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A Night at the Aosta

Plain and simple, it’s our nature is to explore. From the depths of space, to the trails of our local parks, we are driven by a boundless sense of curiosity. So when I hear people in the wine shop say that they find the diverse world of Italian wines intimidating, I offer that Italy is a wonderful journey of wines that provides years of exploration and fun. All you have to do is pick a region, read a little about it, buy a few bottles, gather a couple friends, some food, and enjoy. The same is true for me.

Pavese '09 Prié BlancMy passion for wine began with the wines of Italy and even after 15 years of drinking and exploring their diversity, my journey continues. In fact, the most recent leg of my expedition was last Friday, as I gathered five friends and six ancient varietals from Italy’s Valle D’Aosta. The white varietals were Prié Blanc and Petite Arvine and the reds were Cornalin, Vuillermin, Petit Rouge, and Fumin. We all wondered how the Alpine soil and climate would define the wines. Fortunately, all we had to do was pull the corks, drink the wines, and chat it up to find out.

Les Crêtes '09 Petite Arvine

In preparation for the tasting, each of the reds was decanted for an hour and then placed back in the bottle several hours before the tasting began. Once guests arrived, each of the reds was placed back into a decanter. Just prior to serving, each of the whites was Vinturied into a chilled decanter. The order of consumption of the wines was arranged from lightest to heaviest body based upon the literature available on the varietals. Now on to the Valle D’Aosta and its wines…

The Valle D’Aosta may be Italy’s smallest wine region in size and production, but by no means does its wine suffer an inferiority complex. This horseshoe shaped valley’s dry climate and hot summers, when combined with the region’s cool nights, create prime conditions for growing grapes. Flanked by the majestic peaks of Alps, the rocky semiā€fertile soil and steep terraced vineyards of Valle D’Aosta are producing wines as beautiful as the region.

Feudo di San Maurizio '09 CornalinFrom a vineyard at the base of Mont Blanc, came the first grape varietal of the evening, a 09 Prié Blanc, made by the producer Ermes Pavese ($25). Grown in one of the highest elevation vineyards in Europe (3600 feet above sea level), the wine had a jasmine and grapefruit nose. We described the palate as slightly grassy with lemon and watermelon flavors and a waxy feel. Some in the room found a resemblance to Loire Sauvignon Blanc. The wine’s bright acidity made it a lovely palate primer for the night ahead and when paired with the salty fatty prosciutto, the wine shined even brighter.

Next up was the second white, a 09 Petite Arvine from the producer Les Crêtes ($35). I don’t think anyone in the room expected the Petite Arvine to be as complex as it was. In fact, the longer the wine was open the more complex it became. The folks in the room described the nose as apple jelly, citrus, floral, and banana, and we all agreed that this medium bodied white had a long grippy finish with acidity so persistent; it leaves a smile on your face. To let this varietal show all it has to offer, I intend to decant the next Petite Arvine I drink for about an hour. Yes, I decant white wines, but we’ll discuss that in another post.

Feudo di San Maurizio '09 Vuillermin Now on to the reds, and first up was the '09 Cornalin from the producer Feudo di San Maurizio ($25). I would have been happy just to smell this wine let alone drink it. Aromas of balsamic vinegar, white pepper, sweat, and pine resin had the room chatting. An earthy palate of red berries was less complex than the nose, but made for an enjoyable medium to full bodied wine nonetheless. Hoping the wine would open with further air, we each left our glasses aside until later in the evening. Upon returning to the wine after an hour or so, the palate had not turned into the nose, but we still enjoyed the wine.

The next red was the 09 Vuillermin, also from the producer Feudo di San Maurizio ($49), and it came with a great story. Purchased at the Enoteca Vino Nostro in San Francisco, the importer and shop owner, Amanzio Tamanti, informed us the varietal is so rare that there is no vineyard of it. As the story goes, the grapes used to make this wine were collected by the producer from small plantings around the region. Our anticipation, based upon tale, was not let down. Aromas of nutmeg, allspice, cardamom, and flowers greeted us from the glass, while flavors of tart loganberry, wild mountain strawberries, hints of cranberries, and baking spices fueled a long finish. We loved this wine!

Gerbelle Didier '08 Tourrette

Our only blend of the evening was from the DOC Tourrette and was comprised of 70% Petit Rouge, 20% Cornalin, 5% Fumin and 5% Premetta. Made by the producer Gerbelle Didier ($19), the least expensive wine of the night was, by no means, any less of a wine. In fact, my friend Charles' description of the nose as "hints of anise along with an ancient sea bottom of tectonically uplifted earth" had the room in tears, but we all agreed, "Yeah, that’s how it smelled." Charles continued to nail the palate creatively with his "toasted kelp reminiscent of ocean side beach fires" description. Once we all stopped laughing, we, once again, got what he meant, and then we added flavors of tart cherries along with a dark earthiness to his description.

Feudo di San Maurizio '09 Fumin Last, but not least, was the 09 Fumin also from the producer Feudo di San Maurizio ($30). Here we saw similarities to Syrah, but different. Baking spices, fat and smoke aromas were given a humorous twist once again by Charles, as he described the wine’s aromas like a “wet campfire in the morning”. Obviously, we were enjoying the wines and the company just a little by this point. With this wine all of the aromas of the baking spices and fat and smoke aromas were present on the palate along with hints of menthol and a lovely acidity.

At the end of the night, we found the cool alpine climate and soils imparted common traits to both the reds and the whites. Pleasantly, each of the wines ranged in alcohol from 12% to a high of 13.5%. Common to the wines was an acidity and minerality that delivered a crisp and clean palate. These young reds all possessed high toned floral or spice notes and a sense of elegance along with fine well integrated tannins allowing them to show well after only an hour in the decanter.

All in all, the true test of enjoying a bottle of wine is when you would buy it again, and everyone in attendance agreed that we’d buy all of these wines again.

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