Monday, August 6, 2012

Fumin: A Rarity from the Vallee d'Aoste

The Vallee d'Aoste, tucked away in Italy's mountainous northwest corner, is a small appellation (385 acres unde cultivation) that is home to a surprising number of grape varieties, including such obscurities as Petit Arvine, Premetta, Cornalin, Mayolet, and Fumin (the subject of today's review). There is also a fair amount of nebbiolo planted, although here it goes by the name  Picotendro. Similarly, there is some pinot grigio here also, going by the name Malvoisie. Confusing, yes. Given that the entire appellation's production is smaller than some single Italian estates, it is a wonder that some of these wines make it out of the region at all.

This being the Alps, there are glaciers, and the soil of the appellation's vineyards is glacial moraine, a jumble of rocks and sand left by the movement of glaciers. It's excellent soil for grapevines: with rocks small and large predominating, there is no orderly layering of soil, so drainage is excellent, and the rocks transmit the warmth of the sun deep into the earth.

The history of Frères Grosjean began in 1969 when, at the urging of his friends, Dauphin Grosjean began making wine near the villages of Quart and St. Christophe in the Vallee d'Aoste. From very small beginnings, Grosjean Freres now has about 25 acres under cultivation in the valley, at an altitude of about 2,600 feet. The winery was a pioneer in organic winemaking, following natural and sustainable practices in the vineyard since 1975, now under the direction of winemaker Vincent Grosjean.

Grosjean Fumin “Vigne Merletta” DOC Vallee d'Aoste 2007: This is a blend of 90% Fumin and 10% Petite Rouge, harvested from vines planted between 1990 and 2002. Grapes were hand-picked and de-stemmed; vinification was in wooden vats, with 8-10 days of skin contact. The finished wine was aged (not sure for how long) in wood vats and stainless steel tanks. Total production is just 8,000 bottles annually.

We drank this in the company of our good friend Larry Weaver, who made a rare in-person appearance. The Chef had wonderful homemade pork sausage and grilled baby eggplant for us, which proved an excellent pairing. Upon opening, we got a healthy whiff of SO2, which blew off in a few minutes to reveal aromas of brown spice, a hint of bretty funkiness (which receded with time), and some subtle, complex herbal notes. Larry detected a note of sandalwood. On the palate we got flavors of tart cherry, with the firm acidity cushioned by some softer red fruit. Some firm tannins carried the finish. The overall impression was of elegance and freshness. The wine was quite dark, almost purplish—a reminder that Fumin is often blended in as a teinturier grape, to add color. As is typical of so many Italian reds, the wine showed best with the food—it was really very good with the sausage!

The bottle came from Chambers Street; the Fumin doesn't seem to be available in Asheville, although some other Grosjean wines are around, including the charming Torrette, which is a blend of a rarity called Vien de Nus along with a small proportion of Fumin and Coralin.

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