Straddling the French and Swiss borders in the extreme northwest of Italy, the Valle d’Aosta region is home to a mighty Alpine landscape of snow-capped mountains, verdant valleys, crystalline rivers and crisp mountain air. It is in this rugged terroir that Didier Gerbelle, representing the fourth generation of winemakers in his family, chose to establish his namesake winery and produce wines to serve as ambassadors to this little known region.
His wines cast a spotlight on the native grape varieties of the valley, undiscovered gems like Petit Rouge, Fumin, Cornalin and Premetta, which are cultivated entirely by hand on terraced slopes. Today, the Didier Gerbelle range includes nine wines in total, each bottling produced in tiny quantities. Bursting with aromas of red fruits and roses, his reds have in common a certain liveliness and verve, along with a cool-climate acidity that makes them perfect for food pairing.
Didier Gerbelle established his eponymous winery in 2006, after graduating from the famous oenological school of Alba in Piedmont and taking over his family’s business. Representing the fourth generation of winemakers in his family, Didier knew from a very early age that he wished to dedicate himself fully to winemaking. By the age of five, he was following his paternal grandfather around the family vineyard and by twelve he understood viticultural management. While his ancestors had always produced wine for the family’s own consumption, Didier was the first to establish his own label and to produce wine for commercial purposes.
A passionate young winemaker with an ambitious vision, Didier aims to cast an international spotlight on the indigenous grape varieties of his native Valle d’Aosta. In the past decade, he has invested his time and resources to bringing back from the brink of extinction varieties that have been all-but-forgotten, including Fumin, Cornalin and Petit Rouge. Today, Didier produces a range of nine exquisite wines, eight of which fall under the Valle d’Aosta DOP. The range features five red wines, three white wines and a passito sweet wine, each of which are produced in very limited quantities.
Today, the Didier Gerbelle vineyard extends over 6.9 acres (2.8 hectares) in the municipalities of Villeneuve and Aymavilles in the autonomous region of Valle d’Aosta. Situated in the extreme northwest of Italy, near the border with France and Switzerland, Valle d’Aosta is Italy’s smallest wine region, around one-eighth the size of Piedmont, or around the size of the state of Rhode Island. Here, French is the official second language, also playing a large role in local culture and winemaking. Chardonnay and Gamay can be found planted alongside Picotendro (a local version of Nebbiolo) and Dolcetto, along with a variety of lesser known indigenous grape varieties.
The Aosta Valley is home to a mighty and rugged terroir characterized by extremely high altitudes and steep slopes. The vines, planted mostly on terraced south-facing slopes in order to maximize exposure to the sun, can only be cultivated manually due to the challenging alpine conditions. In fact, they are farmed 100% by hand and without the use of any chemical treatments. The soils are thin, rocky and very poor in nutrients, forcing the vines to dig deep and struggle to provide. This leads to grapes with plenty of concentration, resulting in complex and flavorful wines.
The vineyards of Valle d’Aosta are situated in the rain shadow of the Western Alps, resulting in warm, dry summers without much precipitation or threat of disease. While the sharp diurnal temperature variation results in a beautiful natural acidity of the grapes here, some producers rely on pergola training of the vines in order to keep the vines warmer at night. Didier Gerbelle cultivates grape varieties native to the region, including Petit Rouge, Premetta, Cornalin and Fumin, as well as Gewurztraminer, Viognier, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. The vines are trained in a simple Guyot system and production is limited to only around 15,000 bottler per year.
At the Didier Gerbelle winery, the grapes are typically vinified in stainless steel vats in order to preserve the nuanced natural aromatics of the grapes. The wines are then usually aged in very large, old and oval-shaped Italian botti barrels, in keeping with local tradition. Today the range includes 3 single-varietal white wines (made with Pinot Grigio, Gewurztraminer and Moscato Bianco), one sweet passito wine (made of Premetta) and five red wines.
The Didier Gerbelle Petit Rouge Vigne Plan is a Valle d’Aosta DOP wine made entirely of the local Petit Rouge variety. The grapes are fermented in stainless steel with 12 to 15 days of maceration, followed by a first racking and malolactic fermentation. The wine is aged for 12 months in 10 hL French oak barrels. This gem of a wine reveals on the nose fragrant aromas of red fruits and wild roses. On the palate, it is quite rich in ripe strawberry and BBQ smoke flavors, with moderate tannins and mineral touches. Pair this wine with your favorite cheese and charcuterie board, sausages or barbecued pork dishes.
The Didier Gerbelle Rouge Peque-Na! is a Valle d’Aosta DOP red wine blending 70% Cornalin (a biotype of Broblanc), 15% Premetta and 15% Fumin, all local varietals. The name of the bottling means “Why not” in the local dialect of the Aosta Valley, to reflect the winemaker’s thoughts when deciding to create this wine. The grapes are vinified in stainless steel with 12 to 15 days of maceration, followed by malolactic and 12 months of aging in 15 hL Slavonian oak barrels. This lovely red blend exudes tart red fruit flavors on a smooth and dry palate. It will pair fantastically with roasted red meats or aged cheeses.
The Didier Gerbelle Torrette Superieur Vigne Tsancognein is a Valle d’Aosta DOP red blend comprising 70% Petit Rouge with the rest split between Cornalin, Fumin and Premetta. The grapes are, once again, vinified in stainless steel with 12-15 days of maceration and aged for 12 months in 10hL French oak barrels. This wine has a palate-warming, full-bodied mouthfeel and bright acidity to balance out its tannins. It will pair beautifully with roasted meat dishes or game, pheasant with chestnut stuffing for example.