When you look at two of the tiniest wine regions in Italy, Valle d’Aosta and Liguria, you can’t help but wonder how wine is even produced in these regions. Thankfully, it is. Italy is a magical country when it comes to wine production. I hope you enjoy this trip through these tiny regions.
If you were to see a picture of a little bucolic village with a mountain cabin nestled in an Alpine setting, you might think you were looking at a tourist postcard from Switzerland. In fact, you might be looking at a snapshot of the smallest of all the Italian wine regions, Valle d’Aosta (or Aosta Valley), also known as the Alpine corner of Italy.
The Germanic, French and Italian confluence of cultures is very apparent in this nestled mountain area, surrounded by the breathtaking Alps. You can hear French, German, Italian, and a special Italian dialect spoken. It is not surprising that tourism plays a large role in this tiny enclave’s economy. You’d be as likely to hear this region called “Vallée d’Aoste” as by its Italian name.
Valle d’Aosta boasts the most highly elevated vineyards in all of Europe. There are three main wine producing areas named after their respective elevations: the upper valley, “Valdigne,” the central valley, “Valle Centrale,” and the lower valley, “Bassa Valle.”
The majority of wines produced here are red (75%). I would have thought that the high elevation would be more conducive to whites. Not so. This area actually has a continental climate, with long, hot, dry summers.
In spite of being a very small region (1,260 sq. miles) with a very small population (approx. 130,000), Valle d’Aosta produces a wide range of wines. In reviewing several websites, it looks like approximately 20 different wine grapes are used. According to winecountry.it, “The most widespread among the ‘indigenous’ grapes are the red Petit Rouge…and the Fumin, a somewhat meatier, Syrah-like grape anticipated by some local vintners as the future number one native red. The main regional grape however, is the Picotendro, a local version of Nebbiolo…[with a resemblance] to Barolo. In addition, both the Moscato Bianco, here known as Muscat Chambave, and the local Pinot Grigio (confusingly called Malvoisie in the Chambave and Nus areas) are made into exotically fruity wines that can be either dry or sweet.”
The relatively large number of grapes, coupled with the many languages and the many place names on the Valle d’Aosta wine labels, make it a little confusing to figure out what’s inside the bottle. Your best bet is to ask a local chef to recommend a wine.
Perhaps one of the most interesting from a geographical standpoint of all of Italy’s wine regions is another tiny one, Liguria. It ranks 18th in size, with a mere 5,416 square kilometers, but its population is surprisingly higher, at 11th place (1,770,000) compared to Valle d’Aosta. The regional capital is Genoa, the birthplace of Christopher Columbus.
The geography of Liguria makes one wonder how it is a wine region at all. It is a crescent shaped strip of land bounded by France, the Alps, the Appenines and the Mediterranean sea. The region’s thin width is punctuated by sheer mountain drops above and deep seas below.
Regarding wine, some of the terraced vineyards are so close to the ocean that they are literally sprayed with seawater. There is hardly any room for vines, which explains why Liguria ranks almost dead last in wine hectares. Liguria is known more for its pesto and olive oil than for its wine. Nevertheless, there are several wines worth noting.
Cinqueterre is a popular white wine made from the Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino grapes. Ormeasco is Liguria’s name for Dolcetto. It is a fruity, easy-drinking red wine. Dolceacqua is another popular red wine.
The small boutique wines of this little region are severely handicapped in their reach and influence, due to the naturally occurring barriers to their production. In this region, just like in Valle d’Aosta, it is recommended that you ask a good chef to recommend a wine – and then have some fun.
If you’ve visited either Valle d’Aosta or Liguria, please share your experiences with us. We would love to learn vicariously from you.