One thing I’ve learned over the years is that a large group will quickly identify the best wine in the room. I brought today’s bottle to a birthday party last week, where it hid in plain sight among Grand Cru Champagne, Bordeaux, and some Italian classics. As the other bottles sat half-empty during during the salad course, this is the wine everyone fought over. And it’s no wonder: The Grosjean family’s small farmstead in the Italian alps has become a destination for “in crowd” wine cognoscenti over the last decade.
As climate change and magazine score pandering drives many Pinot Noir producers in Burgundy and the US toward greater ripeness, those seeking finesse and greater emphasis on terroir have ventured higher up into Europe’s alpine growing regions. In the world’s top restaurants, it’s no longer unusual to see the finest red wines from France’s Jura region, the Swiss Valais, and mountainous regions of Italy alongside the great wines of Burgundy. It’s a significant cultural shift in the wine world, and one I embrace with open arms, because the quality and value of these wines is undeniable! Today we are featuring the top single-vineyard Pinot Noir from Vallée d’Aoste superstar Grosjean. Combining plump Clos Vougeot-like red fruit and graphite, with an alpine gust of floral and conifer scents that is uniquely Valdostano, this is undoubtedly one of the finest Pinots ever bottled in Italy. And did I mention the ridiculously modest price tag? The only drawback with Grosjean’s best wines is scarcity—of the 150-200 cases bottled annually, only one pallet arrives to the US. Almost all is destined for top restaurants in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, but we are elated to share a tiny allotment with you today!
[*PLEASE NOTE: Today’s wine will ship from California the week of Monday, 11/26. Limit 12 bottles per customer.]
Suffice it to say, Italy is not renowned for Pinot Noir—the grape is planted sparingly across the northern reaches of the country and very few of the resulting wines seem capable of harnessing the variety’s true potential. One spectacular exception is the Grosjean family’s example in northwestern Italy’s mountainous Vallée d’Aoste region, which borders both Switzerland and France. Headquartered in the alpine village of Ollignan, three consecutive generations of Grosjean men have worked the vines and cellar in this tiny farmstead. Tending such steep and high-elevation terraces is backbreaking work, but it pays off: The family consistently bottles brilliant red wines that truly stand out in the region. The vibrant energy and bright fruit speaks of the unique alpine terroir, and I can’t think of another Pinot Noir that possesses such density while remaining so utterly juicy and drinkable. Still, it’s the texture and depth of this wine that sets it apart from other Italian Pinot Noirs, making it a perennial slam dunk in my book.
The Grosjean family tree originates in Valgrisenche, which is one of the more remote villages in the French-Italian alpine border region. Historically, the family spent winters herding cattle in the mountains and in the summer months they farmed grapes and chestnuts in lower elevations. This migrant/seasonal existence stayed constant for generations until 1969 when a local wine enthusiast convinced Dauphin Grosjean to present his family’s wine at the local expo. Dauphin’s wine made such an impression on judges and attendees that the family soon found themselves settled permanently in the foothills, dedicating their focus solely to wine.
Today, 56 years after his first wine expo, Dauphin can still be found poking around the Grosjean family cellar almost every day with a glass of wine in hand. He is well into his twilight years, but now has two subsequent generations helping him with the work—his five sons plus an immensely talented grandson, Hervé, who is the chief winemaker and director of the property. Hervé oversees the majority of the daily work and business operations; he is assisted in specific farming tasks by his father and uncle, while Dauphin functions more or less as the property’s ambassador and resident historian. For me, there are few things as fascinating as watching multiple generations work to preserve and improve their family legacy.
The Grosjean’s small property encompasses seven hectares of sandy, gravelly vineyards planted to white varieties: Muscat, Pinot Gris and Petite Arvine, along with red grapes: Petit Rouge, Gamay, Fumin, Cornalin, Premetta, Vuillermin. Still, my favorite of the estate’s wines—which we’re offering today—is their Pinot Noir planted in the “Tzeriat” vineyard. These are the oldest Pinot Noir vines I’ve seen in Italy and the vineyard enjoys one of the most breathtaking vistas in the region—on a clear day, you can stand in the vines and observe a panorama spanning from Mont Blanc to the north, all the way to Piedmont in the south. Sustainable farming techniques have been in place at the Grosjean property since 1975. Today, only organic fertilizers are applied with no pesticides or herbicides. It’s no wonder that such a gorgeous wine originates from this beautiful and meticulously farmed land.
As with many of our favorite wines, the vinification of Grosjean’s Pinot Noir “Vigne Tzeriat” is simple and refined. Grapes are de-stemmed before pressing and must is fermented in stainless steel tanks. During fermentation, the tanks see two daily punchdowns. Following the completion of fermentation, the wine is then aged in French oak barrels for eight months, then the wine is bottled and aged for an additional 1.5 years before release in the US. Like I said above, this is a very limited and we have very little to offer—despite its status as an “insider wine,” I will not be surprised if it sells out quickly.
Grosjean’s 2014 Vallée d’Aoste Pinot Noir “Vigne Tzeriat” is nothing short of astonishing, with it’s purity and texture of red and black fruits, lucidity of soil character, and the ability of its pristine alpine flower and forest aromas to immediately transport one to the Italian alps. This undeniable sense of place is what drinking wine is all about, and it’s a convincing argument for immediately planting more Pinot Noir in the Vallée d’Aoste! Admittedly, I haven’t ever enjoyed today’s wine slowly over many hours so I’ll refrain from sharing any advice about decanting, but I can promise it is drinking deliciously straight from the bottle and into large Burgundy stems. Normally Pinot Noir appreciates more refined cuisine, but this was a heavenly match alongside grilled strips of Wagyu beef (perhaps it’s no surprise given the Grosjean family’s longstanding history with cattle farming). This is an immensely pleasurable, elegant, and layered wine that sings with rare beef—grab some before it disappears!
Mostly Neutral French
Sand and Gravel
Large Burgundy Stem