Valais has a wonderful collection of wines, far richer in diversity than most wine-growing regions in the world. One of the real jewels among them is Petite Arvine, a wine which has a surprisingly salty finish. A friend who was translating a wine text recently asked me, “That can’t be right, can it? it’s not exactly what I look for in wine!”
We’re not talking about a tequila-style lacing of salt, but a pleasant hint of saltiness that rounds off the taste in your mouth as you set down your glass. It’s a very refreshing wine, partly for this reason.
This weekend, with the season’s asparagus at its best – the two are rightly considered a good marriage – we sampled two excellent but very different Petite Arvines.
Chateau Lichten 2008, Rouvinez winery
The first is from the Rouvinez winery, one of the largest in Valais, based in Sierre. Chateau Lichten 2008 is made from grapes that grow around the small white castle of the same name above Leuk, clearly visible as the train pulls out of the Leuk station, heading for Brig. This is simply a beautiful wine, evocative of the Alps with a strong mineral touch. It is one of the drier versions of this wine, with grapefruit but also subtle notes of wisteria. If you aren’t sure what wisteria smells like, you can find it at low altitudes in protected corners: it’s that beautiful flowering climber, typically pink, that adds charm to old farmhouses.
This is a wine I like on its own as an aperitif, but it also worked well with our simple recipe for asparagus, served warm with a dressing of freshly cut herbs marinated in olive oil and quince vinegar. It is also a good partner for seafood, shellfish and roast chicken. Not surprisingly, it won a silver medal at the Paris Vinalies major wine competition and the Guide Hachette 2010 lists it. Price: CHF23.50, can be ordered online
Gerard Dorsaz, Petite Arvine de Fully, 2009
The second wine is an elegant Petite Arvine from Fully, made by Gerard Dorsaz, one of my favourite winemakers in Valais. He produces excellent wines that benefit from the fact that he is passionate about nature.
His vineyards are beautiful to visit because he works so closely with Mother Nature. During a hike in his vineyards, part of a tasting visit to the cellar last summer, I stood high above the village of Fully and soaked up the Alpine peaks view, the sun, the delightful scent of serpolet (wild) thyme that he plants between the rows of vines, and realized that all of this ends up in the bottle. It’s part of what makes a terroir.
This wine was bottled just weeks ago and will benefit from sitting a bit longer, but even now its appeal is clear. You don’t have to be a specialist to pick out the nose of rhubarb before you drink it, so the honey that comes after is startling and very pleasant – this is truly an interesting wine. Don’t confuse this with a high sugar content: this is not a sweet wine, and it’s fun to see how you can have honey in your mouth without cloying sweetness! His dry Petite Arvine has good acidity. He also makes a mi-flétrie, or semi-sweet Petite Arvine that works well with foie gras.
I found this worked less well with our vinegar and oil dressed asparagus than the drier version, but it would be nice with a richer sauce over the vegetable. Price: CHF22 for the dry version and CHF23 for the mi-flétrie. Can be ordered online.
Note: both wineries are participating in the Valais open house days 13-15 May.