Le Salon de la Petite Arvine 2017

Association Fully Grand Cru tasting at the Hotel Beau-Rivage in Geneva.

This batch of new, or soon-to-be released, petite arvines come from the small village of Fully which overlooks the western gateway to Valais. In last year’s write-up (here) I offered a short history of the grape and described the Fully terroir and its special place among the ancient vineyards of the region.

I repeat now what I said then and others have echoed since: petite arvine is a grape of great potential. It’s a finicky variety that thrives in the decomposed quartz and granite soils of Fully and is claimed by villagers, a bit cheekily, as their own. The only limitations to its greatness is its place of origin and the skill and daring of the winemaker. And therein lies the rub.

In many horizontal tastings, like this one, there is a certain monotony of style: usually a blocked malolactic fermentation with a concomitant sharpness that borders on ungenerous. Some examples quite simply lack ripeness and stuffing while others achieve an uneasy balance with residual sugar. Worse, with few exceptions—Marie-Thérèse Chappaz in particular—experimentation is uncommon.

Perhaps this is nit-picking because the overall quality of the current arvine crop is quite good. When fully ripe and structurally balanced petite arvine can take its place among the great white wines of the world. It’s also a suitable variety for fermentation experiments—amphorae fermentations have proven very successful (Amédée Mathier). Why not foudres, concrete eggs and barriques? Likewise, it’s an excellent candidate for malolactic fermentation (Marie-Thérèse Chappaz).

There is nothing wrong with the default style but it’s too often chosen for its efficacy and unchallenged acceptance. I believe there is more to petite arvine than this, but it’s going to take more than a few daring zealots to challenge the status quo.

The Wines

Petite Arvine, Les Perches 2016, Benoît Dorsaz, Valais: Pale straw in color. Dusty, gravelly nose with Lemondrop cocktail notes and herbs. Medium-bodied with zesty lemon fruit and wet stone flavors. Lots of extract. Tight and focused. Very good.

Petite Arvine 2016, Philippe & Véronyc Mettaz, Valais: Straw colored. Reigned in lemon and witch hazel aromas. Flavors of gin botanicals and tropical fruit are a bit heavy. Residual sugar evident and contribute to the heaviness. Balance is off-kilter.

Petite Arvine, Les Mûres 2016, Philippe & Véronyc Mettaz, Valais: Straw colored. Very ripe pineapple confit aroma. Palate is bright, lively and decidedly tropical with some chalky minerality. Nice sweetness (not sugar) and nicely balanced. I liked this quite a bit.

Petite Arvine, Les Seilles 2016, André Roduit & Fils, Valais: Straw/gold in color. Lactic, brown butter and herbs nose. Savory flavors of ghee and herbs slide across a somewhat filmy, oily texture. The lemon-like acidity keeps things popping. There is heat in the finish.

Petite Arvine, Follatères 2016, Cave des Vignerons—Famille Thétaz, Valais (cuve sample: Not bottled, still on lees. A little nutty (autolytic) with pineapple and stony lemon. Nice, ripe lemon fruit and herbs. Lemony lift to finish with a lactic edge. Very good potential.

Petite Arvine, Follatères 2015, Cave des Vignerons—Famille Thétaz, Valais: Straw in color. Tangerine peel, herbs and sawdust to start. Palate is fat (a 2015 characteristic)  with herbs and a lovely citrus lift to finish. Very nicely balanced for the vintage with clean, bright flavors.

Petite Arvine, Follatères 2014, Cave des Vignerons—Famille Thétaz, Valais: Straw colored. Nice progression through each vintage. Broad, expanded aroma of tropical fruit and caramel. Flavors include Lemondrop cocktail and salted caramel. A finishing kick of citrus flavor seems characteristic of the house style. Nice wine.

Grain Arvine, Les Épalins 2015, Marie-Thérèse Chappaz, Valais: Pale straw color. Very restrained nose, almost closed. Neither fruity nor savory. Best described as mineral. Opens on the palate with cream and a huge swath of mineral extract. This took a full year to finish its fermentation and malolactic treatment. This is as brooding a petite arvine as I have tasted and may take years to fully develop. I trust its pedigree.

Grain Arvine, Les Seilles 2012, Marie-Thérèse Chappaz, Valais: Straw colored. Uncharacteristic new oak aroma (this spent two years in new wood) with butterscotch and orange cream notes. Lots of vanilla and coconut flavors but not at all tired. Vigorous and still youthful. This could give many white Bordeaux’s a run for the money. I was amused that Marie-Thérèse was almost apologetic for the wine. She noted it as a one-off, probably never to be repeated. I told her I liked it very much. And I do.

Grain Arvine, Seilles & Claives 2010, Marie-Thérèse Chappaz, Valais: Straw colored. Not much color development with a nose that is rich with roasted grain, lemon and herbs. Palate is sweet with lemon fruit extract and bright, tingling acids. Very fresh and vigorous. Very good.

Petite Arvine de Fully 2016, Cave des Amandiers, Valais (cuve sample): Cloudy, milky sample. Very green, grassy almost sauvignon nose. Palate is crisp and brisk with banana and lemon flavors. Yeastiness too. Large-framed and very rich. This is an interesting sample that should prove to be quite good when bottled.

Petite Arvine de Fully 2015, Cave des Amandiers, Valais: Pale straw in color. Very undeveloped nose marked by lemon notes. Very fresh. Palate is undifferentiated with no discernible theme. A bit of banana on the palate with a lot of texture and flesh but no development. Perhaps a bit awkward.

My notes from last year when this was tasted as a cuve sample: Bottled early for tasting. Still on its lees. Slightly cloudy and straw in color. Yeasty, autolytic nose with nice lemony lift. Some candied citrus as well. Firm, dry palate with lemony fruit. Nice extract. Very good potential.

Petite Arvine 2016, Clos la Cigale—Michel Dorsaz, Valais: Pale straw in color. This begins rubbery in the nose with notes of reduction and SO2. Mostly blows off with air. This is a rich and intensely herbal wine with a creamy seriousness. Lemon and fresh herb flavors. Some finishing heat. I like the potential here.

Petite Arvine, La Meule 2016, Clos la Cigale—Michel Dorsaz, Valais: Pale straw in color. Dry, Lemondrop cocktail nose with crushed mint. Flavors of fresh herbs and lemon have a rich, textured edge to them. Very nicely balanced with a lemony lift to finish. I like this quite a bit.

Petite Arvine 2016, Etienne Taramarcaz, Valais: Pale straw in color. Pretty, delicate herbal fruit with a slight popped corn note. Palate leads with herbs and a spicy counterpoint. Very distinctive. Rich but not heavy. Finishes a bit short. This is very nice and a bit of a surprise.

Petite Arvine 2016, Cave de L’Orlaya, Valais: Straw colored. Herbal and pineapple notes are barely supported in a creamy, slightly blurry softness. Some pineapple on the palate with an intrusive sweetness. Finishes too sweet for my taste but others really liked it. Judgment reserved.

Petite Arvine, Les Seilles 2016, Cave les Follaterres, Valais: Pale straw in color. Pretty green nose of herbs and grass. Flavors of Lemondrop cocktail and lemon zest. Nicely balanced. Crisp, fresh and bracing. A little vodka-like heat in the finish.

Petite Arvine 2016, Cave le Grillon—Jean-Michel Dorsaz, Valais: Pale straw in color. Spicy pineapple notes on the nose. Palate opens very crisp with lemony fruit. Very linear and a bit one-dimensional. Slightly lifted lemon notes to finish.

Petite Arvine 2015, Cave le Grillon—Jean-Michel Dorsaz, Valais: Pale straw in color. More development here. Nose is ripe with lemon fruit jelly and candied peel. Palate is creamy and rounded with soft lemon cream flavors. Finishes a bit acidic. Time may help to fix that. Pretty good.

Petite Arvine 2014, Cave le Grillon—Jean-Michel Dorsaz, Valais: Straw colored. Chamomile tea nose with hints of volatility. Palate opens creamy with a little melted butterscotch flavor. Lemon zest brightens things up. Volatility lingers in the finish but nothing too bad.

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