Vien De Nus

Posted by Keith Wallace

Several grapes are nearing extinction in the mountainous area of the smallest wine region in Italy, Valle D’Aosta. These grapes have grown there for years, yet only a small percentage of wine lovers know about them. One particular grape piqued my interest – Vien de Nus (Vine of Nus). I first came across this grape being referenced as near extinction in Ian d’Agata’s book, “Native Wine Grapes of Italy” and I went on to get further information from Jancis Robinson’s “Wine Grapes” and “Oxford Companion to Wine.”

Both of Robinson’s books had very little information on the grape. This led to me finding articles online about the grape and the region it comes from. I aimed to discover if this grape supports wine that more people should try before it is lost forever. Perhaps this is a grape best experienced within the region where it grows. Wine drinkers in other areas may not have the same appreciation for how the grape is grown and made into wine. Thus started my journey of researching the history of the grape and producers still using it.

The Vien De Nus grape comes from a likely place; the village of Nus, located in the Valle D’Aosta region of Northwest Italy. Bordering France and Switzerland, surrounded by mountains, this region is known for its very steep vineyards. It produces wide native, regional, and other Italian varieties of grapes. Mountain growing is also known as “heroic winegrowing” due to the extreme conditions the winemakers work in. The climate is continental and in a rain shadow, providing great conditions for grape growing. The trellised vines cause the grapes to hang down the hillside, making harvesting difficult.

First mentioned in 1838 in the writings of Gaeta, Vien de Nus is likely related to the Petit Rouge grape from the same region. Almost always used as a blending grape, it is a requirement in several DOC wines in the Aosta region; specifically Nus Russo and Petit Rouge blends. I could not secure either of those wines, but I could obtain a different bottle containing this grape. Torrette, produced by Diego Curtaz.

Diego owns 1.6 hectares of vines in the village of Gressan. It is surrounded by the Alps, where the locals still speak a dialect of French called Patouè. His winery makes a few other wines, including the Vien de Nus grape, but he only produces 600 cases each year. This small family vineyard has been making wine in the same manner for years. Diego uses organic farming methods. The Torrette he produces is aged in botti. After it has been decanted and rested awhile, the wine is given a light filtration through cardboard. In addition, he is a member of the Vititculteurs Encavers Valle D’Aosta, which I first learned about in the Oxford Companion. This group is dedicated to reviving local indigenous grapes and maintaining local winemaking practices. On their website, they list eighteen vintners as members. In previous years, they have showcased their wines at an exposition each September. Bringing awareness to these indigenous grapes will go a long way in saving them from complete extinction. I hope the public will embrace their efforts.

As I opened my bottle of 2019 Diego Curtaz Torrette, I reminded myself that this wine would probably be different from other Italian wines I have had. It was most certainly not made in a modern way. This is going to be traditional winemaking at its core.

The wine is a beautiful garnet color. The initial aromas are black pepper and dark fruits. Once the wine opened, I picked up some violet and tobacco notes. My first sip confirmed this was unlike most wines I have tried. It is light in body, medium in acidity, and has a medium level of
tannins. The initial flavor is peppery with a little bit of tobacco. Then, a light hit of licorice comes through. There is also a floral component to this wine. No single flavor is overpowering – they all come together nicely. It leaves a long, pleasant finish on the tongue.
My next step was to pair this wine with a Vallee D’Aosta fontina. Generally, food and wine of the same region pair nicely. This combination did not disappoint. The nuttiness of the cheese was enhanced. The earthiness of the wine seemed to mellow out the corresponding earthy notes in the cheese, making this a delicious pairing.

Wines from this region are not easy to come by, so I am thrilled that I could locate a bottle to try for myself. Someday I would love to visit the region in person. Until then, I am happy to say I got a taste of this wine comprised of a nearly extinct grape. I will spread the word among fellow wine lovers so they may also come to appreciate the grape. We should support the very few wine growers still cultivating this varietal. Cheers!

Lori McKiernan

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