Background article on Fully en Capital, the wine-tasting event where I sampled these wine selections.
Arvines to fall in love with
The 22 wineries that are members of the Association Fully Grand-Cru present their Arvines each November.
Arvine is the second most widely grown grape in Fully, 32.3 hectares versus 73.3 ha for Fendant (Chasselas). The white wine grape is native to canton Valais and Fully has decided to consider itself the capital partly because Arvine loves acid soils and the gneiss (a granite) which makes up the bulk of Fully’s soil provides it in abundance. As you move up the valley towards Sion, Sierre and Brig you find more limestone.
My favourite wines from the evening of 15 November are very much personal taste choices. The event is a great opportunity for anyone who loves Arvine to compare and contrast terroirs, winemakers’ styles and two vintages: you’ll discover your own preferences. I did not have time to visit as many of these wineries as I would have liked; the names here are some of the best known, but the others should not be overlooked, as they consistently provide good wines.
In the order in which I tasted them:
Cave des Amandiers (Alexandre Delétroz)
Petite Arvine Les Seyes 2018, CHF30
Delétroz makes wines that are very straight, taut, sometimes not easy to drink when they are still quite young. “I prefer the terroir expression, not the grape variety,” he says firmly. You get the feeling he has his ear to the ground and air to pick up those terroir vibes, and it pays off. This one is made and matured in oak for 11 months, in cool years for a bit longer. Classic Arvine aromas of citrus and rhubarb, hints of wisteria, and yet deliciously complex nose with a lively mineral feel in mouth and a finish that has the always-appreciated Arvine hint of salt flourish. I very much preferred this one to the simpler CHF26 Arvine (shown here)
Cave Gérard Dorsaz
Ma Petite Arvine 2018, CHF30
This is an interesting variation on classic dry Arvines, a wine matured on its lies for 11 months, an “alternative to oaking, to get a wine that will age well”, says Dorsaz, who is president of the Fully wineries association. You get a dry, fruity wine that has more body, is rounder than most – definitely a wine for meals rather than as an aperitif. This was my favourite from his collection of three Arvines, although I liked the others.
I’m more of a fan of Marie-Thérèse Chappaz’s reds than whites – I love her Pinot Noir collection – but she is one of the great experts on late harvest and therefore sweet wines. So I was tempted by these Arvines, one dry, one semi-sweet and one sweet. The 2017 Grain Arvine de Fully had a very pleasing albeit interesting nose; when people use the word interesting, especially with wine, I often find they aren’t quite ready to say it’s great, but they suspect it might be. I’m no exception: I kept trying to find what it was I was getting in the nose and to decide if I liked it, since I found it unusual. I asked Chappaz, in the end, saying I was getting something I know from my garden, but what? She took a sniff and suggested sage. She was right, and the wine was indeed fine.
But the wine I liked best of the trio was the 2018 “slightly sweet”, to my surprise, because this is not my type of wine as a rule. This would be beautiful with so many creamy or cheesy dishes, and has enough of the sharpness of this grape to also work with foods with some spiciness. It’s a touch sweet at first impression, but the wonderfully acidic finish adds great character.
Cave Benoît Dorsaz
Les Perches 2018, CHF26
This remains one of my favourite Arvines, year in, year out. I love everything about this wine! Happily, 2018 is no exception to the rule of terroir excellence. The wine comes from a fine vineyard just above the heart of the town of Fully, 2 hectares together, a collection that it has taken four generations of this family to put together and replant. Great-Grandpa planted Arvine here a century ago, Grandpa in 1931 – the grapes that are now used for the late harvest Grain de Folie. The dry version Arvine is made from Les Perches grapes planted by Benoît (1990 and 2003), following his father’s extensions in the 1960s and 70s.
Quintessence is the other regular Arvine here. Quintessence is the name for a collection of six wines that are oaked. It is round and rich and slightly creamy, which shows another (excellent) side to Petite Arvine and, while I can recommend it, it’s the dry version that is my wine friend for life.
Suggestion: take home a 37.5cl bottle of Grain de folie 2016 Petite Arvine Grain Noble to add some joy to the end of your holiday evenings. Dorsaz is one of a handful of Valais experts when it comes to late harvest sweet wines. Note that these Grain Noble charter wines are fine for up to six months after opening them, should you decide sipping slowly is the way to go.
Cave Philippe et Véronyc Mettaz
Petite Arvine Les Claives 2017, CHF25
This is a good winery for comparing vine parcels, in this case Les Mûres and Les Claives, lieu-dit historic names that also appear on wines from Chappaz and Rodeline, as well as a few others.
Les Mûres: great aromas, a mouth that is richer than most – a very accessible Arvine and one I would serve to newcomers to this grape. My personal preference, though, is Les Claives, which is more austere, with less fruit, but a very pleasing, balanced mouth with a fine, long finish. I thing their suggestions are just right: fresh fish with this one, Les Mûres with smoked fish.
Cave La Rodeline (Claudine and Yvon Roduit)
La Murgère Petite Arvine 2018, CHF26.50
This is one of my favourite wineries for comparing and learning, so it’s not surprising I made sure to fit in a stop at this stand. Claudine is the daughter of a nursery man, so grew up with grape DNA in her blood; her sister is the cantonal wine inspector. As if the family’s knowledge of grapes and vineyards weren’t enough, this biodynamic specialist is the vineyard expert in this couple (Yvon makes the wine), and the vines she oversees are some of the most difficult and dramatically placed in Fully, which is saying something.
Every time we discuss Petite Arvine I learn something new. “Murgères” is an old word in this area used to describe piles of stone and pebble that build up. This wine comes from two similar vine parcels that are near each other, 45 year-old vines, which is rather unusual, selected by her father. Both parcels are surrounded by stony heaps on this slope with light soil of sand and limestone where the roots touch granite.
I was able to sample three vintages here, which helped to see how each year was different, but also to understand how this grapes wines can evolve over time. The 2018 has a lovely freshness and complex aromas. The 2017 has a slightly smoky nose, intriguing, and while it is not as fresh as the ’18, the mouth is simply beautiful. Then there was the surprise of the 2014, with a bit of lemon marmalade in the nose, followed by rhubarb in the mouth and a startling freshness for a five-year-old Arvine.
The aromas are beautiful, more complex than with many Arvines, and this one is powerful. Heed their suggestion to let it sit one to two years, then treat it like a fine white wine, respecting the good balance but strength of the alcohol and acidity.