Aosta Valley (Valle d’Aosta) is Italy’s smallest and least populous region. It is also Europe’s highest, circled by 3000-metre mountain ranges. The list of famous peaks includes Monte Bianco (Mont Blanc), Monte Rosa (Mont Rose) and Cervino (Matterhorn).
The region is located in Italy’s north-west corner. It shares borders with France to the west and Switzerland to the north.
Appellations & sub-regions
Valle d’Aosta DOC is a single appellation which covers the entire region’s production. ‘Regional’ wines can be designated red, white or rosé. If they are a single varietal they can also be labelled as such (so, for example, Valle d’Aosta DOC Fumin) . Within that are a number of sub-regions, listed below. Bottle labels show their appellation as Valle d’Aosta DOC + sub-zone. For example, Valle d’Aosta DOC Enfer d’Arvier.
- Enfer d’Arvier
- Blanc de Morgex et de La Salle
At the feet of these high mountains, we find vineyards planted on steep slopes at altitudes up to 1100m. Here, night-time temperatures plummet, prompting the vines to retain acidity in their fruit. This translates to the signature regional freshness in the wines.
The picture to the left shows terraced vineyards of Prié Blanc vines in a ‘low pergola’ arrangement. Growers use this training system to ensure heat from the sun is trapped under the plant overnight.
Rivers & glaciers in the Aosta Valley
The Dora Baltea river rushes through the heart of the valley, from West to East.
However, although this river plays an important part in shaping the region and its soils, the wide form of the valley results primarily from the advance and retreat of a giant glacier. Similarly, many of the steep lateral valleys are also of glacial origin.
As a result, the vineyard area, which runs alongside the Dora Baltea, is classified morenic (glacial deposits) and alluvial (river deposits). Both soil types are rich in the minerals which play a key part in the style of wine made here.
Sun & warmth in the Aosta Valley
Although the altitude and the soils are key in creating the region’s signature flavours and style, there are other factors which are just as important to consider. For example, there is a marked absence of precipitation. Indeed, The Aosta Valley is almost as dry as Sicily. Why is this?
The answer lies in the lateral (i.e. west to east) lie of the valley, which is almost unique in the larger valleys of the western Alps. The mountains to north and south (and Monte Bianco to the west) block clouds and bad weather, and trap the rainfall on their external flanks. Consequently the Aosta Valley basks in 2200 hours of sunshine a year. Despite the altitude and cold nights, then, the vine is able fully to ripen its fruit. Indeed, some sub-zones such as Morgex and Aymavilles, produce late harvest and ice wines.
Faced with so much sunshine and so little rain, the region should not be able to sustain viticulture at all. Thankfully, the high glaciers deliver snowmelt throughout the growing season, which flows down the valley sides and beneath the soil atop the sub-rock. The vines absorb it through capillary action. By mid-September the water is all but exhausted and the growers must make a carefully timed decision around picking. Too late and the grape sugars very quickly become over-concentrated. Too soon and winemakers risk not realising the vintage’s full potential of flavour and sugar.
To sum up, the wines of the Aosta Valley are a wonderful combination of delicate freshness and rich fruit flavours. They are hard to come by in this country because the planting area is so small and much of the production is consumed locally. We are delighted to offer a small selection of wines from Cave Mont Blanc, with more to arrive – all being well – from the iconic Les Crêtes imminently.