Valle D’Aosta

Tiny, alpine, and semi-autonomous, the Valle d’Aosta is Italy's smallest and least populous region.  A speck squeezed into the country’s northwestern corner, it is dwarfed on all sides by more imposing neighbors. Piedmont, 8 times as large, surrounds the valley to the east and south, while its western and northern boundaries are shaded by a pair of  Europe's most majestic peaks: Mont Blanc, which marks the border with France, and the Matterhorn, where you can stare up at Switzerland. 

It is, as you might imagine, a stunningly beautiful place, composed of stream and waterfall stippled mountain frescoes, and hosts world-class ski resorts, medieval castles, and the well-preserved ruins of its various historical inhabitants. Though the Celts came first, the most important of these for our purposes are the Romans and the French. The latter founded the capital city of Aosta after conquering the territory from the Celtic Salassi tribe in 25 BCE and, though there is limited evidence of winemaking that predates their arrival, it was likely the Romans that established meaningful viticulture in the area. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Valle D’Aosta came under the control of the Frankish Burgundy, and while never officially part of France, it retains a significant Gallic accent to this day, starting with the fact that  it is officially bilingual. (In fact, it adopted French as its official language in 1536 - three years before France itself!) 

Though the Francophone influence runs through the region's culinary and viticultural traditions as well, the Valle D’Aosta ultimately seems like a world unto itself - or several in fact. For while it finishes dead last in most Italo-vino metrics - acreage under vine, volume produced per annum, # of DOCs (there is one to cover the whole region)  -  you could argue it leads the field in the kind of categories most likely to yield interesting wine. Take topography: starting from 345 meters above sea level at the border with Piedmont in the southeast, the Valley climbs steadily upward towards the west, cresting, wine-wise, with Europe's highest commercial vineyards, Morgex et de la Salle, at 1300 meters. This is the birthplace of our white selection this month, the indigenous varietal Prie Blanc, made from the rare ungrafted continental vines grown on their own rootstock, since even phylloxera struggles to breathe at this altitude.  

It's only a slightly different story lower in the valley, where the bulk of the wine, most of it red, is produced. Prior to phylloxera, the valley had around 3000 hectares under vine, supporting a surfeit of different varietals. Unfortunately the notorious pestilence that swept through Europe in the 1860s  felled most of these, wiping out much of the area’s wine heritage. Starting after World War II however, strenuous efforts have been made to recover and extend that tradition. Today there are some 24 varietals growing in the Valle D’Aosta, 13 of them indigenous, planted on only 436 hectares. The region’s unique oenological endowment has been recognized in the form of the Institut Agricole Regional (IAR), an agricultural school, research center, and working farm that studies, preserves, and vinifies native varietals. The farming conditions remain quite difficult -  grapes are grown on terraces, stair step-style levels cut or built into the sides of the slopes, with pergolas (overhead trellises) to support the vines, all of which must be harvested by hand - and the yields miniscule (there is no demand for bulk wine from the region). Winemaking in the Valle D’Aosta requires an extreme enough level of passion and dedication that it has become known as ‘heroic viticulture.’  The reward, certainly for the drinkers (and hopefully for the vignerons) is some of the most vivid juice you’re likely to encounter, each bottling a synecdoche for the cloudland from which it descends. 


Alan Hicks - Wine Buyer, Noe Valley 


Pavese Ermes Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle, Vallée d’Aoste 2020 D.O.P.

Region: Blanc et Morgex, Vallee D’Aosta, Italy 

About the Winery: Ermes Pavese is a grower in the commune of La Ruine just outside of the town of Morgex in the high Alps minutes from the summit of Mont Blanc. Pavese works with the native grape known as Prié Blanc. This is the oldest varietal of the region, it was first mentioned in a document dated 1691. The name probably refers to the wine’s use in Sunday Mass by priests. Starting with barely two hectares of vineyards, situated at about 1200 meters (~4000 feet) a.s.l. Ermes has gradually expanded his holdings in this high altitude zone. To understand the difficulties and the hard labor required in making wine here we need only know that to plant a single vine the farmers have to remove all the rocks that cover the terrain to reach the soil, one by one, by hand. In 2017, nearly the entire crop was lost in a spring freeze; Pavese released 999 bottles labeled Unopercento (1 Percent)—his entire production. At that point, he considered giving up for good but his son Nathan, who studied enology and viticulture, was committed to joining the winery and convinced him to continue. 

This labor of love produces wines that are the pure expression of this terroir. Nervy, crisp, and racy with minerality that speaks of glacier and moraine rocks.

About the Winemaking: Pavese Blanc de Morgex fruit is harvested between the end of September and the beginning of October. The clusters are softly pressed, vinified in stainless steel tanks, and then filtered and bottled. 

Tasting Notes: In the glass, this wine has a bright clear yellow straw color with golden reflections. The nose and tongue present a clean acidity with a reminder of aromatic herbs such as thyme and chamomile, floral notes of hawthorn, white fruit tones, Williams pear , and yellow plums. The finish is long with accents of white pepper. 

Winemaker: Ermes Pavese and Nathan Pavese

Price per bottle / Price per case

$37          $399.60

Suggested Food Pairing: 

Vegetables like  bok choy, green peas, spinach, etc. Spicy Asian fish dishes; roasted pork loin; braised chicken. 

Traditional regional fare such as melted raclette cheese with

cornichons, smoked ham terrine, or pan-fried white fish with lemon and capers. 

La Cantina di Cuneaz Nadir Les Grosses Rosso-Vallée d’Aoste 

Region: Valle D’Aosta

About the Winemaker: Nadir Cuneaz, a young and enthusiastic wine maker, driven by a passion for his land, puts all his energies into the vineyards owned by his family for over a century. The Cuneaz family has a mere 0.5 hectares near the town of Gressan, in the southern part of the region, which yields a local mix of grape varieties, some of which were planted over 100 years ago. All of the work in the vineyards is done manually. The fruit is usually harvested at the end of October to give plenty of time to reach maturation. Grapes harvested earlier are left to dry for a couple of weeks until they achieve the right sugar concentration and then combined with the remainder of the harvest for vinification. The wine then spends one year in barrels, in the cellar of the family home. 

About the Winemaking: The only of Cuneaz’s wines not named for a local monster  (another cuvee, Badebac, is titled after a mythical beast said to roam the forest above Gressan)  “Les Gosses” derives from a French term for “little children” (monsters in their own right, perhaps, and the traditional target of the Badabec)—of which Nadir has three. Coincidentally, this wine contains three local varietals: Vien de Nus (which comprises the majority), Petit Rouge, and the little-seen Vuillermin—the father of Fumin. In contrast to the two other reds he makes, “Les Gosses” comes entirely from south-facing vineyards: “Badeun” in Chambave and “Creta Platta” (a newer acquisition for Nadir), both of which are more sun-blessed and lower on the slope than those sites which supply his other cuvees. The fruit is destemmed and fermented in stainless steel tanks where it ages for one year before bottling unfined and unfiltered. 800 bottles are produced annually. 

Tasting Notes: Made entirely in steel, this is a classic Vallée d’Aoste lip-smacker, stuffed with juicy black cherries and crunchy plums. With electrifying acidity and a complexity-contributing edge of woodsmoke, this is perhaps the most delicious and complete wine Nadir has ever made. You can serve it with a slight chill, but it will definitely benefit from a 30 minute decant. 

Winemaker: Nadir Cuneaz

Price per bottle / Price per case

$32                 $345.60

Suggested Food Pairing: Charcuterie plate, any type of red meat preparation; aged savory cheeses; polenta with mushroom sauce.

Aosta classics like Valdostana ribs, Risotto alla Valdostana, fondue.  


Seupa à la Vapelenentse

(Valpellinense soup)

Full Disclosure: This Is Elio’s recipe from IWC November 2020. I looked around for something else, but nothing seemed as good and this will go well with either wine. Simple, delicious, satisfying fare for the colder months. You can make it vegetarian by substituting vegetable stock for the meat broth.  


Ingredients (serves  4)

1 medium-sized cabbage, preferably Savoy

2 liters (8 cups) meat broth (brodo)

1/2 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

6 ounces Fontina cheese, sliced thin

1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated

4 tablespoons butter

12 slices rustic heavy bread, rye or whole grain, lightly toasted


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Cut the cabbage in quarters, remove and discard the core. Cook the cabbage quarters in boiling water for about 5 minutes, then drain thoroughly; cut the leaves into 1⁄2 inch long strips.
  3. Bring the broth to a boil, add the cabbage and cook until tender but not mushy, about 10 minutes.
  4. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a sauté pan and over medium heat, add the onions; cook until translucent, then add the garlic and cook it until it becomes soft (not browned). Combine the onion garlic mixture with the cooked cabbage in broth.
  5. Line the bottom of a 3 quart ovenproof, oven to table baking dish, with a layer of bread slices. 
  6. Remove the cabbage from the broth with a slotted spoon and cover the bread with half of the cabbage. Top the cabbage with half of the Fontina cheese and a good sprinkling of Parmigiano cheese. Repeat with a second layer of cabbage and Fontina.
  7. Pour the broth that the cabbage was cooking in over the layers of cabbage, bread, and cheese, adding enough to barely cover the top. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmigiano and drizzle the top with the melted butter. ‘
  8. Bake uncovered in the preheated oven for about one hour or until the zuppa is bubbling and golden crusted.
  9. Serve bubbling hot.

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Porters! Specifically Baltic Porters are an interesting style. Unlike traditional Porters that are brewed with traditional ale yeasts, Baltic Porters are brewed using lager yeasts. Baltic brewers tried their hand at making their own version of the Imperial Stout and ended up creating the Baltic Porter. So technically, the Baltic Porter is almost a lager version of an Imperial stout that has made a name for itself around the world as a style. Pohjala is from Estonia, at the edge of the gulf of Finland in the Baltic sea. They know Baltic porters well and tend to brew them in the fall months as things cool down and nights get longer & darker. 

Variations on a theme.

On top of being a go-to for a traditional Baltic porter, Põhjala are also playful and have fun with modern treatments of their beers, so to really have fun with the style I’ve lined up some variations for you all.

Öö meaning “night” is one of their standard straight forward Imperial Baltic Porters and in my opinion, the best of them. Killer example of the style!

Pime Öö meaning “dark night” is the Imperial Stout counterpart to Öö and a great example of what happens when a Baltic brewery focus’s on brewing an Imperial Stout.  

Baltic Porter Day was brewed for Baltic porter day this year. It’s an imperial Baltic Porter aged in Palo Santo wood, a hard dense wood with very unique characteristics. 

Jätku leiba is an Imperial Baltic porter brewed with toasted rye flakes & aged in Bourbon and American Rye Whiskey barrels. Yum! .