Monday, October 6, 2014

Italy Unit 6 - Valle d’Aosta

The following are my notes for studying the wines of the Valle d’Aosta wine region of Italy. In these notes I provide information about the topography, climate, soils, important red and white wines and extensive information on the DOCs and DOCGS of the region. I then provide notes on the wines I tasted from this region.

Valle d’Aosta (the Aosta Valley) is also known locally in French as Vallée d’Aoste. It is located in northwestern Italy bordering the Rhône-Alpes, France to the west, Valais, Switzerland to the north and Piemonte to the south and east. As Italy’s smallest and least populous region, most of it too mountainous for agriculture. The principal winemaking region of the Valle d'Aosta is found along the eastern banks of the Dora Baltea (Doire Baltée) river with the city of Aosta, the capital and largest town, serving as the central winemaking location. 

Valle d’Aosta has the smallest wine production of any Italian region as it produces only approximately 220,000 cases per year. Consequently its wines are difficult to find on the international market, but fortunately I was able to find two wines at a specialty shop in San Francisco. Valle d’Aosta is an easy region to study as it has just one DOC with no DOCGs or IGPs, but it does have seven distinct sub-appellations.

Valle d’Aosta has a continental climate with long, cold winters and short, hot summers.
Valle d’Aosta DOC
The only DOC is Valle d’Aosta, however it does have 7 sub-appellations and it is common to see them referred to as a DOC. Varietal bottlings and these must contain 90% of the grape indicated on the label.
1. Arnad-Montjovet
This subzone produces only red wines and the main grape is Nebbiolo known locally as Picotendro or Picoutener. The blend from this subzone must consist of at least 70% Nebbiolo with Dolcetto, Pinot Nero, Neyret, Freisa and Vien de Nus comprising the rest of the blend. Wines labeled Superiore must have been aged for at least 12 months prior to release. The rain shadow of the western Alps provides the vineyards with warm, dry summers and low levels of rainfall. Steep vineyard sites ensure an efficient exposure to sunlight during ripening and most vineyards are located on the eastern side of the valley which gives them more sun in the late afternoon. A significant diurnal temperature variation slows ripening, ensuring that acidity is not lost as the grapes develop rich flavor intensity.
2. Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle
The Morgex et de la Salle vineyard zone covers the south-facing slopes from the river's edge up to the 1300m (4265ft) contour line within the two municipalities of Morgex and La Salle. It provides the primary production of Prié Blanc. The vineyards consist of small, individual plots surrounded by stone walls which help create microclimates that insulate vines as they capture the daytime heat and radiate it back onto the vines during the cooler evenings.
3. Chambave
Chambave produces dry red wines made from Petit Rouge which must account for at least 70% of the red wines wine with the remaining 30% being Dolcetto, Gamay Fumin, and/or Pinot Nero. The region also produces white wines from Moscato Bianco which range from dry and aromatic to sweet and honeyed labeled passito or flétri, depending on their alcohol content.
4. Donnas
This subzone produces only red wines made from a minimum of 85% Nebbiolo (Picotendro) Nebbiolo with the remaining consisting of local varieties such as Petite Rouge, Fumin, Freisa and Neyret. Donnas wines must be aged for at least 24 months (10 months in oak), whereas other Aosta sub-appellations only require 5 months. Superiore must be aged 30 months prior to release.
5. Enfer d’Arvier
The name “Enfer” is French for “Hell” which is derived from very hot summers as the vineyards in Arvier sit at high altitudes of up to 3000 ft (900m) above sea level providing hot days with high solar intensity which then cool quickly at night during the growing season. In addition, the soils consist predominantly of sandy loam, from glacial origins, which store warmth during hot days, reflecting it back on the vines at night. This is a very small subzone consists of 12 acres (5 ha) of vines grown on the steep, south-facing slopes above the river Dora Baltea  located just 16 miles (25km) from Mont Blanc on the border of France. It produces red wines made from at least 85% Petit Rouge with the remaining 15% Vien de Nus, Neyret, Dolcetto, Pinot Nero and Gamay.
6. Nus
This subzone produces two distinct wines: Nus Rouge made with at least 50% Vien de Nus, with Petit Rouge (30%) and other authorized vines (20% max). To qualify for superiore status, the wine must be aged for 8 months prior to release, instead of the usual 5 of other subzones. The other wine from this region is white, Nus Malvoisie made from Pinot Grigio, either dry or sweet made from air-dried grapes whichare labeled as passito or flétri depending on their levels of alcohol.
7. Torrette
Torrette is the largest of the seven sub-regions of the Valle d'Aosta Torrette DOC. It covers the steep slopes of the Dora Baltea river valley between Arvier and the city of Aosta itself. It produces red wines that must be at least 70% Petit Rouge with Pinot Noir, Gamay, Fumin, Vien de Nus, Dolcetto, Majolet or Prëmetta. Valle d'Aosta Torrette wines are required to age for 5 months before they are released and superiore requires at least 8 months before being released for sale.
Key White Grape Varieties
Prié Blanc
Also known as Blanc de Morgex, Blanc du Valdigne, and Agostena it is responsible for the still and sparkling wines of La Salle, grown at one of Europe’s highest vineyard elevations on the slopes of Mont Blanc. Ampelographers believe it is one of the oldest grape varieties in the Valle d'Aosta. Recent DNA analysis has connected it to the Spanish wine grapes of Lairén in Andalusia and Albillo in Ribera del Duero and province of Ávila. However, it is not yet known if the grape originated in Spain and traveled to Italy or whether it originated in Italy. There have are two clones of Prié blanc found in the Valle d'Aosta region,  Valdigne and Valpelline although the latter is is now considered largely extinct. It is used make dry wines with "fresh" acidity levels and aromas of white flowers and hay. But it is also used to make dessert wines and metodo classico sparkling wines.
Pinot Grigio
Known locally as Malvoisie, internationally it is known as Grauburgunder, Grauer Burgunder, Pinot Gris, and Ruländer.
Key Red Grape Varieties
Approximately 60% of Valle d’Aosta’s wines are red which include the following.
DNA evidence has confirmed that there is some link between the grape and Mossana as well as with the Nosiola grape of the Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol wine region of northeast Italy. It is close to extinction with less than 3 hectares (7.4 acres) of old vine vineyards in existence around Châtillon and Quart in the Valle d'Aosta. The few producers who still make wine from Bonda usually use the grape as a blending component with other red grapes.
Crovassa Nera
Also known as Croassa Crovassa, it is an indigenous red grape variety rom the border area of ​​Italy / Switzerland in the towns of Donnas and Issogne. It is only cultivated in small quantities and is nearly extinct.
Also known as Majolet, Majolet Bon Vin, and Maiolet. It is usually blended with Petit Rouge in several Aosta Valley sub-zones, most notably Torrette, the dominant variety of the region, but is occasionally made into varietal wines. Along with Petit Rouge, it is a parent variety to the Rouge du Pays grape variety that is cultivated in the Valais region on the other side of the Alps in Switzerland.
Known locally as Picotendro, Picotendo or Picoutener it provides a high proportion of the blend for Donnas and Arnad-Montjovet reds.
Also known as Negret, Neiret, Neirette, Neret, Neret Gros, Neret Picciou, Neret Rare and Serre. It is NOT the same grape that goes by the same name in Tuscany, which also goes by Bonamico. This Neyret is a crossing of Mayolet and Roussin used to produce Rosso and rosé wine. Frequently blended with Nebbiolo in Arnad and Montjovet
Petit Rouge
Ampelographers believe is this is an indigenous grape to the Valle d'Aosta but it may be the same variety as the red Swiss wine grape Rouge de Valais. It is the primary grape in wines from Torrette, Chambave, and Enfer d’Arvier
Pinot Nero
A synonym for Pinot Noir, grown internationally it is also known as Blauburgunder, Blauer Spätburgunder, and Spätburgunder. It Italy it is grown predominantly in the north, with the largest concentrations in Lombardia (59%), Trentino–Alto Adige (12%), and Veneto (9%) and is frequently used to produce Metado Classico sparkling wines.
Also known as Prié Rouge, Prié Neblou, and Primaticcio. It is a thin-skinned, low-pigment grape variety used in the production of rosé and rosato natural (lightly colored red wine) and some spumante. It is an early-ripening vine with large pink-orange colored grapes. It produces wine that is low in tannins with sour cherry and strawberry flavors and is best consumed young. It is grown only in a few high-altitude vineyards near the Swiss border.
A dark-skinned grape variety indigenous to the Aosta Valley. It almost became extinct but was saved by a few dedicated producers. It is often blended with other local and international grapes, adding a purple-ruby color and firm structure.
A French Beaujolais grape, in Italy it is primarily grown in Umbria (51%), Toscana (17%), and Valle d’Aosta (14%).
Ner d’Ala
Also known as Gros Vien and Vernassa this blue/black grape that grows in large, pyramid-shaped bunches. It is grown around the towns of Montjovet and Arnad. But also found in very minute quantities in the more central parts of the region. It has faced near extinction but it is still found in the vineyards of Chatillon, Saint-Denis, Nus, Quart and Saint-Christophe. It tens to ripen shortly before Nebbiolo.
First documented under the name Vuillermin in 1890, the grape was virtually extinct until it was discovered by ampelographers at the Institut Agricole Régional of Aosta growing in isolated vineyards in communes of Châtillon and Pontey. In 2011, DNA analysis showed that Vuillermin was the offspring of Fumin.

The Wines

While studying Valle d’Aosta I tasted the following wines:

2009 Feudo Di San Maurizio Vuillermin

A dark opaque red wine, dark purple/black at the core to violet at the rim with minimal rim variation, medium+ viscosity. Moderate intense aromas of stewed and dried plums, blackberries, teriyaki beef jerky, and damp autumn leaves. On the palate it is dry with moderate tannins, medium+ acidity and a moderate length finish. This wine sells for $48.99 at Enoteca Vino Nostro in San Francisco.

2008 Feudo Di San Maurizio Fumin

A dark opaque red wine, dark purple/black at the core to violet at the rim with minimal rim variation and medium+ viscosity. On the nose its has moderate intense aromas of dried black fruits, stewed plums, dark red cherries, hints of smoked meat, leather, and sweet pipe tobacco and just a hint of spice. On the palate it is driven by black fruit and smoked meats with sour cherries and spice on the finish. It has medium tannin, medium/medium+ acidity and a moderate length finish. This wine sells for $29.99 at Enoteca Vino Nostro in San Francisco.

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