Saturday, July 11, 2015

Valle d'Aosta: Where Nebbiolo is called Picotendro

Nebbiolo has long held a privileged position in the Barolo area but is grown, and referred to by other names, in areas beyond the home of the "King of Wines." The table below shows the names by which the variety is known outside the Langhe-Roero regions and the associated planting sizes.

Region Sub-Region Variety Nomenclature Planting Size (ha)
Langhe Barolo Nebbiolo

Barbaresco Nebbiolo

Nebbiolo 1262.5*

Nebbiolo 139.5**
Alta Piemonte Gattinara, Ghemme + Spanna

Val d’Ossola Prunent N/A
Lombardy Valtellina Chiavennasca
Valle d’Aosta Donnaz, Arnand-Montjovet Picotendro 25***
Sardinia Gallura Nebbiolo 52***
Compiled from Tong #16. *Author's estimate; ** author's estimate based on relative production; ***2004 data.

In my most recent post, I described Valtellina, the Lombardy sub-region that is home to Chiavennasca. In this post I cover Valle d'Aosta, where Nebbiolo is called Picotendro.

Valle d'Aosta (Vallée d"Aoste in French), is a semi-autonomous region in northwest Italy which is bounded to the north, west, and south by the Alps and shares borders with both France and Switzerland. Reflecting its location, and its cultural history and linkages, it is officially bi-lingual. It was inhabited by an ancient people called the Salassi before it was annexed by the Romans in 25 BC. In more recent times, it was helmed  by the French House of Savoy before joining the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

Valle d'Aosta (Source: travelling
The climate is continental, with long, cold winters and short, hot summers. There are some moderating influences to the general climate which aid in fruit development. First, Valle d'Aosta is known for its mountains -- Mont Blanc, Monte Rosa, and the Matterhorn, among others -- and, while they limit the area available for grape growing, they protect the valley from the coldest winds and provide ample sun exposure for the high-flying vineyards. The mountains also provide a rain-shadow effect, thus keeping the deleterious effects of excess moisture away from the vineyards. Second, the valley follows the course of the Dora Baltea River and its water flow keeps the air moving and clouds at bay. Grapevines are grown between 300 - 1300 meters, with elevations above 1600 meters being considered Tundra and unsuitable for grape growing. There is significant diurnal temeperature variation in the region..

The Valle d'Aosta geography is simple: high, steep slopes rising from the river valleys. Vineyard soils are composed of rocky, gritty mixtures of primarily sand and broken rocks at the higher levels and alluvial sediments of clay and gravel further down the slopes.

The principal wine-growing areas are found along the eastern bank of the Dora Baltea River with a total of 253 ha (625 acres) devoted to vineyards. The highest vineyards are located in the foothills of Mont Blanc at 1300 meters elevation, the highest vineyards in Europe. The vines are trained on low pergolas (Pergola bassa) in trellised arbors with stone columns surrounded by stone walls. This arrangement helps to protect the vines from wind and heavy snowfall but also allows the vines to benefit from heat which had accumulated in the ground during the course of the day, thus mitigating the diurnal flux.

The wines have never attained the highest quality (Diego Meraviglia), being low in tannin, body, and color as a result of the poor soil. Ripeness and alcohol levels are adequate however, due to ready access to sunlight. The Donnas sub-region was first awarded DOC status in 1971, followed closely by Enfer d' Arvier. Awarding of additional DOCs was halted until 1986 when the decision was made to consolidate all of the region's quality wines under a single DOC -- Valle d"Aosta.

The wines in the region are primarily varietal and, keeping with the bi-lingual character of the region, are labeled Valle d"Aosta/Vallée d'Aoste plus the name of the varietal (85% of the varietal required). The wines are mostly blends of fruit from all over the region. The region has seven subgroups, each of which is allowed to place its name on the label. The varieties grown in the area and the wines of the subzones are shown in the tables below.

White Grapes Red Grapes
Chardonnay Cornalin
Gewurtztraminer Fumin
Müller-Thurgau Gamaret
Petite Arvine Gamay
Pinot Bianco Mayolet
Pinot Grigio Merlot
Prié Blanc Picotendro (Nebbiolo)

Petit Rouge

Pinot Nero


Vien de Nus

Table 2. Varieties grown in Valle d'Aoste

Subzone Style Varieties Aging
Arnand-Montjovet Red Picotendro (Min.70%), Dolcetto, Pinot Nero, Neyret, Freisa, Vien de Nus 5 months; 12 most for Superiore
Blanc de Morgex et La Salle White Prié Blanc 5 months
Chambave Red Min 70% Petit Rouge, Dolcetto, Gamay, Fumin, Pinot Noir 5 months

White (Dry, Sweet) Moscato Bianco

Donnaz Red Picotendro (min 85%), Petit Rouge, Fumin, Freisa, Neyret 24 months; Superiore 36 mos
Enfer d’ Arvier Red Petit Rouge (85%), Vien de Nus, Neyret, Dolcetta, Pinot Noir, Gamay 5 mos
Nus Red Vien de Nus (50%), Petiti Rouge (30%), other authorized 5 mos; Superiore 8 mos

White (Dry, Sweet) Nus Malvoisie, Pinot Grigio

Torrette Red Petit Rouge (20%), Pinot Noir, Gamay, Fumin, Vien de Nus, Dolcetto, Majolet, Prematta 5 mos; Superiore 8 mos
Table 3. Subzone wines.

As shown in the table above, Picotendro is produced in the Donnaz and Arnand-Montjovet sub-zones. The Donnaz Picotendro has a higher percentage of the core varietal, and fewer potential blending partners, than does the other. Picotendro is grown close to the border with Piemonte and is not dissimilar to Chiavennasca (Valtellina) in that it is light, delicate, and aromatic with minimal structure and tannin.

Beyond Picontendro, another well-regarded wine is VDA Blanc de Morgex et La Salle. This white wine is made from Prié Blanc grapes grown on south-facing slopes between the municipalities of Morgex and La Salle. The vines grow ungrafted as no Phylloxera attacks have occurred in that specific zone. These wines have good minerality and acidity.

Wine production is primarily by Coop, with the fruits sourced from member growers. A limited number of growers produce their own wine for the market. Annual production is approximately 330,000 cases of which 30,000 is DOC.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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