The Valle d’Aosta, Italy’s Beautiful Secret (2023)

The Valle d’Aosta is the fascinating Alpine junction between France, Switzerland, and Italy.

In the extreme northwest of Italy, Valdostano denizens typically speak both French and Italian, their accents a mind-bending blend of Southern French drawl and classic bouncy, sing-song Italian.

Contrary to popular belief, the Romans may not have been first to bring viticulture to the region, with a possible earlier arrival alluded to by locals citing a historian named Guillemot who discovered proof of native vines ca. 2000 or 3000 BC 1I can find no trace of this person and am not sure of spelling; if anyone can enlighten me, please comment or email me..

At different moments much later in history, the House of Savoy possessed every greatest wine region in the world: Burgundy, Piedmont, and the Valle d’Aosta (which served as their hunting grounds). Oh, to have been a Duke of Savoy.

The Valle d’Aosta is quite dry, and you’ll see evidence of irrigation all over while driving the freeways— giant sprinklers working to keep vines alive.

Massive streaks of green granite are visible from along the highways that curl through these glacial valleys; roche-mères 2This best translates to bedrock; imagine an exposed crumbling layer of bedrock whose eroded pieces are strewn down upon a vineyard site to lend its character; or, conversely, are buried deep under a vineyard site, where dry-farmed roots tap into them. that sit above quarries and seem to bleed crumbly, powdered rock, like green scars cut into the side of a mountain.

(Video) Tourism Italy : Visit Aosta Valley best places to see and things to do

Both blue and green granite are common terroir components throughout the Valle d’Aosta. These are ridiculously shallow, sandy glacial soils, where the ocean never reached nor deposited calcium-based limestone minerals (as in neighboring Gattinara, or, say, Chablis).

I’d like to explore this region through two different producers: one is a co-op, integral to the region’s success, and the other an iconic, independent producer. Each is emblematic of the region in a different way.

THE CO-OP: KEY TO SURVIVAL

Before the phylloxera louse, thousands of hectares were under vine in the Valle d’Aosta. After World War I and World War II, as the work force was lost, only a few vines kept alongside grazing cows for personal consumption remained, and field blends were the rule.

Thankfully, over the last 30-40 years, co-ops have popped up all over the Valle d’Aosta and allow farmers to continue without the financial infrastructure for bottling and cellaring. They’re responsible for the gradual restoration of vineyards which previously lie fallow. Now, 350 ha are under vine (twice the area of tiny Valtellina), and often at around 2,800 feet elevation, they’re some of the highest in Europe.

The La Kiuva co-op produced its first wine in 1979. The co-op buys enough grapes to crank out 70-100,000 bottles annually. Interestingly, the traditional pergola vine training method (which was so cherished for Picotendro) is still visible in certain places, and offered the ability to farm over rocks with higher yield and higher acidity, but unfortunately the wood and labor for upkeep are cost prohibitive and have rendered it all but obsolete over the last 25 years.

Forever struggling to improve, since 2008 the La Kiuva co-op has employed a consultant who visits the co-op’s vines biweeky and offers advice to growers in order to avoid usage of chemical pesticides. They’ve also relied on indigenous yeasts for fermentation since 2009.

(Video) 3 Days Trip to Aosta Valley (Valle D'Aosta) Italy | Italian Alps | Mont Blanc | Courmayeur | SKYWAY

2012 La Kiuva Arnad-Montjovet Vallée d’Aosta DOC, Italy: At a piddily $20, this is a QPR wrecking ball. Since my first taste of the mythic 2007, this co-op has changed winemakers, with a new winemaker taking charge in 2010. Such is the price of falling in love with co-op wines; at a moment’s notice, the wine changes dramatically.

One thing is consistent: Arnad-Montjovet red blends must be at least 70% Picotendro (=Nebbiolo). The rest may be Dolcetto, Freisa, Neyret, Pinot Noir, or Vien de Nus. Since 1544, Picotendro has been the official local name for Nebbiolo. In addition to Picotendro, the La Kiuva Arnad-Montjovet rouge has other fun, weird, classic red Valle d’Aosta varietals blended in: Fumin, Gros Vien, Neyret, Cornalin. My sense is that once you’ve got your 70%, you can add whatever you please of the region’s red varieties.

The La Kiuva Arnad-Montjovet red is stunningly feral and alluring, and it immediatley disarms you with its lightness and aromatic density. It has a smokey, earthy nose, with a sweetness that’s somehow palpable as well, but it lands on the palate with a far lighter weight than expected. Rustic but light; limpid and classy. A spicy palette of aromas that evokes sweet winter. It opens into an unmistakeable “strawberries in a freshly-soiled ashtray” sort of affair. It’s just lovely, and upon discovering the 2007 I consumed around two cases in only three months (that’s what I mean when I say gargantuan). It really tastes as though Petit Rouge— yet another fabulous, undervalued grape from the Valle d’Aosta that we’ll explore in our next article — is in this wine, but allegedly it doesn’t figure in the blend; it’s mostly Nebbiolo.

This is a wine that I enjoy pairing with gently seared veal fillets with plenty of brown butter, sage, and lemon zest, and something like a small side portion of pasta or even polenta alongside mushrooms if it’s deathly cold outside. The puckering brightness cuts through each of the taste elements, and just warms your soul in the dead of winter.

Given its light-footed character, its subtle tannins, and low alcohol (12.5% reported), it’s ultimately so versatile that you can drink it in any season or during any course of a meal — the co-op actually recommends it with appetizers.

(Video) Breakfast IN AOSTA, exploring the center of town

The photo above is from a research poster displayed in the La Kiuva cellar for a study commissioned in 2010 to examine the effects of harvest date on grape quality 3Unsurprisingly, grapes harvested later had lower acidity and higher ‘pruniness’, and were less bitter but had a tiny bit more structure. The study took three years to collect data and conclude it would be best to harvest later than usual. I can only hope their palates aren’t inclined towards giant, jammy monsters.. It’s interesting to note the sensorial analysis vectors they’ve chosen: one vague criteria for how alluring the taste and texture are, then: tiny fruits, prune, violets, fresh vegetables, vegetable husks, grilled/roasted coffee, leather (=phenol, an aroma proper to any Nebbiolo), dry vegetables, acidity, bitterness, astringency, and structure.

The wine spends two to three months in steel containers, then one to three in wooden barrels, and finally waits six months in bottle to settle down before going to its eventual market: either the USA (70%) or Italy (30%). Don’t expect anyone else to know anything about these wines; they simply don’t exist there.

The 2013 is the current release of this wine, and I haven’t sampled it yet. The 2012 is still for sale in a number of shops (my shop sold out long ago). The co-op seems to get the wine right about once every 2 or 3 years: 2007 was mythic, 2010 was also great, as is the 2012. The other vintages weren’t to my liking … a fickle lover of a wine. This vintage variation is very much a part of the Valle d’Aosta experience: a land of extreme contrasts, of extreme highs and lows; and this phenomenon is similar with many other winemakers’ efforts. Whether this is attributable to vintage variation, changes in the cellar, or some mixture of the two remains unclear to me. All the same, I’m still eager to sample the 2013, and hope the pattern can be broken.

In my next article, we’ll visit Vincent Grosjean, an independent grower whose wines are among my favorites in the Valle d’Aosta.

Related

FAQs

Is Valle D Aosta worth visiting? ›

The Aosta Valley is a paradise for visitors seeking outdoor experiences in nature while exploring history and traditions. The smallest region in Italy, dotted with the highest peaks in the Alps, it is the ideal destination for anyone who enjoys winter sports and high-altitude walks.

What is Aosta famous for? ›

The region is renowned for the quality of its local salamis and meats giving rise to specialities such as carbonada, a dish composed of stewed meat wine wine, onions and spices.

What language is spoken in Aosta? ›

The official languages are Italian and French, though the native population also speak Valdôtain, a dialect of Franco-Provençal. Italian is spoken as a mother tongue by 77.29% of population, Valdôtain by 17.91%, and French by 1.25%.

Is Valle d'Aosta the smallest region in Italy? ›

Italy is divided into 20 administrative regions. The smallest is named Val d'Aosta.

Is Aosta Valley expensive? ›

The cost of living in Aosta Valley is $1242, which is 1.08 times more expensive than the average in Italy. Aosta Valley ranked 4th most expensive and 18th best state to live in Italy. The average salary after taxes in Aosta Valley is $1611, which is enough to cover living expenses for 1.3 months.

How big is Aosta? ›

What is a popular dish of Valle D Aosta? ›

1. The typical dish of Valle d'Aosta: fondue. A curiosity of the Valle d'Aosta is the one that concerns fondue, a typical and delicious dish based on fontina cheese, characteristic of the Alpine area between Valle d'Aosta, Piedmont, Savoy and Switzerland.

Is Aosta part of the Dolomites? ›

(And, yes, both Italian mountain ranges technically belong to the Alps. But most locals call the range in Italy's northeast corner the Dolomites, while those in the northwest, in the Valle d'Aosta, are the Alps). Still, the Valle d'Aosta and the Dolomites are fairly different.

Why is French spoken in Aosta Valley? ›

In 1561, Duke Emanuel Filiberto of Savoy adopted French to replace Latin for all the public acts in the duke's kingdom. From the 17th century, French was taught in the Collège Saint-Bénin in Aosta and in country schools, to the extent that at the end of the 19th century, the illiteracy rate was almost non-existent.

Do Italians speak French? ›

It depends. The Valle d'Aosta region in North-West Italy has french as official language besides italian, so much of its population is able to speak it.

Do Italians speak Spanish? ›

The short answer is: in general NO. However, the languages have a lot in common so it is easy for an Italian to understand specially written Spanish and vice versa but that does not mean that they can speak the language.

Do French people live in Italy? ›

How many French people live in Italy? There are approximately 40,170 French nationals living in Italy and most have moved there for study, work, retirement, or simply to enjoy the quality of life, the sun and the Italian culture.

What is the least populated part of Italy? ›

Overall, their combined populations total just one-tenth of the national population, making Insular Italy the least populated macro-region of the country.

How do I get to Aosta Italy? ›

Either drive through France to Geneva then through the Mont Blanc Tunnel which links Chamonix in France with Courmayeur in Italy. The views of Mont Blanc as you approach the tunnel are simply spectacular. Alternatively, drive through Switzerland to Martigny and through the Grand San Bernado Tunnel into Aosta.

Is Aosta Valley French or Italian? ›

Aosta Valley, nestled in the north-west of the Alps and on the border with France and Switzerland, is the smallest region in Italy. Despite being home to little more than 125,000 inhabitants, the region displays a vast complexity from a linguistic point of view.

Is Aosta in northern Italy? ›

Ski Aosta Valley in North West Italy and you're close to both France and Switzerland for cross-border skiing, plus you can choose from a range of ski resorts and have access to three of the highest peaks in Europe.

What does Aosta mean in Italian? ›

(Italian aˈɔsta ) noun. a town in NW Italy, capital of Valle d'Aosta region: Roman remains.

How old is Valle Aosta? ›

Originally the territory of the Salassi, a Celtic tribe, the valley was annexed by the Romans; Aosta, the capital, was founded in 24 bc.

What mountains can you see from Aosta? ›

Mountain systems of the Aosta Valley have sketched a natural skyline where 4 peaks, well known to mountaineers, are easily recognised: Mont-Blanc (4,810 m), a mountain sculpted in granite and second only in Europe after Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus mountains; Mount Cervino or Matterhorn (4,478 m), with its ...

What is Trentino Alto Adige known for? ›

Trentino-Alto Adige has been making wine for a long time, since the Romans inhabited these lands. Today, the region produces a wide variety of white, red and rosé wines, in dry and sparkling versions. Famous ones include the white Gewürztraminer and Muller Thurgau, and reds like Teroldego and Lagrein.

What is the difference between the Dolomites and the Alps? ›

Technically the Alps do include the Dolomites however; locals in the Northeast refer to the mountains as the Dolomites. So Yes, the Dolomites are part of the Alps, but they are not referred to as the Alps by the locals.

Can you get to the Dolomites by train? ›

If you prefer travelling by train, the main railway line is Venezia S. Lucia – Calalzo di Cadore, then transfer to Cortina by a connected bus service. The nearest railway station is at Calalzo di Cadore, 35 km away. The through journey from Venice to Cortina takes about 3,5 hours (train+bus).

Where do the Dolomites begin? ›

The Dolomites are located in the regions of Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol and Friuli Venezia Giulia, covering an area shared between the provinces of Belluno, Vicenza, Verona, Trentino, South Tyrol, Udine and Pordenone.

What percentage of Italians speak French? ›

Languages of Italy
ForeignEnglish (34%) French (16%) Spanish (11%) German (5%) Other regional language (6%)
SignedItalian Sign Language
Keyboard layoutItalian QWERTY
SourceSpecial Eurobarometer, Europeans and their Languages, 2006
5 more rows

Is Swiss French the same as French? ›

Swiss French has its own accent, vocabulary and expressions, which differ from French spoken in neighboring France. Even within Suisse Romande, there are regional variations. Some of the first differences you may notice in Switzerland, when compared to France, involve numbers and meals.

Does Italy speak Italian? ›

Italian language, Italian Italiano, Romance language spoken by some 66,000,000 persons, the vast majority of whom live in Italy (including Sicily and Sardinia). It is the official language of Italy, San Marino, and (together with Latin) Vatican City.

What does Aosta mean in Italian? ›

(Italian aˈɔsta ) noun. a town in NW Italy, capital of Valle d'Aosta region: Roman remains.

When was Aosta founded? ›

Originally the territory of the Salassi, a Celtic tribe, the valley was annexed by the Romans; Aosta, the capital, was founded in 24 bc.

What region is Cogne Italy? ›

Aosta Valley

What does Val mean in Italy? ›

val (present val, present participle vallende, past participle geval) to fall.

Is Italy a republic? ›

Italy has been a democratic republic since June 2, 1946, when the monarchy was abolished by popular referendum. The constitution was promulgated on January 1, 1948. The Italian state is highly centralized. The prefect of each of the provinces is appointed by and answerable to the central government.

Is Aosta Valley French or Italian? ›

Aosta Valley, nestled in the north-west of the Alps and on the border with France and Switzerland, is the smallest region in Italy. Despite being home to little more than 125,000 inhabitants, the region displays a vast complexity from a linguistic point of view.

How old is Valle Aosta? ›

Originally the territory of the Salassi, a Celtic tribe, the valley was annexed by the Romans; Aosta, the capital, was founded in 24 bc.

How do I get to Aosta Italy? ›

Either drive through France to Geneva then through the Mont Blanc Tunnel which links Chamonix in France with Courmayeur in Italy. The views of Mont Blanc as you approach the tunnel are simply spectacular. Alternatively, drive through Switzerland to Martigny and through the Grand San Bernado Tunnel into Aosta.

Do French people live in Italy? ›

How many French people live in Italy? There are approximately 40,170 French nationals living in Italy and most have moved there for study, work, retirement, or simply to enjoy the quality of life, the sun and the Italian culture.

What is the capital city of Aosta Valley? ›

Is Tuscany a state in Italy? ›

Tuscany (/ˈtʌskəni/ TUSK-ə-nee; Italian: Toscana [tosˈkaːna]) is a region in central Italy with an area of about 23,000 square kilometres (8,900 square miles) and a population of about 3.8 million inhabitants.
...
Tuscany.
Tuscany Toscana (Italian)
Flag Coat of arms
CountryItaly
CapitalFlorence
Government
22 more rows

How do you pronounce Cogne Italy? ›

How to pronounce Cogne (Italian/Italy) - PronounceNames.com

What altitude is Cogne? ›

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