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Gianluca Telloli, a native of the Valle d’Aosta in far northwest Italy and leading enologist there, got a call several years ago to scout an area to plant some new vines. What he found instead were centenarian, largely abandoned apple trees bearing mostly forgotten antique apple varieties. Inspired by these ancient trees and by the French ciders of Eric Bordelet, Gianluca quit his winemaking job to rediscover the ancient tradition of sidro / cidre. He gathers all of his fruit from abandoned orchards planted at 1000-1500 meters altitude, half of them in the French Alps surrounding Chamonix and half in nearly-deserted Alpine towns in the Italian Alps. It’s a crazy project — a ‘recupero’ that has the border police checking his passport on both sides of the Mont Blanc tunnel! Total production of the cidrerie is 20,000 bottles per year.

The name “Maley” comes from both an old Valdostano name for apple (Malus in Latin) and one of the pre-20th century names for Mont Blanc (Mont Malais). Maley is Gianluca’s revival of an old Valdostano tradition of cider-making that Mussolini quashed in the 1930s as part of his effort to eliminate anything not sufficiently “Italian” — cider being in the fascists’ view a French affectation. The few remaining cider outlaws stopped producing in the 1980s. Maley is currently the only commercial producer of cider in the Valle d’Aosta.

PortoVino imports the Maley Cidre du Mont Blanc, which is made from the antique apple varieties Raventze, Coison de Boussy, and Barbelune. Gianluca follows the old tradition of blending in a small amount of mouth-puckering Blesson pear for tannin and additional perfume. The trees are never treated with any chemicals. Fermentation is with native yeasts and nothing is added to or removed from the must or fermented juice. Once the fermented juice reaches about 4% alcohol, Gianluca bottles it, which enables the secondary fermentation to create the effervescence in the bottle, without disgorgement – the so-called “metodo ancestrale” of creating a sparkling fermented beverage. The alcohol level in the finished cider is 5%.

The very old, high-altitude trees, the blend of different antique apple and pear varieties, and the traditional production methods result in a cider that’s both refreshing and uncommonly complex. There’s an interplay of flavors, acidity, tannin, and fruitiness that will appeal to wine drinkers as well as to lovers of quality cider.

Like wine, Maley cider benefits from aeration. Valdostano cider is traditionally consumed in a shallow earthenware bowl (bolée à cidre), but a wine glass also works. A sparkling wine flute is too narrow. Because the cider is unfiltered, most bottles will have a deposit. That’s a good thing.

Here’s a video of a bottle of Maley cider being sabered on the summit of Mont Blanc: