Vallée D'Aoste Wines

4/21/21 -

From my early days working at Chambers Street Wines, I will never forget being drawn to a particular bottle in the Italian section, with a grotesque devilish creature holding a pitchfork and a bottle of wine. It stood out amongst the otherwise "classic" labels, and the allure around the wine only grew when I learned about the magical area in the north of Italy, where the wine was from. The wine of course was the Enfer D'Arvier from Danilo Thomain, the lone producer estate bottling wines in the Arvier, in the Vallée D'Aoste, a region bordering with Switzerland and France in the north-west corner of Italy.

Though I've never been to the Vallée D'Aoste region, the wines have always been of great interest. Something about the wacky indigenous varieties, and the mixed culture has always sparked my interest (and my inner wine geek). Today we offer three wines from the Vallée D'Aoste, all quite special and representing a mini master class in reds from the region.

First, a bit about the region...

The Valle d'Aosta region is tucked in the north-west corner of Italy, sitting on top of the Piedmont like a tilted cap. It is the country's smallest region, entrenched in the Alps, bordering both France and Switzerland. It has a very strong connection to its neighbors (France in particular) in terms the regional languages and culture, but also wine grapes. Though the most notable wines from the Valle d'Aosta are derived from Nebbiolo planted to mountain slopes, varieties like Gamay, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay can also be found. Lesser-known grapes like Petit Rouge and Petite Arvine are Alpine specific and won't be found anywhere else in Italy. In general, the Valle d'Aosta enjoys relatively warm days and much cooler nights. Vineyards are planted to rocky, well-draining, slopes.

...And a bit about the wines and producers

Grosjean is a family winery now in its third generation, producing a range of wines from their mountain vineyards. No pesticides or herbicides are used in the vineyard, and the brothers who run the estate (including Vincent above) made things official with organic conversion in 2011. Though there were many wines to highlight, we chose the Cornalin - a rare variety native to the Valais in Switzerland (where it is known as Humange Rouge...and NOT the same grape that they call Cornalin in Switzerland - confused yet?). This expression is 100% Cornalin from the Rovettaz Vineyard in the village of Quart. The steep south-facing slopes of the vineyard help to capture much needed sunlight to fully ripen their fruit in such a cool climate. The grapes are destemmed and fermented spontaneously in large wood vats where they remain for eight months before bottling. The first impression is of a lighter bodied red, with subtle tannin, and bright red fruit, but as the wine breathes, it develops a lovely structure and deepens in character. It was a treat to drink over many hours.

Nadir Cunéaz runs a tiny operation with only half a hectare of vines, near the town of Gressan. Nadir's vineyards have never been treated with pesticides or herbicides, and only see use of copper and sulfur. Sulfur use in the cellar is minimal and fermentation is with wild yeasts. The vines range in age from 50-100 years, and are planted to local varieites Petit rouge, Vien de nus, Fumin and Vuillermin, along with international varieties like Pinot noir, Moscato, and Gewurztraminer. The wine we chose to highlight, Les Gosses, is a blend of Vien de Nus (60%), Petit Rouge (25%), and Vuillermin (15%). Cunéaz creates this blend from the Bedeun vineyard and Creta Platta vineyards in Gressan where he makes a tiny amount of wine out of his home. The fruit is destemmed and fermented in stainless steel tanks where it ages for one year before bottling unfined and unfiltered. Here the expression was acid-driven, but with dark tone and medium body. Black fruit mingled with blue fruit, with mineral depth and great freshness. A wine we kept coming back to, and imagining dishes to pair with.

Danilo Thomain is the lone producer estate bottling wines in the tiny appellation of Enfer D'Arvier in the Vallée D'Aoste. As he explains in his perfectly outdated website at, the name refers to the French name for hell, "and the hardness and dryness of the soil, facing South. Thus since the XIV century, the red wine produced here was named Enfer too." The amphitheater shaped vineyards see abundant sunshine and warmth during the day, with very cool nights creating an extreme diurnal shift. That shift creates ripe, powerful fruit, balanced with crisp acidity. All the work is by hand, as the terrain is too steep for tractors. Fermentation is with indigenous yeast. It's been difficult to get the entire scoop on farming, but it seems clear that it is not fuilly organic, with a synthetic product that is used in tandem with sulfur in the vineyard to minimize treatments (usually 4 treatments of sulfur a year, which is minimal). Personal accounts of the vineyards tell that they are full of life and rusticity and that no chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used, but we will have to visit to learn the full story. The blend of the namesake wine, Enfer D'Arvier is 90% Petit Rouge, with a bit of Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Gamaret. The fruit is destemmed and fermented in a mix of fiberglass and stainless steel tanks, and then aged for nine months in steel.

All of these wines represent this mystical region, and we hope they inspire your inner wine geek as they did mine over a decade ago.

-Eben Lillie (with thanks to Michelle DeWyngaert and David Hatzopolous for their help with research!)

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