The Best Kept Secret In Sparkling Wine
Limited Release Alpine Bubbles From Ermes Pavese
Ermes Pavese is the master of the obscure Prié Blanc grape from Val d'Aosta, the least-populous region in all of Italy. Illustration by Jonathan Kemp
Pleasure comes in many different forms. For me, I like harmony and balance, but I also like an unexpected twist to liven things up. Especially when sharing wine with other people, I like the combination of an engaging story with an impressive bottle.
I love Champagne and look for any excuse to drink it: there's truly something special about the region that doesn't come through in sparkling wines from other areas of the world. There are only a few exceptions in my book. A few Mosel producers make some sensational sparkling Rieslings. Recaredo and a few others in the Penedes region (formerly under the Cava D.O.) make exceptional versions that compete with Champagne. But the Ermes Pavese 'Metodo Classico' XVIII from the Aosta Valley in the Italian Alps is probably the most unexpectedly delicious sparkling wine outside of Champagne.
One of the things that makes it special is how little is made. It ranges from about 700-1200 bottles when it's actually produced: but it's only made in the ripest vintages because of the cold climate of the region. (Champagne is hardly a warm region by comparison, but it's a little less severe than the Val d'Aosta).
But I wouldn't be talking about this if were only for its limited production and geek appeal. It's a truly compelling, deep, thought-provoking wine that will blow your hair back. What else do you need in wine?
Most of the Val d'Aosta's wines are produced by cooperatives. Unlike cooperatives elsewhere that drive down quality and act in opposition to independent growers, in the Val d'Aosta they really serve the interests of the community by pooling resources in a hardscrabble province.
The fact that Ermes Pavese has gone it alone is pretty wild. Clearly, he is an exception, and his gift for wrestling complexity and clarity out of the Prié Blanc grape at 4000 feet of elevation is deeply impressive. Many of you may be familiar with his still wine that comes in a distinctive squat bottle with a yellow capsule. That is a great example of the brisk Alpine profile of Prié Blanc. The Metodo Classico, made in the Champagne method, takes that vivid energy and adds layers of complexity that are downright moving. 18 months on the lees, hand-riddled, and zero dosage. This is a labor intensive process that requires a lot of care, and the results are singular and exciting. Bone-dry, opulent, and rich, it is a fine-tuned display of mineral texture, brioche-y nuttiness, and a floral, herbaceous bite. Like any wine of its caliber, it holds together competing elements and harnesses the tension into thrilling energy.
I'm not sure if I'm more confused by the fact that this wine exists at all or that it is so under-appreciated. One thing is for sure, it says something about Ermese Pavese, who has had the confidence and skills to not only strike out on his own in a mountainous backwater of Europe, but to making wines that can fully distract one's attention from the glory of Champagne. He's already made me a fan, hopefully you can join the club as well.