Saturday, October 28, 2006

Avanà From The Alta Val di Susa: A New Ice Wine

The Austrians have always made it, and the Canadians are gaining considerable acclaim from theirs, so it seems only natural that Italians should also decide to try their hands at making an Ice Wine, a sweet wine made from grapes that are allowed to dry, not from being heated the way the bunches laid out to dry in a hot area might be, but rather by freezing cold, which is just as effective at removing moisture from the grapes, but doesn’t produce some of the changes in flavor that come with hot drying. Quite simply, one starts with mountain vineyards, and leaves the grapes on the vines until January, by which time there’s snow on the ground and the grapes are close to freeze dried.

Two winemakers in the Alta Val Di Suza north of Torino have begun to make ice wine from Avanà, an autochthonous red grape that also gives interesting red wines, though they are racking the must off the skins when it is still the barest of apricot hues. The bouquet was a little less intense than I might have expected, though swishing brought up scents of honeydew melon and regina Claudia plum mingled with alcohol, sugars, and some bitterness that provides definition. On the palate it’s rich and quite elegant, with powerful sugar-laced regina Claudia plum fruit supported by deft acidity that flows into a clean sweet mineral finish with plum overtones.

It’s quite interesting, and deft, with considerable concentration and sweetness but none of the heat that comes through in a Passito from, say, Pantelleria. Quite a different register, and if you like sweet wines it will be something to keep an eye out for.

Alas, not this year, because they are using what few bottles they have – production was in the low hundreds of 350 ml bottles – to present the wine at trade fairs. However, next year production should exceed a thousand bottles, and it will be sold. Locally, I expect, but this isn’t quite so dire as it sounds: the Val di Susa is quite beautiful and well worth a visit. So if you come to Italy next summer, here’s another reason to head north from Torino!

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