The Valle d’Aosta, Italy’s Beautiful Secret

I can see myself living here for a while.

The Valle d’Aosta is the fascinating Alpine junction between France, Switzerland, and Italy.

In the extreme northwest of Italy, Valdostano denizens typically speak both French and Italian, their accents a mind-bending blend of Southern French drawl and classic bouncy, sing-song Italian.

Welcome to the mountains.

Contrary to popular belief, the Romans may not have been first to bring viticulture to the region, with a possible earlier arrival alluded to by locals citing a historian named Guillemot who discovered proof of native vines ca. 2000 or 3000 BC1.

At different moments much later in history, the House of Savoy possessed every greatest wine region in the world: Burgundy, Piedmont, and the Valle d’Aosta (which served as their hunting grounds). Oh, to have been a Duke of Savoy.

The Valle d’Aosta is quite dry, and you’ll see evidence of irrigation all over while driving the freeways — giant sprinklers working to keep vines alive.

Massive streaks of green granite are visible from along the highways that curl through these glacial valleys; roche-mères2 that sit above quarries and seem to bleed crumbly, powdered rock, like green scars cut into the side of a mountain.

Both blue and green granite are common terroir components throughout the Valle d’Aosta. These are ridiculously shallow, sandy glacial soils, where the ocean never reached nor deposited calcium-based limestone minerals (as in neighboring Gattinara, or, say, Chablis).

I’d like to explore this region through two different producers: one is a co-op, integral to the region’s success, and the other an iconic, independent producer. Each is emblematic of the region in a different way. (Click to Read more)

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  1. I can find no trace of this person and am not sure of spelling; if anyone can enlighten me, please comment or email me. []
  2. This best translates to bedrock; imagine an exposed crumbling layer of bedrock whose eroded pieces are strewn down upon a vineyard site to lend its character; or, conversely, are buried deep under a vineyard site, where dry-farmed roots tap into them. []

This New French Wine Monopoly Game Is A Little Crazy

I’m a bit upset I hadn’t heard about this last November when it went on sale.

Look at the playing board for this new French wine edition of Monopoly:

 

How fun is this? One simply must know immediately which vineyards occupy Boardwalk and Park Place squares, and which are the lowly beginner squares.

That’s where the fun begins. Woefully undervalued, struggling Muscadet in the starting blocks? Absolutely, makes sense.

But, Corton Charlemagne as the highest echelon of wine, aka Boardwalk? We need to talk. And things just get worse once you scrutinize regions in between.

Take heed, folks: Côtes de Provence, the Jura and Jurançon are each worth more than Bordeaux. Oh, and Margaux is distinct from Bordeaux.

Exactly who cooked up this valuation hierarchy? Hasbro leveraged a ‘famous’ professional wine magazine La Vigne, part of the France Agricole family of magazines. France Agricole has a wildly esoteric range of farming magazines, specializing in dairy farming, vegetable farming, tractor talk, and food factories, which remind me of Matt Groening’s impossibly specialized satirical magazine covers from the 80s.

He made amazing comics prior to The Simpsons, you know.

Obviously Hasbro wasn’t bringing the big guns to the table in terms of wine valuation data, so you’d think (Click to Read more)

Wine and Mortality, pt 3

“As soon as I realized I was mortal, I started to worry.” Dr David Sinclair, quoted by NYTimes, July 8 2007.

This is the third post in the Wine and Mortality series. Previous articles examined our penchant for aged wine and wine collecting in light of our mortality.

Can you remember the resveratrol craze of the early 2000s, when wine was touted as the Fountain of Youth?

Forever obsessed with the French paradox (“Why aren’t those goddamn French fat like us when they’re constantly eating butter and fat, and drinking to boot?!”), American researchers identified a compound in the antioxidant-laden skins of red grapes which was suddenly touted as an explanation.

And before you knew it — even before a sufficient toxicological study! — the founder of Sirtris Pharmaceuticals was boldly ingesting resveratrol capsules and encouraging family and coworkers to do so, spurred on by results that shocked the world: purportedly, mice injected with ginormous amounts of resveratrol were able to exercise twice as long as normal, with even healthier hearts directly afterwards1.

Resveratrol was as “close to a miraculous molecule as you get”2.  Here’s how the story went: grape skins contain polyphenols, antioxidants which are in essence antibiotics. These antibiotics are there for a distinct purpose: to protect the grape from fungal attack. Fungus attacks the grape, the grape detects it, and a chemical reaction is triggered which ‘activates’ the defensive chemical within the grape skin. Obviously resveratrol levels are quite low in the thin-skinned Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon grapes which undergo noble rot3. Since fungal infections are more common in cooler climates, grapes grown in cooler climates have a higher concentration of resveratrol4.

As is the case with so many other pharmaceutically effective drugs, as luck would have it, there is a wholly unintended positive effect on the human body5. Obviously the grapes didn’t via some empathic moment of evolution one day dream of helping their human caretakers trump their biological clocks. The hypothesis advanced by Sirtris Pharmaceutical was that the chemical compound resveratrol activated (Click to Read more)

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  1. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/17/health/17drug.html?ei=5070&en=d8f9b2e21e814cd8&ex=1181275200&adxnnl=0&adxnnlx=1181171762-n9yR5u5SzvND9+cUJV4dkg&pagewanted=print&_r=0 []
  2. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/08/business/yourmoney/08stream.html?_r=0 []
  3. “During noble rot development in Sauvignon or Sémillon grapes from the Sauternes area, levels of trans-astringin, trans-resveratrol, trans-piceid, and pallidol are quite low.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11902955 []
  4. Kopp P. Resveratrol, a phytoestrogen found in red wine. A possible explanation for the conundrum of the ‘French paradox’? European Journal of Endocrinology 138:619-620, 1998.  []
  5. It is thought that millions of undiscovered therapeutic chemical compounds which are far too costly to chemically synthesize exist in the Amazonian rainforest, and are being wiped out every day with deforestation. We’re pissing away our medicine chest. []