Last week, I tried a wine from a region that I’d long had my sights on. The region called me through the pictures I’d seen of its rugged, steep landscape and the stories I’d read of the cultural mash-up between Italians, French, and even Germans.
It was a wine from Val d’Aosta.
Val d’Aosta is the autonomous region in Italy’s northeast corner, smack in the foothills and shadows of the Alps. Over the years, Val d’Aosta has been ruled by many – but the community has always been reclusive and kept to itself. This shows in the wine.
Only the most knowledgeable wine buffs could recognize half the varieties that are allowed in the all-encompassing Val d’Aosta DOC. The viticulture is centered around the southwest flowing Dora Baltea river, which traps heat and reflects light to the vines, most of which peer south to the river, not unlike in Germany’s Rheingau.
Varieties in Val d’Aosta range from the well-known — like Nebbiolo (called Picotener or Picotendro, locally), Gamay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay — to the local specialties, like Fumin, Petit Rouge, Petite Arvine, and Prié Blanc.
The wine I recently enjoyed was from a variety I’d never heard of: Cornalin
Specifically the 2010 bottling from Grosjean Freres.
Few wines from the region are exported, but this variety has a solid following locally. The only other place I’ve even found it mentioned is in Switzerland, in the Swiss Grand Cru appellation of “Conthey” in Valais.
On the nose, the wine delivers handfuls of dried sweet spices, craisin, spent violets, and lots of rocky earth. The soils in Val d’Aosta are stony, glacial leftovers with a mix of sand and limestone, distributed rather evenly throughout. Aspect and elevation create the differences in microclimates.
The palate offered juicy yet tart red fruits, savory and sweet spices, and a solid, rustic grip, not unlike what I’d expect from a local Picotener. As expected, the acidity was bright but not painful. The valley sees a lot of sunlight as it is shaded by mountains from harsh weather, but the nights are always brisk.
The wine was tremendously complex, especially considering it’s aged only in steel. Without question, it’s one of the most dynamic reds I’ve tasted that hasn’t seen oak. I’m looking forward to opening some of these bottles at the restaurant this summer if any guests as for a complex red that isn’t brooding.