Today’s post is a difficul one to write. I’ve this really cool, rare grape to write about and my research and personal experience keeps coming up with nothing. Sure, there’s a reference here or there about Petite Arvine, but there isn’t all that much of substance. Sometimes I get lucky with these things and find out that there’s some kind of controversy or interesting mystery about a grape, but with Petite Arvine, there just doesn’t seem to be anything like that. I could, of course, just ignore the grape and move on, but that will be just plain negligent. So, without further ado, here’s what I was able to find about Petite Arvine.
Petite Arvine’s origins are intriguing, but unfortunately that’s all they are. The grape is thought to be native to Switzerland and one source claims that it has been grown in the Valais regions of Switzerland since 1602, while another source dates it to 1878. The 1878 date is important, as it is when the International Ampelographic Society met in Geneva and decided that Petite Arvine was a unique grape not found anywhere else in the Valais or in the world. It is this article that people referto when trying to establish a Swiss origin for the grape, but without knowing exactly how thorough their search was, it’s hard to say how reliable their statement is. The grape is also known today in the Valle d’Aosta of Italy and some source say that the grape is actually named for the Arve valley around Savoy where the grape is thought to have entered the Valais region, possibly from the Valle d’Aosta. In either case, the grape almost certainly has Alpine origins and today is found virtually nowhere other than the Valais and the Valle d’Aosta.
The grape’s parentage is a mystery as well. Petite Arvine was thought to be closely related toAmigne for some time, but recent DNA testing has shown that they may not be that closely related after all. It does seem to be distantly related to Prié Blanc, Premetta and possiblyChasselas. The grape is commonly known as Arvine these days, though the Petite Arvine name was necessary for many years to differentiate it from another grape known as Grosse Arvine (or sometimes Arvine Grande) which has larger berries and which makes wine of a much lower quality. Today, Grosse Arvine is practically extinct (it does not exist in cultivation but only in grape collections) so the distinction isn’t as important. The two grapes are related, but not as closely as their names might have you believe. Confusingly, both Arvine and Arvine Grande are synonyms for Silvaner, which is not related to either Petite Arvine or Grosse Arvine.
Viticulturally, Petite Arvine is a very late ripener, sometimes ripening a full month later than Chasselas. As a result, the vine needs a lot of sun to ensure that it gets completely ripe and it also needs to be protected from the wind as the clusters can be fragile. Wines made from the grape are highly esteemed, and though the Oxford Companion to Wine doesn’t have much to say about Petite Arvine, it does say that it is “the finest of the grape specialties of Valais.” Despite it’s high critical esteem, Petite Arvine is not very widely grown, occupying only about 150 hectares of land in Switzerland, though this figure is up significantly from the 65 hectares planted in the year 2000. I couldn’t find any numbers on the Italian acreage devoted to the grape, but you can be sure that it is extraordinarily small. Wines made from the grape run the gamut from bone dry to sticky sweet.
I was fortunate enough to taste a number of Petit Arvine bottlings in an intimate encounter of Swiss wine producers at the Swiss consulate in Montreal. Switzerland was the honour country in the 2015 Montreal Lights festival. It was a magnificent tasting, in which i tasted some really good Petite Arvine wines and other magnificent white and red wines from Switzerland. The following were some of my favorites of this mini wine salon.
Varone Petit Arvine 2013. SAQ Code: 12531440. Price: $36.00
Aromas of white grapefuit, lime with lots of citrus character. On the mouth, medium to full body, good acidity with a well endowed minerality. Lenghty and racy on the palate. 93\100.
Provins Grand Métral Petite Arvine 2013. SAQ Code: 11194963. Price: $34.75.
Very aromatic nose. Citric fruit like with touches of honey and lots of flower character. In the mouth, round and very harmonious. Refreshing, with a crisp aftertaste. 93/100.