Our small importing team had the opportunity to visit many of our producers in northern and central Italy earlier in the summer. Our first stop was in Valle d’Aosta, the northernmost region of Italy, to visit La Kiuva. We stayed in Bard, a small village situated along a famous pilgrimage route on the Dora Baltea River. Our host pointed out that those historically those traveling north through this region were traveling for reasons of war and conquest (Roman empire) and those traveling south were doing so for reasons of peace (to the Vatican). Because of French and Swiss influences and also their isolation from the rest of Italy in this mountainous terrain, they are really seen as ‘outsiders’ by most Italians to the south. Despite having such a reputation quirkiness (such as our host answering every question with “perhaps”), I found the people to be quite endearing overall.
This tiny, alpine region is predominantly known for its reds from a local clone of Nebbiolo called Picotendro, along with other grapes rarely encountered in the market, such as Gros Vien, Neyret and other field ‘varietal spices’. These vineyards are high and steep (not an ideal place to visit for victims of vertigo) and because of the high elevation, phylloxera (a pest that can be fatal to vines) cannot exist here.
The La Kiuva cooperative oversees 25 hectares of vineyards overseen by about 60 growers in the Aosta AOC sub-zone of Arnad-Montjovet (for reference: there are 350 hectares in the entire AOC of Aosta). Many of the La Kiuva vineyards are centered in and around Chateau Vallaise, a castle which dates back to 15th century. The cooperative makes use of the cellar storage space for riddling (and even the keys to these cellars are ancient)as well as visitor presentations.
There are three wines we tried (and loved).
La Kiuva Arnad-Montjovet Normale 2011 and Superiore 2007 were both comprised of 75% Picotendro (Nebbiolo), 20% Pinot Noir and that varietal spice from Gros Vien, Neyret, Cornalin and Fumin. I found both to be layered and complex with bright cherry fruit, tea leaf and black pepper spiciness but the Superiore–which sees a year in oak– tended to be much more tannic and structured, like a true Nebbiolo, whereas the Normale drank more like a delicious, accessible Pinot Noir. And the La Kiuva Rosé 2011? that was so good it is already sold out (but you can try it in 2012).
As for pairing, we were treated to numerous dishes of charcuterie, lots of delicious lard, Vitello Tonnato (thin sliced veal with tuna sauce), creamy gnocchi, and one tray that our host would not identify until we tasted it: cow udder. This is true mountain country after all!