If you are looking for fine Italian wine and food, consider the Aosta Valley region of northern Italy. You may find a bargain, and I hope that you'll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour. The Aosta Valley is a tiny corner of northwestern Italy bordering on France and Switzerland. This beautiful valley is surrounded by high mountains, including Europe's highest peak, Mount Blanc. While some other regions of Italy are bilingual, this is the only one where French is extensively spoken. With a population of only 120 thousand this is by far the smallest region. Its largest city is Aosta, home to some 35 thousand people. Tourist attractions include the remains of a Roman amphitheater, churches and other buildings dating back to the Middle Ages, Mount Blanc, and the Matterhorn. The Aosta Valley devotes a mere fifteen hundred acres to grapevines ranking it dead last among Italy's 20 regions. It produces about six hundred thousand gallons of wine a year, putting it at the bottom of the list. Some 90% of this limited wine production is red or rose (only a bit of rose). The region produces a single DOC wine, subdivided into 23 categories. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin. Almost 23% of this region's wine carries the DOC. The Aosta Valley is home to almost three dozen major and secondary grape varieties, with somewhat more red than white varieties. Before reviewing the Aosta Valley wine that I was lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with indigenous wines when touring this beautiful region. Start with Pazzarella; Small Pizza with Porcini Mushrooms, Mozzarella Cheese, and Porcini Mushrooms. As the second course try Fonduta; Fondue with Melted Cheese, Eggs, and Grated Truffles. For dessert indulge yourself with Pere Martin al Vino Rosso; Pears cooked in Spiced Wine with Whipped Cream. OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price. Wine Reviewed Les Cretes Torrette 2006 12.0% alcohol about $22 Let's start with the marketing materials. "Petit Rouge is Valle d'Aosta's claim-to-fame grape. It produces darkly colored and very perfumed red wines. Many think of roses and peonies when they smell this pretty red wine. It is a naturally low-yielding variety that produces very small berries. This is a virtue, because the small berry size produces wines that can be very aromatic and flavorful with a good core of acids and tannins for balance. Enjoy it with braised beef dishes or a wild mushroom risotto." And then there was one. Over the past two and a half years I have tasted wines from eighteen of the twenty regions of Italy. All that was left was the Aosta Valley and Liguria, the Italian Riviera, neither of which export much wine to North America. As soon as I saw that my local wine store imported an Aosta Valley wine I jumped at the opportunity. Perhaps my expectations were too high. On the first sipping I found the wine nice and long with tannins in the background. It was round as well. The first pairing was with a slow cooked beef stew accompanied by potatoes and carrots. The wine was mouth filling and tart. I got the feeling that the grapes were slightly unripe. It actually improved when consumed with a relatively mild tomato-based salsa. On the other hand a Turkish hot pepper sauce, Harissa, did not improve the wine. The next meal included a commercial barbequed chicken leg with the paprika dusted skin, barbequed chicken wings in a sweet and sour sauce, potatoes roasted in chicken fat, and more of the salsa. The wine tasted of black cherries. It had palate-cleansing acidity with no tannins at all (like a Beaujolais). The potatoes melted in my mouth but made the wine sour. And the wings were more powerful than the wine. The salsa cleansed the palate and muted the wine. The final meal was an omelet with smoked salmon. The wine was fruity displaying pleasant acidity but was short. The first cheese was a cream cheese that took away the wine's fruit. In the presence of a marbled Cheddar cheese the wine was sweet and fruity. Final verdict. The Aosta Valley is an expensive part of Italy. This wine was overpriced. I've been doing a column on $10 wines and the best of the lot compete with this one. Perhaps I was overly excited about this wine because of its location. Actually the wines from this part of Italy don't have a special reputation. I won't rush to taste another one, not at this price. Next stop, Liguria.
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