Monday, July 20, 2009

Les Alps!

Well it was a tough weekend for the veterans! Tom Watson, after playing 71 holes of golf missed a long putt to win The Open and truly make history in one of the greatest comebacks of all time. In the end, Cink was too much in the playoff, and Watson's incredibly exciting run came to an end. But second place ain't bad at nearly 60, and my hat's off to Tom!

In the tour, the first stage of the Alps into Verbier might be telling the same story, as Alberto Contador poured it on in the last climb in a burst of incredible climbing power and ability to leave the Peloton eating his dust, including 37 year old Lance Armstrong. The difference is that this one's not over, and anything can happen in the final week. Lance is in second by a little more than a minute, and there's still a lot of race left!

Tuesday the race starts in Switzerland, over the Hors Category climb of the Col du Grand-St-Bernard and into Italy where they will descend into the Aosta Valley. This is one of the most amazing wine regions I have ever visited, and I love the wines not only for their unique character, but for the gritty tenacity of the people who still grow grapes and make wine in some of the highest vineyards in the world on the steep slopes of the high Alps.

2008 Le Cave du Vin Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle Vini Estremi Vallee d'Aosta, About $20 - While we generally work only with estate grown wines, La Cave du Vin Morgex et de La Salle is a cooperative that bucks the trend. Founded in 1983 in an attempt to rescue viticulture from becoming extinct because of the sheer labor involved to grow grapes in this extreme environment, over 90 growers united to cultivate the Prie Blanc grape, an obscure variety that is indigenous to the Vallee. The growers here look at you with incomprehension if you ask if they farm organically. Here in the high Alps, traditional farming never left; it is simply how they have always done it. The system of trellises used on the steep terraces is called pergola bassa, or low pergola, and they have been used for centuries. La Cave winemaker Gianluca Telloli explains that the low pergola helps protect the vines from wind and deep snow in winter, and allows every ounce of energy from the sun to be captured to help in the ripening of the grapes in summer. By keeping the vines close to the close to the ground, heat is stored and reflected. Stone piles scattered throughout the terraces look haphazard but serve the same purpose, gathering and reflecting heat to the vines.

As for the wine, it is a truly unique white with aromas redolent of white flowers. Crisp and light yet persistent, with just a tinge of spritz. It is as pure and clean on the palate as the alpine environment where it is grown. Delicate nuances of pear, melon, and sea salt flavors are delivered with a stony minerality that comes from the sheer rock where the vines are grown. It has great intensity and finishes with bountiful acidity and very fine length. Sip it on its own, or serve it with salads, charcuterie and anti-pasti, shellfish or mild fish or a poached chicken breast with lemon and herbs.

2005 Caves de Donnas Valle d'Aosta Rouge, about $24 - This is another incredible wine carved out of the rocks of the Alps; Dried cherry, mid weight and with charming old world rusticity. While this is the work of a cooperative, it is work featuring the utmost attention to detail. The vineyards lie on the hillsides of the Dora Balthea on steeply terraced slopes. A blend of 85% Picotendro (Nebbiolo) with a bit of Freisa and Neyret, this is a deliciously rustic red with perfumed dried cherry, cloves and bits of leather. Reminds me of an incredible dinner I had when skiing in Cervinia at a place called La Niege D'Antan, drinking all local wines I had never had before, incredible multicourse dinner culminating with a veal Val D'Aostana, double thick chopped, split and stuffed with Fontina cheese, all melty in the heat of the chop, and crisped parma ham and sage to set it off. Superb!

Renardat-Fâche Cerdon de Bugey, about $24 - The tour leaves the lovely Valle d'Aosta via another HC climb over the Col de Petite St-Bernard and back into France and the Haut Savoie. This is a truly iconic wine region with unique wines from little known grapes. The small French town of Cerdon lies in the shadow of the Alps, an it is here that Alain Renardat-Fâche makes his unique Cerdon de Bugey. This is a pink sparkler made from Gamay and Poulsard grapes using the tradiotnal method of aging the wine in the bottle and disgorging like Champagne, but it's a lot less money! It has moderate sweetness, but is not cloying or heavily sweet at all - just like eating fresh berries - naturally low alcohol makes it a perfect choice on a warm summer day as an aperitif, or after dinner for a refreshing nip that won't do too much damage!

To buy the wines, visit us online at 56 Degree Wine

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