(Vallée d'Aoste to the region's many French speakers), is Italy's smallest region (see map under Italy). The long, narrow valley formed by the river Dora Baltea as it courses through the mountains of Italy's extreme north west is Italy's connecting link to France and Switzerland and to the north of Europe beyond.
This rugged alpine terrain is more suited to the grazing of animals than to the cultivation of the vine, and the vineyards—for the most part on hillsides on either side of the Dora Baltea before the land rises to impossible altitudes—are frequently terraced into dizzyingly steep slopes. No more than 30,000 hl/790,000 gal of wine is produced in an average year, of which only about 6,000 hl/157,800 gal qualifies as doc. Most of it is sold privately either to the thriving tourist trade or to the intense flow of motorists which passes through the region. The two most important varieties are Torrette and Blanc de Morgex, which between them account for one third of the region's DOC production.
At the crossroads between northern and southern Europe, the Valle d'Aosta has found itself with an extremely rich diversity of vine varieties. Native regional and other Italian varieties include Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Petit Rouge, Fumin, Vien de Nus, Prëmetta, Moscato di Chambave, and Prié or Blanc de Morgex. French varieties include Pinot Noir, Gamay, Syrah,grenache, Pinot Gris or Malvoisie, Pinot Blanc, and Chardonnay. There is also the Petite Arvine of Switzerland and theMüller-Thurgau of Germany.
The most interesting wines being made in the early 1990s were the Nebbiolo-based Donnas or Donnaz, produced close toCarema across the border in Piemonte and more interesting than the neighbouring Nebbiolo-based Arnad-Monjovet; the family of fruity reds with Petit Rouge as their base which encompass Enfer d'Arvier, Torrette, and Chambave Rosso; the Nus Rouge, made from Vien de Nus and Petit Rouge (spicier and more herbaceous than the Petit Rouge-based reds); the Moscato of Chambave, particularly in the passito or dessert version; Gamay, fruity and soft but with some bitterness on the aftertaste which is not present in Beaujolais; Müller-Thurgau; the floral Blanc de Morgex et La Salle, produced in some of the highest vineyards in Europe, up to 1,200 m/3,937 ft, made from ungrafted vines of the variety Prié (phylloxera does not survive at such high altitudes) trained in a low pergola. Local producers are showing an interest in the Fumin, the grape which supplies structure and intensity in many of the Petit Rouge-based blends, and interesting experiments with small barrel maturation of varietalFumin wines have begun.
Robinson, Jancis, The Oxford Companion to Wine (New York, 1999).