Chapter 16 – Valle d’Aosta
Valle d’Aosta is the Italian smallest and least populous region, just one-eighth the size of neighboring Piedmont. It covers a mountainous corner of Italy’s far northwest, where the nation’s borders meet those of France and Switzerland.
Despite the region’s small size and minimal fame, a wide range of both red and white wines are made here from a selection of both native and international grape varieties. Being so close to Piedmont, you will not be so surprised that one of the most important red varieties is Nebbiolo, which is known here as Picotendro.
Aosta is clearly influenced by its neighbors. French is the official second language here, and French grape varieties are just as common here as Italian varieties. Chardonnay and Gamay are grown side by side by Nebbiolo and Dolcetto.
Petit Rouge, Fumin and Vien de Nus are some of the most widely used native red grapes, some of these are well suited to use in single-variety wines, others used only in blends and make interesting fresh and spicy wines. Fruity white wines are produced in both dry and sweet styles, from Prie Blanc, Moscato Bianco and Pinot Grigio.
The majority of the region wines are produced by several cooperative wineries, which between them have around 450 grower-members.
Although the Aosta Valley has no DOCG titles, this is not necessarily an indication that there is no high-quality wine of interest produced here. The curious mix of grapes, terroir and culture provides intrigue in this region’s wines.
Nestled among the Graian Alps, the region’s backbone is a narrow mountain valley that runs southeast from the heights of Mont Blanc to the border of Piedmont. The viticultural part of the valley extends between Morgex et de la Salle (home to some of Europe’s highest vineyards) and Donnas. This totals a distance of about 70 kilometers and along this route is the city of Aosta itself.
Heroic viticulture: Most vineyards in the Aosta Valley occupy the steep, south-facing slopes above the Dora Baltea river, a tributary of the Po. The dramatic topography and diminutive size of the valley mean that the area available for viticulture is limited. Many of the best vineyards here are on the lower slopes and climb steadily up the slopes to top altitudes of around 1300m above sea level.
The climate in the Aosta Valley is somewhat unusual for an Alpine wine region; its location on the sheltered side of the Western Alps means that it falls in a rain shadow and enjoys warm, dry summers. However, these warm, sunny days are followed by much cooler nights.
Various techniques are employed by vignerons to temper the worst effects of this diurnal temperature variation. The most visible of these is the training of the vines into pergolas, which helps to evenly distribute ground heat to the vines in the cold nights.
Most of the fragmented vineyards in the Aosta Valley are cut into terraces for a range of reasons. The most important reason is for ease of accessibility during harvest, but the terraces also help to slow erosion.
The thin, rocky soils here are both alluvial and colluvial in origin, and provide a stressful environment where vines must work hard to survive. This stress tends to result in the production of high-quality grapes with a good deal of concentration.
I am glad to present to you today, just before the International Women’s day, a winery owned and managed by a woman: Ilaria Bavastro.
Le Vieux Joseph is a small artisan winery set among these rocky mountains, composed by a total of about 2 hectares of vineyards, spread over various micro parcels, located around the Chetoz hamlet, in the commune of Quart.
Ilaria is the founder and wine maker of this small artisanal reality, which identifies its terroir on the left bank of the Dora Baltea, with soils from morainic, glacial and alluvial origin.
The Alberello-trained vineyards are placed on terraces so steep that they can be managed only by hand, so no mechanization.
The Vieux Joseph winery was founded in 2009, after Ilaria had her working experiences in Piedmont and Switzerland and then she came back to the Aosta Valley, in Quart, where her origins are rooted.
Determined to enhance the winemaking tradition of her region, Ilaria decides to follow the artisan traditions of wine making, respectful of the surrounding environment. The varieties that she raises with dedication are mainly native Valle d’Aosta grapes such as Cornalin, Vien de Nus, Petit Rouge and Fumin, some preserved by old centenary vines that are not very productive in terms of quantity, but are able to express in their grapes a great sensorial richness.
Even in the cellar each process is carried out without the use of synthetic chemicals, with simple and respectful vinifications that do not force the evolution of the wines. The only exception is very slight and homeopathic doses of sulfur when bottling, which parameters still remain far below the regional average levels.
Le Vieux Joseph’s “Clos de Cartesan” is a wine with a typically artisanal face, an interesting cuvée of red grapes, partly indigenous to the region, which includes: Petit Rouge, Cornalin, Fumin, Nebbiolo, Barbera and Ciliegiolo.
It is a wine with a territorial profile, a fragrant, intense mountain red with, fresh and with an amazing drinkability. The choice of aging mainly in stainless steel, with only a small percentage of wood, allows to preserve intact the fruity aromas of the grapes and that character of direct immediacy which is among the most pleasant characteristics of this wine.
The soil composition where the vineyards of Clos de Cartesan grow is mainly stony soils of ancient moraine and alluvial origin. Fermentation takes place spontaneously with indigenous yeasts, with a period of maceration on the skins of about 30 days. The wine ages 24 months, 80% in steel and 20% in barrique. It is bottled without clarification or filtration.
The perfect wine to be paired with the Tagliere Valdostano masterly prepared by Carlotta, as the wine as the perfect acidity and savouriness to balance the saltiness of the cold cuts and the tannins to clean the fat from the cheeses but at the same time has not too much structure that can overlay the food.
Carlotta’s food Story
I’ve shaped this week’s regional wine and food trip slightly differently from the rest, wanting to share with you an experience that’s very dear to me, in the hopes of reminding you of some great times you’ve spent in the mountains, or inviting you to create some new memories!
I’ve also hinted at the dish I’m going to share today a few times throughout the piece…can you spot it? A tagliere of mixed local cured meats and cheeses! I looked back through all the pictures I took on those hikes and drew inspiration from the bountiful taglieri I had the pleasure of eating. Below the recipe is also a list of where I sourced the ingredients from and a few addresses to pay a visit to when in Valle d’Aosta!