Valle d’Aosta for wine lovers

VALLE D'AOSTA-Castello Savoia Gressoney-Saint-Jean (foto Enrico Romanzi)

The tiny Italian region of Valle d’Aosta boasts famous Alpine peaks and a cultural duality that charmingly fuses food and wine with Italian and French sensibilities.

In the Graian Alps, bordering France and Switzerland, Italy’s smallest and least populous region showcases a fascinating wine world and life-size experiences in the country’s premier Alpine playground.

Almost too mountainous for agriculture – and by far the smallest wine production of any Italian region – Valle d’Aosta makes up for it with an astonishing array of indigenous grapes grown there for centuries.

Despite its geographic location, wine lovers are finding treasures in Valle d’Aosta when, just a decade ago, bottlings of these pure varieties were almost non-existent.

The heart of Valle d’Aosta is centered around a massive glacial valley, running east to west. Carved by the Dora Baltea River, the valley lies in the shadow of some of Europe’s highest peaks, including Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn (Monte Cervino).

Unsurprisingly, it’s a mecca for outdoor sports enthusiasts: in the winter, experience the thrill of skiing at popular ski resorts such as Courmayeur, Pila, Chamois and Breuil-Cervinia.

During the milder months between May and October, plan for a five-day wine trip and set aside time to hike to clear blue lakes, through waterfall-strewn landscapes, amid endless majestic views. Tour du Mont Blanc is a bucket-list item for serious hikers.

Also fascinating is Aosta’s rich history and large number of castles which add to the picturesque fairytale setting. The entire region is visually and culturally alluring – a blend of Italian and French language, gastronomy and sensibilities creating its own distinctive character.

Origins and the French Connection

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Aosta became part of the Kingdom of Burgundy and was then ruled by the royal family of Italy – the House of Savoy – until the Italian unification in 1861.

Although never officially part of France, given its proximity and history the region has strong connections with its neighbour. The area is bilingual (Italian and French); the locals speak a Franco-Provençal dialect called Valdôtain or Patois. More often than not, you’ll find place names written in French.

It’s unclear whether Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Gamay first appeared in Valle d’Aosta during the period of Burgundian control, but today Valle d’Aosta produces fine examples from these varieties.

The modern viticultural revival began after World War II, when a Swiss-born Catholic priest named Joseph Vaudan encouraged farmers to grow Burgundian grapes. But soon, he began championing native varieties, realising that they were what truly set Valle d’Aosta apart.

Exploring Valle d’Aosta wines

Despite its Alpine location, Valle d’Aosta’s continental climate provides relatively warm, sunny days for grape growing. Vines are planted on terraced slopes above the valley, favouring the valley’s sun-facing (Adret) side.

Pergolas are low to the ground to expose the grapes to the daytime heat retained in the rocky soils composed largely of granite and schist. This aids ripening, ensuring the grapes reach optimum sugar and acidity levels before harvest.

Valle d’Aosta’s viticultural areas extend from the Donnas, near Piedmont’s border, to Morgex, situated an hour away from France’s town of Chamonix. Along this route is the city of Aosta, a solid home base from which to explore the wine region, preferably at least two days each in both the east and west directions.

Wine lovers will discover that the dedication and pride that goes into making Valdaostan wines give this tiny region an exceptional level of authenticity. The most familiar indigenous Italian wines are the high-altitude Nebbiolo wines (locally called Picotendro or Picotener), primarily produced by the cooperative Caves de Donnas. Moving westward, practise the French pronunciation while discovering Nus Malvoisie (

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Valle d’Aosta for wine lovers  
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