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, March 21, 2012

Prié Blanc - Blanc de Morgex, Valle d'Aosta, Italy

We've covered some extreme climates on this blog, from the wind-swept desert conditions of Santorini to the frigid coast of New England, but we've never dealt with anything quite like the village of Morgex in the Valle d'Aosta.  Sure, we've dealt with other villages within the Valle d'Aosta and have taken a look at quite a few grapes grown here (such as Cornalin, Prëmetta, Petit Rouge and Petite Arvine), but Prié Blanc and Morgex are in a class by themselves.

If you've read any of the other posts I've written about wines from the Valle d'Aosta, you may remember that one of my favorite bits of trivia about this region is that despite the altitude of the vineyards and the overall cool climate, almost 90% of the wine production here is devoted to red wines.  When most people think about the Alpine wines of France or Switzerland, they tend to think of white wines like the Jacquère of Savoie or the Chasselas of Switzerland.  The Valle d'Aosta doesn't really follow that mold and white wines from this region can be difficult to find.  White wines made from grapes that are indigenous to the region are even tougher since there's only one: Prié Blanc.  White wines are made from a handful of other grapes like Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Petit Arvine, but all of those grapes are imports from the surrounding countries.  Prié Blanc is the only known white grape from the Valle d'Aosta and its history in the region can be traced back at least into the early 19th Century.

In a book about the grapes and wines of the Valle d'Aosta published in 1838, an Italian by the name of Gatta mentions Prié and indicates that the grape is synonymous with Premetta, but the two grapes we know by those names today are clearly very different.  For starters, Prëmetta is a red grape while Prié Blanc is white.  Most sources actually refer to Prié Blanc simply as Prié, so I wonder if at some point it was thought that Prié Blanc and Prëmetta were mutations like Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc and the Blanc was added on to distinguish it.  There is a Prié Rouge which has Premetta as a synonym, but I don't know anything else about it.  A study published in 2002 indicates that Prëmetta and Prié Blanc share a lot of the same genetic material, but are definitely distinct cultivars.  For some reason, the VIVC lists Prié Blanc under the prime name of Agostenga, which is generally used as a synonym for Vermentino, but which in this case is a distinct variety.   I haven't seen Agostenga pop up anywhere else in reference to Prié Blanc so I'm not quite sure what to make of that.

To add to the naming confusion, many people refer to the grape as Blanc de Morgex, which is actually the geographical designation for where the wines are made.  To be even more precise, the region is called Blanc de Morgex et de La Salle, as it encompasses both the Morgex and the La Salle villages.  There are 54 acres of land between these two villages which are registered for DOC production and most of them are planted to the Prié grape (the Blanc de Morgex DOC only allows the Prié grape but if a grower within the Blanc de Morgex zone planted Pinot Gris, for instance, they could use the Valle d'Aosta Pinot Gris DOC designation but not the Blanc de Morgex one).  These vineyards are the highest in Europe, standing at over 4000 feet (1200 meters) above sea level.  As a result of the elevation of the region and its seclusion from other wine making regions, phylloxera never arrived in Morgex and La Salle so all the vines are still planted on their original rootstock.  The elevation also limits what grapes could even be planted here as the cool temperatures mean that grapes that need a long ripening season aren't going to get enough warmth and sunlight to make it.  Luckily, Prié Blanc is an early ripener that thrives in this shortened growing season (the grapes that don't quite make it are used for sparkling wine production).  Wind is also a problem this high up so the vines are trained low to the ground to minimize their exposure.  Many of the the vineyards are also located very near the snow line for the mountains and picking is often done in snowy conditions for both table wine and ice wine production.

Wines made from the Prié Blanc grape can be a challenge to find outside of the Valle d'Aosta but I was recently fortunate enough to pick up a bottle (2008 vintage) from my friends at the Wine Bottega for about $20.  The producer is 4000 Metres which is a consortium that sources its grapes from the Cave du Vin Blanc de Morgex et de La Salle, which is itself a cooperative of about 90 growers who all farm their own small patches of Prié Blanc.  The grapes are all hand picked and only native yeasts are used for fermentation.  The wine is lightly filtered, aged for a brief time on the lees and then aged six months in bottle prior to release.  In the glass the wine was a medium lemon gold color.  The nose was very aromatic with lemons, ripe pears and apple juice fruits with a slightly leesy and slightly chalky kind of edge to it. On the palate the wine was on the lighter side of medium with very high acidity.  There were flavors of lemons, green apple, apple juice, and lime with a chalky, stony minerality on the finish.  The fruits were vibrant, electric and intense but stayed nicely grounded by the strong minerality at the end.  This is one of the better white wines I've had in awhile and really has everything that I'm looking for in a white wine.  Excellent acid, intense fruit and a clean, refreshing finish.  For those of you who are allergic to wines at the $20 price point and above, I'd advise you to put that prejudice aside for this wine and give it a shot.  It's unique, well structured and very delicious.

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