Sunday, December 02, 2007

Vallé D'Aoste ~ Strangers No More

I really had no idea about the Vallé D'Aoste. It was one of two regions I had little or no contact with, the other being Sardegna. Yes, I had sold wine from the region, many years ago, and that little exposure had colored my view of the area. Other than that, I thought it similar to other mountainous wine regions I had been to. Boy was I wrong.

125 kilometers from Torino is a short distance to go to get to the end of the earth, but that is exactly where you will find yourself when you arrive at St. Pierre in the Vallé D'Aoste.

Imagine being in the passenger side of a little Fiat Panda, a goat-trail scrambler of a car. To the right is a drop-off of about 500-700 feet, no rails, plenty of free-fall space. And picture the driver, long used to traversing these trails, heading up the path as if he were entering a freeway. As my dad so famously said, many times, my rear end crawled up around my neck and almost strangled me to death.

We were heading to the original vineyard of the Torrette, vigne de Torrette of Di Barrò.

Where were we? Had we landed in Anasazi land? It seemed like we had arrived in the Southwest desert of the United States. Shale rock and cliffs, an aboriginal dwelling, I was waiting for someone to come over and offer me turquoise and rugs. We had arrived, once again, in the Italy we never see.

We visited several winemakers this day. On our first visit we found a winery where the wine was good, the conversation was lively and the people really seemed to be happy in their life’s work.

The wine estate Di Barrò, has two meanings. First in the local patois it means “of/from the barrels.” And secondly it is an acronym from the names of the original landholders, Barmaz and Rossan. Andrea Barmaz and his wife Elvira Rini are the present owners. They have landholdings in the Monte Torrette, where the original vigne de Torrette still exists. Their other vineyard holdings are in Condemine and Boné in Saint Pierre, Veyne in Villeneuve and Champcognein in Aymavilles.

Wines tasted were the 2006 Chardonnay, 2006 Le Plantse rosé from Pinot Grigio, 2006 Torrette from Petite Rouge, 2006 Mayolet, 2006 Syrah, 2005 Fumin, 2005 Vigne de Torrette and the dessert wine, Lo Bien Flapì.
Tasting notes will be on next post, along with all the Vallé D'Aoste wines tasted.

Will many of these wines ever make it into my world? Does it matter? About 90% of the wines from the region are sold locally. Tourism, tasting rooms at wineries and the thrill of going out to the country to get some fresh air, a little Fontina cheese and a taste of the wines provide the momentum. Sure, they’d love to see their wines in New York or San Francisco. Keep in mind these are intensively farmed vineyards, tractors and machinery cannot be depended on to carry the burden of the work load. These are steep hillsides, similar to the ones in the Valle de la Roya in Liguria, the Valtellina in Lombardia or the Douro in Portugal. If you have a fear of heights, this region will challenge you. If you have a fear of high prices, these wines will also test you. We’re talking Brunello price range.

One note that has been bothering me and that is about they way the region has decided to denominate their wines with the DOC laws. Most of the wines that are applicable (23) go under the Vallé D'Aoste DOC. So a Fumin or a Chambave are simply listed as DOC Vallé D'Aoste. They are also listed in either Italian or French names. While I think this is confusing, it also lumps all these wines into one bin. I know the folks in Piedmont or Tuscany wouldn’t like their Barbaresco and Barolo or Brunello and Vino Nobile to be listed under one DOC of Piemonte or Toscana. Of course those regions are a little more politically connected ( and those wines are all DOCG at this point). The wines from the Vallé D'Aoste have no IGT classifications. For a region that satisfied the Roman legions over 2,000 years ago with their wines, isn’t it time for a review of this?

Andrea and Elvira are warm, friendly folk, but moreover they convey the energy of this little outpost, an area that is ice-locked for a good part of the year. After that harrowing ride in the vineyards and a taste of their wines, though, we went from a bunch of strangers to a group of old friends, talking about the Italian Holy Trinity - Ferrari, soccer and women - and laughing like long-lost family. We’ll be back.

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