A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Petite Arvine - Valle d'Aosta, Italy and Vétroz, Switzerland
Petite Arvine's origins are mysterious, but unfortunately that's all they are. The grape is thought to be native to Switzerland and one source claims that it has been grown in the Valais regions of Switzerland since 1602, while another source dates it to 1878. The 1878 date is important, as it is when the International Ampelographic Society met in Geneva and decided that Petite Arvine was a unique grape not found anywhere else in the Valais or in the world. It is this article that people point to when trying to establish a Swiss origin for the grape, but without knowing exactly how thorough their search was, it's hard to say how credible their statement is. The grape is also known today in the Valle d'Aosta of Italy and some source say that the grape is actually named for the Arve valley around Savoy where the grape is thought to have entered the Valais region, possibly from the Valle d'Aosta. In either case, the grape almost certainly has Alpine origins and today is found virtually nowhere other than the Valais and the Valle d'Aosta.
The grape's parentage is a mystery as well. Petite Arvine was thought to be closely related to Amigne for some time, but recent DNA testing has shown that they may not be that closely related after all. It does seem to be distantly related to Prié Blanc, Premetta and possibly Chasselas. The grape is commonly known as Arvine these days, though the Petite Arvine name was necessary for many years to differentiate it from another grape known as Grosse Arvine (or sometimes Arvine Grande) which has larger berries and which makes wine of a much lower quality. Today, Grosse Arvine is practically extinct (it does not exist in cultivation but only in grape collections) so the distinction isn't as important. The two grapes are related, but not as closely as their names might have you believe. Confusingly, both Arvine and Arvine Grande are synonyms for Silvaner, which is not related to either Petite Arvine or Grosse Arvine.
Viticulturally, Petite Arvine is a very late ripener, sometimes ripening a full month later than Chasselas. As a result, the vine needs a lot of sun to ensure that it gets completely ripe and it also needs to be protected from the wind as the clusters can be fragile. Wines made from the grape are highly esteemed, and though the Oxford Companion to Wine doesn't have much to say about Petite Arvine, it does say that it is "the finest of the grape specialties of Valais." Despite it's high critical esteem, Petite Arvine is not very widely grown, occupying only about 150 hectares of land in Switzerland, though this figure is up significantly from the 65 hectares planted in the year 2000. I couldn't find any numbers on the Italian acreage devoted to the grape, but you can be sure that it is extraordinarily small. Wines made from the grape run the gamut from bone dry to sticky sweet.
Amigne). The wine came in a 500 mL bottle and I picked it up for about $39. In the glass, the wine was a fairly deep lemon gold color. The nose was very shy with a little bit of peaches and honey and something a little flowery, but it was mostly a blank and never really opened up. On the palate, the wine was medium bodied with fairly low acidity and was surprisingly dry. Given the size of the bottle, I was expecting something a little sweet, but this wasn't it. There were flavors of honeysuckle flower and under ripe peaches, but it was mostly metallic and hollow tasting. I don't say this very often, but this was an awful bottle of wine. It tasted like chemicals and was just bitter and mean. It was so bad, I was only able to get through one glass and had to pour the rest down the sink, which I almost never do. I don't know if this was just a bad bottle or if this wine always tastes this way, but for $39, I won't be running the experiment twice.