The hills are alive with wine, food and unique culture; and probably the sound of music as well! I love Italy! I love France! Imagine a little slice of heaven that brings together the cultures of France, Italy and Switzerland. Add to that delicious wine and mountain food, great activities and sites in one of the most remote regions in Italy; it must be the most perfect place on earth.
It’s November and our Italian Food Wine Travel group is visiting the smallest wine region in Italy: Valle d’Aosta. This tiny little valley in far northern Italy has a rich history. Its original inhabitants were Celts and Ligures but in 25 BC it was conquered by the Romans to secure its mountain pass. The name Valle d’Aosta literally means “Valley of Augustus.” After the Romans the valley has held its own autonomy to this day, though it has fallen under the rule of Goths, Burgundians, Franks, Byzantines and Lombards. It then became part of the House of Savoy and remained autonomous until after World War II, where in 1945 the province of Aosta ceased to exist and it became part of modern Italy. The complexities of Valle d’Aosta’s history are important to understanding its rich heritage and unique culture and cuisine. In fact, it is just as common to find a resident speaking French as Italian.
Valle d’Aosta if defined much more by its geographic location than its national identity. The Aosta valley is an Alpine valley with its tributary valleys including the Italian slopes of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps and highest peak in Europe outside the Caucasus Range and one of the world’s most deadly mountains. In the winter Valle d’Aosta is one of the coldest places in Europe but the springs and summers are temperate and spectacular. If you enjoy skiing, hiking, cycling, spas, touring castles, history, great food and great wine add Valle d’Aosta to your vacation travel bucket list!
The New York Times said Valle d’Aosta is “brimming with little known wines capable of offering great pleasure.” Because the language of Valle d’Aosta is French and Italian you may likely find the French Vallee d’Aoste as well as the Italian Valle d’Aosta. Wines in this region are produced by tiny family own wineries as well as larger co-operatives. Grapes grown in this region include familiar varieties such as Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo and Gamay, as well as lesser familiar varieties such as Fumin, Cornalin, and Petite Rouge. These wines are not well distributed in the US; however, I was able to find a Valle d’Aosta wine at my favorite local wine store, Pogo’s. Additionally, if you live on the east coast there is a variety of Valle d’Aosta wines for purchase and please do not be discouraged from ordering wines online and having them shipped.
Grosjean – Freres Tourrette Valle d’Aosta 2009 Superieur: This wine was crafted from a blend of native grape varieties including Petite Rouge (80%), with Vien de Nus, Fumin and Cornalin. It poured a light garnet into the glass; cherries, cranberries, dried rose petals, soft spice notes and mushrooms met the nose and followed through on a well-structured palate, adding a touch of toasted walnuts and blueberries to compliment the round acidity and tannins in a medium body wine with a lingering dry finish. A great food pairing wine! Aged in oak and stainless steel. 13% alcohol. SRP $35.
Valle d’Aosta is known for its delicious mountain cuisine filled with dried meats, wild game, simple grains such as polenta and cheeses. In fact Food and Wine Magazine has a nice article featuring the cuisine of Valle d’Aosta that I encourage you to read and explore. However, since I recently returned from Tuscany I broke the rules a little and paired this wine with a delicious rustic Tuscan meal. I do believe, however, that the inhabitants of Valle d’Aosta would approve. One of the nights we stayed at Terralsole in Montalcino I joined one of the proprietors, Athena, in the kitchen to cook an authentic Tuscan meal. Not only was it great fun but the meal was outstanding! I took away the primi course from that dinner (you can read about all of it in an upcoming article) to pair with the Grosjean –Freres Tourrette. There is no real recipe but this is what I did: first, make a traditional batch of basil and pine nut pesto, second, rinse and boil a full bag of Farro (an Italian grain dating back to the Roman Empire that was supposedly enjoyed by Gladiators) in homemade or high quality store bought chicken stock for 15 minutes till al dente. While Farro is boiling dice and sautee carrots, zucchini and fresh San Marzano tomatoes with garlic and a shallot. Once the Farro is done toss it with the sautéed vegetables and enough pesto to coat the dish then top with freshly shaved Pecorino. Simple, easy, healthy, filling meatless meal. And a perfect pairing with a rustic earthy wine like the Grosjean – Freres Tourrette.
More about Grosjean – Freres from their web site:
Since 1781, the current owner’s maternal ancestors used to go down from Fornet, a village of the Valgrisenche area long since vanished under the water of the Beauregard dam, to reach Ollignan where they stocked up with wine and chestnuts to make it through the long, cold winter months. In 1969, encouraged by his friend Pino Albaney, father Dauphin started bottling his own wine to introduce it at the “II Exposition des Vins du Val d’Aoste”: this trade fair stimulated his entrepreneurial spirit, and so the winery expanded from 3.000 square meters to the current 10 hectares planted with vineyards and his five children joined the business. The winery is located on the border between the two towns of Quart and Saint Christophe where the Tzeriat, Rovettaz, Creton, Touren a Quart, Merletta, Castello Passerin d’Entreves and Senin a Saint Christophe vineyards are found. The grape varieties that were first grown are, in addition to the traditional Petit Rouge, Gamay, Pinot Noir and Petite Arvine, while the currently grown varieties include Fumin, Cornalin, Prëmetta and Vuillermin.
The winery employs only natural farming methods and organic fertilizers and, since 1975, has not been making use of insect and acarus-killing treatments.
Please check out the other great findings by my fellow Italian Food Wine Travel writers:
Vino Travels – Swept away to the Alpine region of the Valle d’Aosta
Culinary Adventures with Camilla – Pluot-Glazed Duck Legs and Les Cretes Torrette 2011
Enofylz Wine Blog – Veal Ribs with Fontina with Valle d’Aosta Torrette Superieur #ItalianFWT
Cooking Chat – Ziti with Kale Pesto and Roasted Broccoli
Food Wine Click – They Sure Love Fontina in the Valle d’Aosta
Confessions of a Culinary Diva – Valle d’Aosta Fonduta & Wine
The Wining Hour – Valle d’Aosta Petit Rouge & Fontina
Be sure to join us on Twitter at 10am CST to discuss Valle d’Aosta using #ItalianFWT.
My Song Selection: I am not sure anyone in Valle d’Aosta would have heard of Led Zeppelin but since I chose the title Over the Hills and Far Away for this article on the remote and beautiful area of Valle d’Aosta I am selecting the song by the same title for this article. I believe this is one of the most beautiful songs ever written!
Get your own bottle of Grosjean – Freres Tourrette Valle d’Aosta 2009 wine and let me know song you pair with it. Cheers!