Staring at the label on this bottle of Fumin, you’d hardly be to blame for wondering if it came from France or Italy! “Château Feuillet”: French. “Denominazione di origine protetta”: Italian. “Mis en bouteille par le producteur”: French. “Maurizio Fiorano”: Italian. What’s going on here? Reflecting the linguistic overlap of the French-Swiss-Italian border, Château Feuillet is an Italian domaine with a French name. Nestled among the western Alps, fifty miles from where the three countries meet, this estate specializes in the region’s indigenous grape varieties: Fumin, Cornalin, Petite Arvine, etc. The primary grape in this bottling is Fumin, whose name derives from fumo, or “smoky.” Some think it’s called that because the wines bear a smoky taste. Ian D’Agata, in his Native Wine Grapes of Italy, instead proposes that the grapes look smoky when covered in a dusty, white coating called the “bloom.” In any case, the grape was almost completely removed in the 1960s due to the opinion of certain academics, who did not think it made noble enough wine. When you open this bottle, you might scream, “How could they?!” Luckily for us, a few producers saved the variety in Valle d’Aosta, and now we have supremely quaffable, distinct reds like this one. With 10% Syrah completing the blend, this rosso from Château Feuillet evokes dark fruit, has great acidity, and sports an irresistible texture, leaving you with a delicious, lingering finish.
If Maurizio Fiorano became a vineyard owner by chance, he was lucky in the placement of his plots—he will humbly tell you that it’s not hard to make good wine here. The vines sit in shallow sandy soil, but their feet wriggle into crevices in the solid granite bedrock. The vineyards are planted on an ancient riverbed, where the Dora Baltea River cut through, creating the current river valley and leaving behind mineral deposits that the wines happily lap up. The trump card, however, may be high altitude and diurnal temperature shifts providing long hours of gentle sunlight. This gives the grapes a long, slow ripening season that in turn offers red wines with the heft of a sunny climate that are still refreshing and light.
Italy’s smallest region by surface area and by annual production, Valle d’Aosta is also one of its most strikingly beautiful. In the heart of the Alps bordering France and Switzerland, this is a stark landscape dominated by jagged, snow-capped peaks, where tiny terraced vineyard parcels cling to steep, rocky slopes of sand and alluvial deposits. Winemaking here dates back to Roman times, and today a growing number of small-scale producers persist with the heroic kind of viticulture required to brave this extreme terrain.
In the shadow of the Mont Blanc, the Valle d’Aosta runs west to east, providing excellent southern exposure to the vineyards on its northern slopes. In spite of the altitude—these are some of Europe’s highest vineyards—the hot, dry summers provide conditions in which a number of indigenous varieties, along with others of French or Swiss origin, truly thrive. Petite Arvine, Prié Blanc, Petit Rouge, Fumin, and Cornalin are just a few of the grapes responsible for the region’s whites and reds, which range from bright juicy, aromatic, and mineral-driven to powerful and rustic in character.
Château Feuillet represents our first Valle d’Aosta import. With its singular wines from an absolutely breathtaking environment, it is certainly a region to get excited about.
Great winemakers, great terroirs, there is never any hurry. And I no longer buy into this idea of “peak” maturity. Great winemakers, great terroirs, their wines offer different pleasures at different ages.
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