The Vallée D’aoste is not only Italy’s smallest wine-growing region, but also its least populous. Here France and Italy blur into one, and a handful of resilient vignerons craft bright, snappy wines planted at nosebleed elevations destined to quench our thirst. At alpine altitudes of nearly 3,000 feet (some of the highest in Europe), it’s not surprising that only a small number of audacious winegrowers attempt to make their living growing indigenous grapes on the region’s steep hillsides in the shadows of the Alps. They’ve been called Italy’s answer to Beaujolais, but have a wild edge that set them apart.
Danilo Thomain Enfer d’Arvier
Grape: Petit Rouge
Place: Vallée d’Aoste
Soil: Sandy Glacial Moraine
Thomain’s Enfer d’Arvier is a textbook of small-production wine coming from one of Italy’s smallest viticultural appellations. It is a cuvée of Petit Rouge, one of the region’s most important varietals, planted at nearly 3,000 feet in altitude. Its dramatic name, calling to mind ‘enfer’, the French word for hell, is a reference to the intense heat the region experiences in summer, though the altitude means for rapid cooling after sunset here, preserving acidity in the wine. Thomain’s only cuvée–the product of just 2.4 acres of vines–only 2,500 bottles are produced in a good year. The entire DOC is only 15 acres! It is a true treat to secure enough of that production for our Dirt members. Thomain treats his vines without fertilizer, ferments naturally, and ages his wine in old barrels for 9 months before bottling.
treats his vines without fertilizer, ferments naturally, and ages his wine in old barrels for 9 months before bottling. The result is a pure, expressive red with natural lift and gorgeous acidity framing brambly red and black fruits, alongside notes of herbs and spices. A wine for rich cuisine, this cuvée is at its best with creamy pasta dishes, or braised meats served with cheesy polenta.
Grosjean Frères Cornalin ‘Vigne Rovettaz’
Place: Vallée d’Aoste
Soil: Sandy and Skeletal
From one of the region’s foremost proponents of Biodynamic agriculture comes this sprightly and herbal expression of the truly rare Cornalin grape. The Grosjean family, with a decades-long reputation for excellence in the Vallée, produce natural, pure expressions of their region’s native varietals. Cornalin is most widely planted in Switzerland, and is nearly extinct in the Vallée d’Aoste, if not for producers like Grosjean, intent on preserving this unique varietal. Naturally high in tannin yet also in acidity, the relatively warm vintage in 2015 produced a more full-bodied expression than we often come across from this alpine region.
At Grosjean Frères, they’ve been organic since their beginnings and more recently converted to Biodynamics. Fermentations are begun using native yeasts only, and winemaking here strives to express the purity of their terroir and varietal characteristics over the winemaker’s touch. The 2015 Cornalin is bright and fresh with notes of high-toned red fruits and spicy herbaceous notes. A wine of body and ample acidity, this Cornalin is a red well suited to serving alongside various cheeses–from Fontina to Raclette–preferably with a slight chill.