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.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Fumin - Valle d'Aosta, Italy

Even though the Valle d'Aosta is Italy's smallest region by area and even though it ranks dead last in total vineyard area and in total wine production, it has proven to be full of unusual wines to write about.  Today marks our seventh foray into this region, which will place it in second place among Italian wine regions in terms of number of posts I've written (Piemonte is first with a whopping 14 posts).  In the past, we've taken a look at Prié Blanc, Cornalin, Prëmetta, Petit Rouge, Petite Arvine and a blended red wine made from a handful of local grapes.  Many of these grapes are found only in the Valle d'Aosta and to some extent just over the border in Switzerland, but pretty much nowhere else.  This means that there isn't very much of any of them planted and when you couple this with the strong demand for the wines from thirsty skiers and Alpine sightseers, you end up with very little left over for the rest of the world.  Finding wines from the Valle d'Aosta is a rare treat, and today I'd like to talk about Fumin, one of my recent finds from the area.

There isn't much information available about Fumin (see Wikipedia's embarrassingly paltry entry, for example).  There has been a surprising amount of DNA research about the indigenous grapes of the Valle d'Aosta (cited in several of the posts linked above for those curious), though, and it turns out that many of them appear to be related to one another (see this prior post from me, where we discover that Petit Rouge and Mayolet are the grandparents of Cornalin and this paper that shows that Prié and Prëmetta are closely related), but to date Fumin has not been identified in any of the immediate pedigrees for any of the other Valle d'Aosta grapes (though in the paper linked in the prior parenthetical statement, it does seem to have more in common with Cornalin du Valais, the Swiss Cornalin that is parent to the Cornalin d'Aoste and offspring of Petit Rouge and Mayolet, than with any of the other grapes in the region).  It is probably related to the other native grapes somehow, but the exact link just hasn't been discovered yet.

Many sources indicate that Fumin was on its way to extinction on the early 1980's before being rescued and propagated by local growers, but I can't seem to find any primary source that can confirm that story.  It does seem like Fumin's reputation has changed very recently, though.  In her 1996 Guide to Wine Grapes, Jancis Robinson's entry on Fumin reads in full: "tough Valle d'Aosta speciality that is usually blended."  Her opinion has survived essentially intact into the newest edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine (print and online version), which reads: "dark-berried vine speciality of the Valle d'Aosta whose produce is usually used for blending."  In their 2005 Vino Italiano, however, Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch describe Fumin as a "native grape on the rise," and they compare it favorably to Syrah.  In 2010, the New York Times' Eric Asimov featured Fumin in a column about unusual grapes, and by 2011, Ian D'Agata was writing in Decanter that Fumin "only existed in blends as recently as 15 years ago.  Today it is considered the red grape of greatest breeding among the region’s natives [...]"  Fumin has seemingly risen from being at the very least a minor blending component (and at the very worst being essentially extinct) to challenging Petit Rouge for the titles of most widely esteemed and widely planted indigenous red grape in the region.

Despite its recent rise in stature, varietal Fumin wines are still not that easy to find.  The Valle d'Aosta only has just over 500 hectares devoted to viticulture throughout the entire region, and that total is split between a a lot of different grapes (I know I've put this statistic in pretty much everything that I've written about this region, but I just find it fascinating: 90% of the production in the very Alpine Valle d'Aosta is red wine).  I can't find any exact figures for plantings of Fumin, but you can do the preliminary math in your head to figure that there probably isn't  a lot of it.  As far as I know, it isn't planted anywhere else in the world, either.  When you combine scarcity, hot press, and a lively local market, you get a recipe for very few exports and what exports there are tend to be priced high.

This was certainly the case with the bottle of Fumin that I was able to find.  I picked up the last bottle that The Spirited Gourmet had in stock of the 2006 Grosjean Fumin "Vigne Merletta," which I understand is about 90% Fumin and 10% Petit Rouge.  The price tag was a hefty $40, but they only make around 8,000 bottles of this per year (about 666 cases, for you superstitious types).  In the glass the wine was a deep, opaque purple-ruby color with a narrow crimson rim.  The nose was moderately intense with wild black cherry, blackberry and meat aromas along with its signature notes of smoke (the name Fumin comes from fumo, the Italian word for smoke, because of the smoky character of wines made from it).  On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with fairly high acid and fairly soft tannins.  There were dark, brooding flavors of blackberry, blackcurrant, smoke, tar, wild blueberry, black-strap molasses and char.  The dark fruits and earthy smoke are all held up wonderfully by the bright Alpine acidity, though, and this wine never gets overwhelming or dull.  Fans of smoky Rhone-style Syrahs will find a lot to like here, though not necessarily at a value price.  I enjoyed it a lot, though, and felt like $40 was a fair price to pay for a rare wine that was very well done.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

This just crossed my mind, but seeing as how you cite the paltry Wiki on Fumin above, have you considered adapting your posts to fill in those Wikipedia pages that are substandard?