If you get the opportunity to taste an Aosta wine, consider yourself lucky. Aosta produces the least wine of any region in Italy. In fact, Aosta is so small, and its viticulture so difficult, that its production is limited to just more than a million bottles a year -- 90 percent of which never leave Aosta [source: Abney].
Prié grapes are Aosta's only native whites. The region also has 12 native reds [source: Sonkin]. The best known is Picotendro (sometimes called Nebbiolo). Other natives include Petit Rouge, Vuillermin and Roussin de Morgex. International varieties grown in the Aosta Valley include Müller Thurgau, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Syrah.
Although the Aosta Valley whites get a lot of attention, the first Aosta wine to receive DOC status -- years before the regional designation -- was a red. That was the 1971 Donnas [source: Sonkin]. Local Petit Rouge grapes produced the second DOC wine, the 1972 Enfer d'Arvier.
Donnas and Enfer d'Arvier are now considered subzones of the regional DOC. Other reds to try include Fumin, Barnet, Grenache and La Sabla. Some predict the Fumin will be Italy's next "number-one red" [source: Wine Country].
At present, the best-known winery of the valley is Les Cretes, whose Chardonnay Cuvée Bois has received top honors (tre bicchieri, or three glasses) from the international wine group Gambero Rosso. In 2005, two other Aosta whites received this honor: the Anselmet Chardonnay and Lo Triolet's Pinot Gris [source: Abney].
What distinguishes Aosta whites seems to be the Alpine peaks. The whites of the Aosta valley are praised for icy crispness and minerality. Lately, the white Petite Arvine is attracting attention for its "crisp, flinty qualities" and grapefruit-mandarin citrus notes [source: Sonkin]. The grapes are native to both Aosta and Switzerland (where they're often called Valais). Look for Les Cretes' Petite Arvine vigne Champorette 2006, or Grosjean Frères 2005.
If there's a lesson of the Aosta Valley, it's that great effort leads to great rewards. And the same holds true of the wines. If you manage to find a bottle of Valle d'Aosta wine, you're in for a rare treat.
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