ARNAD MONTJOVET
· DONNAS



Here's the roster of wines:

WINE GRAPE VARIETIES WINE NOTES
Blanc de Morgex et de La Salle DOC

Prié Blanc

Light floral notes, mildly minerally...crisp acidity...typical 10.5% to 12% alcohol...
Nus Malvoisie DOC Pinot Gris Mildly fruity, flowery fragrances...dry...
Nus Malvoisie Flétri
DOC
Pinot Gris A Passito-styled wine with elevated alcohol (16%, or so)...
Chambave Muscat DOC Muscat Usually intense, light yellow in color, dry and slightly bitter, while fruity.
Chambave Muscat Flétri DOC Muscat Passito of Muscat, this is usually a honeyed and somewhat jammy dessert wine.
Torrette DOC 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" designation.
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.
Arnad-Montjovet DOC 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.
Donnas DOC 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.  
OTHER WINES:

You'll also find numerous varietal bottlings and these must contain 90% of the grape indicated on the label...
Chardonnay
Fumin (a red grape that is very dark in color)
Müller-Thurgau
Gamay
Pinot Noir
Pinot Gris
Petit Arvine
Petit Rouge
Prëmetta (another local red variety, often used for pink wine)
Cornalin (red grape. also known as Humagne Rouge)

Other local grape varieties include:
Vuillermin
Mayolet (or Majolet)
Ner d’Ala
Roussin
Sauvignon
Grenache
Merlot
Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Franc
Barbera
Neyret
Traminer
Gewürztraminer
Bonda
Crovassa


You will also find generic wines labeled using the Valle d'Aosta name along with Rosso/Rouge, Bianco/Blanc or Rosé/Rosato notations.

ERMES PAVESE

At 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
The 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: none.

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 ARVINE  $26.99
We can special order some of their other wines.

 

 

 

LA CROTTA DI VEGNERON

This 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 two DOC's...

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.


We 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 juice.))

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 winemaking.

Currently in stock:  2010 LA CROTTA DI VEGNERON "FUMIN" $31.99




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

The 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

ANSELMET

ANSELMET

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 for us.

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 recently.



The 2012 Chambave Muscat is sensational!

It's difficult to get worked up about Muscat, but this is a fantastic dry white.

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 bitter.

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 recently.
And the wine was a hit at our Thanksgiving Dinner...
The 2011 did not take a back seat to Guigal's $100 bottle of Condrieu, by the way.
The 2012 is as stellar, being beautifully intense.

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 wine.
Fried seafood?  Yes.
Asian-styled dishes?  Yes.
Steak?  Not so much.

Currently in stock:  2012 ANSELMET CHAMBAVE MUSCAT  Sale $29.99

 

 

LA POLENZA

There's 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 wine.  

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 d'Aosta


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 Menu Surprise.
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 wine list.

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 afterwards):

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 little pots...

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 delicious!

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!

Impressive.
And delicious.


Duck Breast...


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!


 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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