The natural luxury of the High Alps
The Cuvée Speciale des Amandiers Millesime 2012 Beau-Rivage Palace originates from the meeting of extreme viticulture and an award winning palate. The wine carries the sig-natures of Alexandre Delétraz and Panas Thibaut, respectively Rookie Wine Producer and Sommelier of the Year, according to the famous restaurant guide Gault & Millaud. σThe Cuvée Speciale is sold exclusively at the Beau-Rivage Palace in Lausanne and was offered during the P5+1 negotiations with Iran for a Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement. Of course, the hotel is already known in the history books for having hosted the Treaty of Lausanne, signed in1923.
Cuvée Beau-Rivage is a special bottling of the Cave des Amandiers, a cellar that pro-duces as many as fifteen different, limited production wines for total a production of just 30 000 bottles. The cellar is the creation of Alexandre Delétraz, a young man who left Geneva a decade ago for Sallion, in the Canton of Valais, and began a new life as a vigneron. The vineyards of Valais represent a unique form of extreme, mountain viticulture. The seven hectares of Delétraz are distributed among stone terraces that rise from 450 to 900 meters. “Up here,” explains the producer, “time has its own logic. Time to do a meticulous job on each vine, on each bunch; time also to raise the wines slowly and calmly, without rushing or imposing constraint that would hinder them from expressing themselves freely.”
Also in the limelight is another exceptional cuvée from extreme mountain vineyards below the glaciers of Mont Blanc, this time a sparkling wine and on the Italian side of the mountain: The Cuvée des Guides, the finest selection of the Cave Mont Blanc located in Morgex, in the Valle d’Aosta. The cellar has just released a limited edition of 30 Magnums, luxuriously packaged by the designer Arnaldo Tranti, creator of the logo UNESCO World Heritage. The hand tailored case is bound in Florentine leather and contains the Magnum bottle accompanied by an ice axe, hand forged by artisans in Valle d’Aosta and intended and to be used to saber the bottle. The wines of Cave Mont Blanc are made from the highest and most extreme vineyards in Europe, reaching altitudes above 1 200 meters, surrounding the villages of Morgex and La Salle.
Just vineyards? There’s so much more. Here the rows of vines, stone walls, and ancient pergolas supported by vertical monoliths are a form of botanic architecture, nestled among the high Alps. And the creation itself of Cuvée des Guides goes beyond the standard process making sparkling wine: it is practically a ritual.
Since the inception of the Cuvée des Guides tirage, aging, riddling, degorgement, and dosage have been done at an altitude of 2,590 meters, at the Monzino mountain hut, making it by far the highest cellar in Europe. Here, extreme temperatures and low atmospheric pressure contribute to the perlage, minerality, and refined structure of the finished wine. The vats of wine are delivered to the hut by helicopter while the yeasts arrive on the backs of alpine guides who ascend along the alpine route for two and half hours in order to protect the yeast from the shock of sudden altitude gains that could inhibit the yeast’s functioning. Just below the seracs of the Bruillard glacier, the bottles rest until the sediment can settle and be disgorged.
Two months ago, however, the small cellar of the Monzino hut was transferred to Pavillon du Mont Fréty, in the intermediate station of Skyway, the new, state-of-the-art cableway on Mont Blanc that connects Courmayeur to Chamonix. Here an elegant tasting room has been added and the artisan traditions of Cave Mont Blanc have found a slightly more modern home while maintaining a high mountain outpost for the Cuvée des Guides. As before, the main cellar of the Cave remains in Morgex, but this satellite cellar at altitude is perfectly adapted for the production of Cuvée des Guides.
Cuvée des Guides is the top selection of the four sparkling wines the Cave produces from the indigenous varietal Prié Blanc, a vine that over the centuries adapted to survive at high elevations. Its growing season is particularly short, which means flowering comes after spring frosts that would otherwise obstruct the fruit from setting. Furthermore, Prié Blanc is one of the very few examples anywhere of a grapevine that was unaffected by the attack of the phylloxera aphid at the end of the 19th century, which decimated viticul-ture across Europe. The high elevation is an unsuitable environment for the phylloxera and even today Prié Blanc vines are propagated directly without the use of foreign root-stock. Many claim that this direct propagation keeps the vines genetically pure and the taste of the resultant wine is an essential expression of the grape varietal, and a bit akin to going back in time and drinking wine as it was in the pre-phyloxera era.
In recent weeks, the Vini Estremi Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle (100 percent Prié Blanc) from Cave Mont Blanc was recognized as “without question, one Italy’s most distinctive white wines,” according to the American wine critic Antonio Galloni, considered by many to be the world’s leading judge of Italian wines. This is high praise for the postage stamp size wine appellation of Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle, and in particular for the Cave Mont Blanc.
The recognition doesn’t surprise the local growers. The mountainsides of Valle d’Aosta are an ideal location for viticulture. The enologist of Cave Mont Blanc, Nicola Del Negro, explains that “at the end of the Nineteenth century, there were 4 000 hectares of vine-yards compared to only 463 today. We’re a long way from getting back to those numbers, but recent decades have brought renewed interest and recovery of old vineyard sites click here to read.” Let’s hope there will be more.
Article by Piera Anna Franini