BEAULIEU-SUR-MER, France: Wisteria is a spring flower originally from Asia. In Japan, it is a symbol of love. The colorful and perfumed flowers mark new beginnings. The vines are very resistant, being able to grow for many hundreds of years spreading out as tall as sixty-five feet and as wide as thirty feet. Therefore, wisteria is a symbol of immortality and longevity. The unique scent of the wisteria is found in the wines of the Petite Arvine blanc grape.
Not all wisteria has an odor, however. Chinese wisteria (sinensis) or the Japanese (floribunda) are known for being the most fragrant. The Wisteria Tunnel at Kawachi Fuji Gardens, Japan is one of the most remarkable displays, including over one hundred and fifty varieties. The vines grow over an arched wire tunnel creating a magical fairyland.
I remember seeing the hanging blooms at times, but I never knew what kind of plant it was.
Wisteria and wine
A couple of years ago, while preparing for a Swiss wine tasting, I learned that Petite Arvine grape, a native variety of the Canton of Valais in Switzerland, may have wisteria aromas. Unfortunately, I was unable to give them an expression.
Anyway, I enjoyed and appreciated the wine from the very first sip.
This year in April I found myself in the South of France. Wisteria, a spring flower, are in peak bloom April into May. Walking through the gardens of the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, I suddenly recognized la glycine en fleurs (the blooming wisteria) as the scent of the Petite Arvine grape.
The view was spectacular. But, finally, I could feel the embracing perfume enveloping my senses. The scent of the wisteria transported me back in time, back to the exquisite moments of tasting the wines of the fragrant Petite Arvine. And at that moment, I was back to the Swiss part of the Rhone Valley, some 470 km far away, in Valais, remembering the exquisite moments of tasting different Petite Arvine wines.
The wines of the Petite Arvine grape
Rendez-vous in the Alps, on the Rhone glacial valley, is the best terroir for Switzerland’s most praised variety. It is a mosaic of soils (granite, limestone, schist), altitude, exposition, a dry climate with warm summers and long sunshine hours and day-night high variations but also the savoir-faire of hundreds of winemakers dating for hundreds of years.
Petite Arvine is an old and orphan variety. Dr. Jose Vouillamoz, botanist, and geneticist studied the grape varieties around the world and he couldn’t find its parents (see Cépages Suisses or Wine Grapes, the last one written with Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding).
Petite Arvine has a reputation as a high-class grape variety. Many consider it as the best white wine grape of the Canton of Valais in Switzerland.
Its complexity is given by the richness in extractives and the ability to be vinified in bone-dry wines, as well as medium-sweet and sweet wines.
Petite Arvine tasting notes
Tasting notes say that Petite Arvine wines are:
Taste: Fragrant and fruity.
Fruit: Possess notes of grapefruit and lime.
Acidity: Have elevated acidity.
Tannin: Feature little to no bitterness.
The resulting wines are incomparable. They may vary from light and fresh with citrus fruits aromas and rhubarb, to more complex, with more body and excellent freshness. Various palates will detect exotic fruits, honey and almond cake flavors, along with some minerality and saltiness that allow a long and lingering finish, providing the sensation of depth.
Sometimes, wine producers choose oak barrel aging, which adds a level of complexity to the wine. Nonetheless, this technique should be carefully mastered to preserve the primary characteristics of the grape.
Aging should be done to enhance the grapes natural flavors while also bringing out their more subtle character. The aging process gives the wine more body, complexity. Stricter regulations apply in order to obtain the best result possible.
The Grand Cru sites are an interesting aspect of Swiss Wine
Likewise, Valais winemakers are more and more concerned by organic and bio-dynamic practices that allow them to work as close as possible to nature and to reflect the right image of terroir.
The different styles cater for all tastes and occasions: light and fresh for the aperitif or simple dishes, as well as more complex wines issued from Grand Cru vineyards or having seen oak aging to accompany main courses. In addition, there are dessert wines that can be absolutely out of heaven (late harvest).
Any of them bring elegance and grace to the table just like the wisteria perfume in a garden. I have to mention that Petite Arvine is also in blends for sparkling wine – and it makes the difference. I’m just charmed.
The Petite Arvine wine opened my eyes and my mind to the world around me. Flowers, aromatic plants, spices and many other details that make the life more beautiful.
Seek out the wines of the Petite Arvine and share your notes here in the comments below.
More info can be found at: www.lesvinsduvalais.ch
Until next time, à votre santé. Enjoy your wines in good health.
Do you have a question for the Sommelier? Just leave it in the comments below.
Teona Floare is a Wine and Travel Consultant and Sommelier at the acclaimed Michelin starred restaurant Le Restaurant des Rois at the 5 star luxury hotel La Reserve de Beaulieu in Beaulieu sur Mer near St. Jean Cap Ferrat.