Valle d’Aosta is Italy’s smallest region in area, but when it comes to wine, pound for pound, it’s got to be near the top. This tiny and exclusively mountainous Alpine region whose native language is a sort of cross between French and Provencal called Arpitan, is home to a small slew of native red and white grape varieties, and tonight’s wine is made from one of them that goes by name Prie` Blanc which also grows just across the border in the Valais region of Switzerland.
The vineyards from which these grapes come sit at over 4,000 feet above sea level and are grown, like many are in this region, by a co-operative concern. In an area with weather this harsh, it’s a good thing to have friends and colleagues. Most of the grapes in this area are grown in stone-buttressed, terraced vineyards enclosed within low stone walls, and are trained low (to keep the vines above the Winter and Spring snows, but low enough to keep the tenderest shoots away from the ripping winds the region is known for) onto thick-trunked stone pergolas. So what’s with all this rock? Well, there’s a lot of it around in these high mountains, so it’s a convenient building material for farmers from this region to be sure, but it has a far more practical purpose. The average air temperatures, even in Summer, are quite low often making full fruit ripening difficult, but the high elevations and crystal clear mountain air make the sun’s rays extra strong, so all of these rock structures serve to soak up a large amount of this solar heating during the day, and radiate it onto the vines at night as the temperatures drop.
Nothing about these vineyards is typical. Most of the vines that produce the fruit to make this VERY charming wine are at least 60, and up to 100 years old, and because of the extreme poor nature of the soil, and the remoteness of the sites, most of these vines are still on their original, ungrafted, non-American rootstocks because the root-eating phylloxera louse just can’t survive here for very long. There aren’t many vineyards anywhere in the world that are this venerable and wonderfully un-messed with, and grown in such a peculiar terroir, not to mention the fact that Prie`Blanc in itself is a truly inimitable grape, and the wine that spilled from the bottle this evening was a clear testament to all of these special factors.
I served this fantastically vivacious wine with a first course of egg fettuccine with a Gorgonzola/goat cheese/mascarpone cheese sauce with chive and peas, followed by REAL Fontina Valdostana (Valle D’Aosta’s most famous native cheese) and ham-stuffed breaded chicken cutlets with sauteed spinach on the side.
Blanc de Morgex et de La Salle Vallee`d’Aosta 2012
Extremely pale straw color. Arrestingly piercing aromas of dried yellow wildflowers, hazelnut, white peach, grapefruit, vanilla bean, fresh cream, light white spice, and a strong aroma of wet brook stones. In the moth the body of the wine is medium light, but very intense and fresh with a markedly sassy acidity and super-clean flavors of lemon/lime, yellow cherries, kiwi fruit, grass, tarragon, and flint. Very long bitter almond finish. Incomparable.