I have always been intrigued by the most northern of Italian wine regions. When first studying Italian wine, I remember wanting to know more about Valtellina, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige, and Valle d’Aosta. These regions bordering other European countries, with their influences, did not comprise the most extensive sections of text in the book, leaving me longing for more knowledge.
I had the opportunity to visit Valtellina, spent a little (too little) time in Trentino-Alto Adige, and had the chance to speak with a winemaker from Friuli Venezia Giulia and learn about her vineyard and wines.
But Valle d’Aosta? Until now, I have not had an opportunity to dip my toe into this region. Thanks to the Italian Food, Wine, and Travel writer’s explorations of Piemonte and Valle d’Aosta this month led by Cam of Culinary Cam, I have an opportunity now! You can read her preview post here! You will find links to my colleagues’ posts below.)
Valle d’Aosta is located in Italy’s Northwest corner. It is bordered to the West by France and to the North by Switzerland. To the South and East, you find Piemonte. Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn straddle its borders.
The Valle d’Aosta DOC was founded in 1985, and the wine regions follow the Dora Baltea River, which flows from Mont Blanc through Valle d’Aosta into the Piemonte, where eventually it flows into the Po River.
History of Valle d’Aosta
This mountainous alpine region was settled by the Celtic Salassi tribe in the 4th Century BC and was taken by the Romans in 24 BC. When the Roman Empire fell, the area became part of the Frankish and Burgundian kingdoms until the House of Savoy took the region in the 11th century. In 1847 Valle d’Aosta joined the kingdom of Sardinia. It was 1945 when the region at last became the autonomous region of Valle d’Aosta.
The French and Italian cultures mix in this region, and you see that in the wine labels and the language.
What is Heroic Viticulture? CERVIM, which is the Research Center for the Study of Mountain Viticulture, defines Heroic Viticulture by the following guidelines
- The inclination of the slopes must be over 30 percent
- Altitude must be over 500 meters above sea level
- The vineyards must be stepped or terraced
- And the cultivation must be in small island-like blocks
The Valle d’Aosta DOC recognizes 38 grapes for cultivation. Many are indigenous to the region, with names that might be unfamiliar: Bonda, Cornalin, Crovassa, Mayolet, Ner d’Ala, Neyret, Petit rouge, Prié Blanc, Roussin, Vin de Nus, Vuillermin, and the grape we will talk about today, Fumin.
Considered “The King of Reds” in Valle d’Aosta, it had primarily been used in blends until about 30 years ago. One of the oldest varieties in the region, the name may possibly be derived from “fumée,” the French word for smoke, as the berries, when ripe, have a waxy layer.
(Wine Grapes 1st edition by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, and Joé Vouillamoz reports that as recently as 2000, there were just 76 hectares of this grape planted. Mind you, according to Italian Wine Central, in 2022, there were just 450 hectares total under vine in the region.)
Finding a wine from Valle d’Aosta
Finding a wine from this region is not the easiest thing to do. None of my local wine shops had anything from the area. But, I had been invited to a Federdoc tasting of Italian wines a few weeks ago. It was held Toscano at Eataly Las Vegas.
No, they didn’t have a wine from Valle d’Aosta on the list, but I met Laura Suarez, the Beverage Manager at that tasting. She did a fantastic job educating us on each of the 10 wines we tasted and paired that night. Afterward, I asked her if they had any wines from Valle d’Aosta, and she hooked me up with a wine from Grosjean.
The plague hit the region of Valle d’Aosta and devastated the region in 1630. The Duke of Savoy invited families of the Savoy and Burgundy to repopulate the area. The ancestors of the Grosjean family settled between Chambave and Fénis and gradually became known for their wine. The World Wars were brutal on the family, but following WWII, Dauphin Grosjean, the son of an orphan, began working the land his wife Michelina Cachoz had inherited near Quart. In 1969, they began bottling their wine. Dauphin’s 5 sons expanded the business in 2011, converting to Organic viticulture, the first vineyard to do so in the Valley.
Today, the winery is run by a third generation of the Grosjean Family.
Among their vineyards is the Rovettaz Vineyard, considered one of the most important Crus in Valle d’Aosta. This vineyard that had been abandoned for centuries was recultivated by the family.
Impacts of Climate Change at Grosjean in Valle d’Aosta
This is alpine territory, and the mountain peaks, once covered in ice and snow, are melting. The glaciers are receding. Grand Etret lost another two hectares in the summer of 2023. This was the 2nd worst loss since 1999. (a 9% loss since 2022 and a 62% loss overall since 1999) https://www.planetmountain.com/en/news/environment/grand-etret-glacier-valle-d-aosta-italy-loses-another-two-hectares-surface-summer-2023.html
Drought in this region, which used to have abundant water due to snowmelt, has caused Grosjean to innovate, reducing water waste and adapting to new water collection methods.
So “heroic viticulture” is expanded beyond the altitude and steepness of the vineyards into new threats from climate change. At Grosjean, they are dedicated to increasing their knowledge and finding innovative ways to face the future while continuing to produce authentic and high-quality wines.
Grosjean Vallee d’Aosta Fumin Vigne Merletta 2010
I was not sure what to expect of this wine. Fumin, I had seen listed as aging well for about 10 years. This wine is a wine that they made for the American Market. They make a classic Fumin, sourced from a variety of vineyards but aged in large-format oak. They also make the Fumin Vigne Rovettaz from their cru vineyard, aged in cask, which is meant to age for 10 to 20 years.
This wine was aged in tonneaux, typically larger than barrique but still imparting more oak surface area than what we would consider a large format.
I opened the bottle, prepared to be disappointed. I was not. The color leaned more toward garnet than ruby, but it was not bricked. There was a clear rim, but it was much thinner than expected. It did not smell faulty.
Upon pouring (mind you, I was Corvining), the intensity was Medium-plus with notes of spice, nutmeg, and clove, hitting me first, followed by red currant, cranberry, and black cherry. There were also notes of menthol and anis. The berries were warm, and there were additional notes of savory roasted meat and forest floor.
This was a developed wine that was by no means tired.
Taking a sip, this dry wine had bold acids and pleasant tannins, strong but subtle. The fruit led on my palate: black cherry, currant, blackberry…all tart fruit. As it opened up, there were subtle notes of coffee and dark chocolate.
What to pair?
In researching the region, I found a recipe for Carbonade Valdostana, and this savory meat dish seemed to be the perfect match. To accompany it, Polenta Concia a simple polenta made locally with fontina cheese.
Polenta is a staple in this region, something enjoyed almost daily. It is to Valle d’Aosta as pasta is to much of Italy. The Carbonade is thought to have originated in Belgium and is similar to stews made in southeast France. Many recipes suggest salting the beef for 12 days before cooking. I was not that patient (and I didn’t plan that far ahead, LoL!) Regardless, the pairing was perfect.
My recipes were inspired by these two from “Great Italian Chefs.”
You’ll find the recipe at the bottom.
More on Valle d’Aosta and Piemonte from the writers at #ItalianFWT
Nebbiolo delle Langhe DOC from Vietti 2020, A Symphony of Flavor by Avvinare
Simple, but Seriously Delicious: Lasagne alla Valdostana + Grosjean Vallee d’Aoste Gamay 2022 by Culinary Cam
Valle d’Aosta Co-op La Kiuva Rouge de Vallèe paired with Mushroom Soup by Vino Travels
Why has Barbera wine from Piedmont changed so drastically in recent years? by Life at Table
Wine Braised Pork Loin and a 2019 Travaglini Gattinara by A Day in the Life on the Farm
A Fall Menu for 5 Wines from Piemonte: Cortese di Gavi, Erbaluce, Barbera, Barolo, Brachetto d’ Asti from Wine Predator
These dishes from Valle d'Aosta in Northwest Italy are perfectly paired with a Fumin red wine of the region. Simple but deep in flavor, this beef, onion, and red wine stew layers beautifully atop creamy cheesy polenta.
- 1 lb beef rump cut into strips
- 1 tbsp flour
- 7 tablespoons of butter
- One onion quartered
- 2 leeks, cut into rings and then in half
- 3 cloves of garlic smashed
- 4 cloves
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 1 spring of sage
- ½ tsp juniper berries
- 2 bay leaves
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 bottle of red wine
- 2 cups of water
- 2 cups of milk
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup polenta
- 3 oz fontina shredded
- 6 tbsp unsalted butter softened
- Season the beef with salt and pepper
- Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a Dutch oven
- Dust the meat with the flour
- When the butter is foaming, add to the pan.
- Brown the meat on all sides and set aside
- Add 4 tablespoons of butter to the pan
- When melted, add the onion and leek.
- Cook until soft.
- Add rosemary, sage, cloves, juniper berries, bay leaves, and a splash of red wine.
- Add a pinch of salt and the nutmeg and cook for 5 minutes
- Return the beef to the pan and add the rest of the wine.
- Simmer for an hour (or more) until the beef is tender and the wine has reduced.
- In a separate pot, bring the water and milk to a boil and add the salt
- Whisk in the polenta and reduce the heat
- Cook for 30 minutes, stirring often
- Add a bit more milk if needed to loosen the polenta
- Add the cheese and butter and stir until melted
- Serve topped with the Carbonade Valdostana.
Many recipes recommend salting the beef and letting it age for 12 days in the fridge. If you have the time, go for it! This recipe is adaptable to many herbs and spices, so feel free to use what you have handy. A reminder on the wine. I would not pour an expensive bottle in, but I also wouldn't use swill. Find an inexpensive red wine that you would not be offended to have in your wine glass!
Amount Per Serving Calories 514Total Fat 34gSaturated Fat 19gTrans Fat 1gUnsaturated Fat 13gCholesterol 120mgSodium 694mgCarbohydrates 14gFiber 2gSugar 5gProtein 21g
Nutrition information isn’t always accurate.
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.
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