Prize offered to best “student” at tonght’s introduction to wine tasting class!
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – I’ve lined up the six beautiful wines plus one to help us get started for tonight’s “Introduction to wine tasting” class in English at 18:00 at Arvinis in Morges. The class is one hour long and will give you the basics for making a useful and fun tour of the wine fair, with its daunting 2,500 wines that can be tasted.
We’ll be tasting white wines from Vaud, Valais and Geneva, followed by reds from Vaud, Neuchatel and Lebanon.
And one lucky participant will wine a special bottle from one of the wineries whose wines we are tasting!
This is not a shopping expedition – you can order but not buy wines tonight, Vaud law for such events. That frees you up to enjoy yourself, knowing that shipping is quick and easy in Switzerland.
Here are some of the wines we’ll be tasting and discussing tonight. There are a few places left but you’ll need to register ahead, so don’t delay – we have to know how much wine to open in advance.
Two by women
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – A reminder that this is your chance to learn the basics of tasting wine, in English, combined with a visit to the Arvinis wine fair Friday night.
I’ll be running the introduction to wine-tasting session at the Arvinis wine fair. We’ll taste five Swiss wines and one from Lebanon, whose producers are the guest of honour at the 2013 fair. We’ll concentrate on the basics – this is for beginners – and I’ll give you some tips for how to visit stands that offer a total of 2,500 wines – how to taste wine, talk about it (you’ll learn a few new French words) remain standing and better yet, remember what you liked!
I think you’ll find it fun and a great way to prepare for the rest of the evening.
Cost of the session: CHF35 (entry to Arvinis, also CHF35, which gives you a glass for tasting at all the stands)
Date: 19 April, from 18:00-19:00. Register online and sign up in advance; last year, the first year it was offered, the class in English was sold out.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Provins, canton Valais cooperative winery and Switzerland’s largest wine producer, has filed criminal charges against an unknown person(s) for defamation and slander, the company said Friday 12 April.
The Sion-based firm says that for several months vicious rumours have been circulating that it is in financial trouble and planning to sell the company, both of which are “totally unfounded” stories.
The cooperative points out that given its status as a cooperative, it does not even have the legal option of selling the company or moving its decision-making outside the canton.
Its finances are healthy, the company says, and since the start of 2013, sales have increased by 12 percent compared to the same period in 2012, notes spokesperson David Genolet.
The rumours appear to be designed to cause the cooperative and Valais wine grape growers damage in a market that is already difficult for Swiss winemakers, says the company.
The market is weak despite recent good harvests, in part because of wine consumption gradually falling in Switzerland but also throughout the major wine consumer countries. Stocks remain relatively high.
Filing charges will open an investigation and the company hopes to find the source of the rumours; it said Friday it is reserving the right to press not only charges, but demand financial restitution if the culprit can be identified.
LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND – Coarse sea salt, in particular fleur de sel, is what the Swiss Heart Association tells us we should be using, while of course being sensible about the limiting the quantity of salt in our food and using herbs and spices more often to flavour foods. Strangely enough, having read the web site of Camargue’s famous salts, and more recently a Fleur de Sel Celtic salt page which reminded me that fleur de sel has far more minerals and trace elements than table salt, I still couldn’t have said how this salt develops.
EPFL has a little quiz today on its home page, although rather oddly it’s labeled Monday 15 April 2013, about the source of sea salt. I admit I’m embarrassed that I got it wrong. The answer provides a quick little science lesson – in fact these weekly lessons are a good series, for kids but also forgetful adults who once knew these things.
Here’s what the book with sensible suggestions and 62 recipes from the Fondation Suisse de Cardiologie.
More on salt from the US salt industry and
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Swiss white wines are so often drunk young that it’s a surprise to find an older one. Chasselas vertical tastings are becoming popular, thanks to efforts by wine producers in Vaud in particular, and we now know that some of them age beautifully and within 10 years they can develop new notes of toast and honey, a deeper, richer colour.
What a surprise, then, to open a bottle of Riesling Sylvaner from Domaine de Beudon near Fully, a 2004, and find that after 9 year it is still young and clear and fruity, a fountain of youth wine.
At CHF17.80 a bottle from the winery, this is both a great wine and a conversation piece. While you’re talking about it, you can mention that the grape variety is also called Mueller-Thurgau in Switzerland, after the Swiss Dr Mueller who crossed Riesling with Madeleine Royale grapes to create the variety.
The nose is fruity and intense, with a hint of licorice and intriguing notes of rose and licorice. In mouth it is dry, rich and has a lovely unctuous finish with mandarin notes. It has enough body to pair well with a meal, particularly fish.
But don’t plan to just drop in with your car, for Marion and Jacques Granges live and work on top of a nearly inaccessible hill next to Fully, which you’ll have to climb on foot unless you want the wine sent to you. The splendid isolation of the winery and the vines is no accident; their distance from other growers and farmers makes it possible to observe the strict regulations that are part of organic winemaking.
The Granges and their wine are included in the new Bio wines guidebook I wrote about recently here.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Swissinfo carries a very good article by Michèle Laird about Swiss wine and the hoopla surrounding the recent mention of four wines by a Robert Parker writer. She mentions a number of people involved in the world of Swiss wine, and she points out that women are increasingly playing a role, not least in promoting the quality of Swiss wine.
This writer and this blog, mentioned, will now take a bow, thank you.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Tomorrow is the classic roast, gigot d’agneau, for Easter dinner at our house.
I’ve been longing, however, for the Easter meal I had when I lived on the west coast of Ireland, young goat (kid) stewed gently in Guinness, with prunes, onion and garlic. A packet of kid, labelled “1/2 cabri”, nearly leaped off the shelf at me in the Manor in Sierre, so we’re having an Easter Saturday dinner, Irish style.
I love the combination of the sweet and bitter in the Guinness added to the rich fruit and flavourful vegetables and the delicious taste of kid.
For those who are not familiar with it, kid needs to be cooked until very tender. The meat is somewhat like lamb in taste, but less gamey if you have good quality meat.
It can also be roasted (the whole cabri at the store were out of my budget – and we’re having lamb tomorrow, I remind myself), but several countries have traditional recipes for stewed kid, from Dominican Republic creole dishes to southern Italian ragouts.
Back to Ireland, where my County Clare neighbours raised goats for milk, from which they made beautiful cheese.
The little boys, I’m afraid, had to be dispensed with, just as little boy calves in cheese countries give us fine veal meat. Thus the spring kid dinner for Easter.
A bonus: the kitchen smells heavenly while this is cooking!
What we’re drinking with this
I saved a couple bottles of Guinness for those at my table who want to pair like-to-like, but I’m planning to have my stew with an Italian wine, a dry, rich plummy Amarone (“Argento Amarone della Valpolicella”, CHF19.50 at Manor in Sierre) that I think will match the pruneau flavour nicely. I’ll let you know how it goes. The worst thing that happens is that we save the Amarone for tomorrow’s lamb, after carefully resealing it. That’s a great combination.
On the side: we’ll finish with a green salad with oil and Balsamic vinegar, with green olives and crumbled dry goat’s cheese in the salad, maybe dried tomatoes slivered on top if I have them.
1/2 kid (cabri), cut into 4-5 chunks (1.8kg; note: CHF28.50/kg)3 bottles of Guinness stout (Coop and Manor both sell it)2 cups ( homemade chicken broth (carcass stewed for an hour with 1 onion, 2 carrots, 1 celery stalk, salted)1 Manor packet of freshly dried prunes, 250 g3 medium onions5-8 garlic cloves, not too big
6-8 potatoes, firm varieties, partly peeled
1 tsp fleur de sel de Camargue, “nature sauvage” (Manor carries this as well as the regular version)
1 tsp. Pepe Valle Maggia punto verde Bignasco (Ticino black pepper with wine & spirits)
Pre-heat the oven to 170C.
Brown the onion gently over medium heat for 5 minutes in a heavy pan – I use a Le Creuset pan.
Sprinkle the kid lightly with flour, brown, 2 pieces at a time over medium-high heat just until the meat takes on some colour. Add the garlic and reduce heat, brown garlic gently for 1 minute.
Spread the prunes around the meat, avoiding the bottom of the pan so they won’t stick during cooking.
Add the chicken broth: if you’re using broth you’ve had in your refrigerator for a day, turn up the heat high enough to bring the broth to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low.
Pour 2 bottles of the Guinness over the meat and onions. Once it settles and the head on the Guinness dies down, add the potatoes, placing them on stop of the meat so they are not sitting in the Guinness.
If needed, to keep the meat in liquid, add the third bottle of the stout.
Final touch: use a spoon for the salt and pepper, both of which are slightly sticky, then pinch a bit on top of each potato. Place a bunch of parsley, preferably flat leaf, on top, out of the liquid.
Cover and leave in the oven for 4 hours. Check occasionally that the meat is not sticking, and spoon some of the liquid over the top of the meat to keep it very moist.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Here’s the news: Pinot Noir ’09 from Gantenbein winery in canton Graubuenden was given a note of 91 by Robert Parker wine reviewer Neal Martin.
This comes on the heels of four Swiss wines mentioned recently by another Parker reviewer, David Schildknecht.
The information was bundled into a press release from Swiss Wine Promotion Thursday 28 March that will fuel the debate about why any of this matters.
Does Switzerland need Parker? And what notes did Schildknecht give the wines, which he included in his “best of 2012″ list?
In a world where +90 seems to matter, what does it all signify? The Parker household is currently suffering a bit of bother, so do they still count?
I hate articles that use question marks, but I include them because I’m hearing them at every wine event I’ve attended since the Parker review news made the Swiss wine world rounds in January.
Here’s my take:
- A good mention from Parker never hurt any winery and while the rest of the world may not suddenly sit up and say let’s go shopping for Swiss wines, it puts the winery on a world map and the producer can boast of it for years
- Swiss wines are never going to make the big bible must-have lists from Parker, let’s say the top 100, even if they are good enough to compete because those lists demand that enough of the wine is available for purchase in the US; Switzerland simply doen’t produce wine in large enough quantities to make the grade
- Two articles is better than one, and Swiss wines, so rarely mentioned by reviewers who tend to get stuck somewhere inside the French border, now have two in the space of two months. And these praise specific wines and wineries very highly. The message is out: Switzerland makes some absolutely superb wines
- The spinoff for the rest of Swiss wines, those not visited by the Parker powerhouse reviewers (and yes, Parker power is still strong): it’s wrong to think that while the message is out there it’s so subtle as far as consumers go that for non-reviewed wineries it will seem like a flash in the pan that doesn’t help them – they would, of course, like to see more reviews, notes from Parker, etc. to put their own wines on the map
- Notoriety, in the most positive sense, is a matter of building blocks, of one positive mention after another, of getting the message out and hearing it repeated, as when the words Swiss + wine = quality are out there, everyone who makes good wine benefits.
Yes, is the short answer, Swiss wines will benefit, all of them, although obviously none so much as the five wineries in question (details follow).
It’s a bit like being sainted by the Catholic Church: everyone knows you’re very very good, but that title of Saint adds lustre that just gets better with age because it’s a form of universal recognition. And it rubs off on those around the saint, who are surely also rather holy, goes the thinking. (Don’t take my analogy too far, especially if you’re anti-religion or never though much of Mother Teresa, who’s coming in for sharp criticism from Canadian researchers).
Where the reviews fit into the Parker empire
Detective Ellen takes some detours
I’ve just spent a maddening morning trying to unravel references to the Swiss wine that was given 91 points by Martin. He’s a British reviewer, for those of you who fear a too-American Parker influence on wines, and he’s off in Bordeaux promoting his latest book, on Pomerol wines.
Here’s what he writes:
“I have admired the Pinot Noirs from Martha and Daniel Gantenbein for many years, ever since being served a vintage blind and finding it equal to many a top Burgundy. Their 2009 has an intense bouquet of dark cherries, shellfish and hints of blackberry leaf that are plush and open. The palate is well-balanced; although blind against the Chambertin Rousseau it is clear that it does not posses the same precision and delineation. However, if it is purity you are seeking, then this Pinot has it all with a sweet ripe, slightly piquant finish that lingers in the mouth. This is a great Pinot Noir, although I have encountered even better from this superb estate. Tasted November 2012.”
I tweeted him for clarification about where this appeared and hope he’ll find time to answer, between tasting Bordeaux and selling books.
Martin writes the sometimes rambling and fun-loving “Wine Journal” on the Parker web site, which the author describes as “an independent state within the kingdom of eRobertParker.com, home to the writings and musings upon wine, music and anything else that happens to wander into the permeable mind of your host, Neal Martin.”
The Gantenbein wine is nowhere to be found in the Wine Journal.
Martha and Daniel Gantenbein don’t mention Martin’s note on their web site, although I did have a fun detour there watching a video on how their extraordinary winery was built, using a new method of bricklaying.
The building is a wonderful surprise in the bucolic Graubuenden countryside near the small town of Flaesch. I did a tour of the winery a year ago, with members of the Memoire des Vins Suisses group, and tasted the couple’s wines, which was lucky because they are extraordinarily difficult to buy, with most of the production going to restaurants.
I finally found Martin’s review, not chez Parker but on the site of the ultra-exclusive wine & dine group, The White Club in Basel, whose 100 members occasionally invite guests to dinner, and he was one.
Schildknecht’s review was easier to find, when it came out in January, because it appears on the Parker web site, but I was initially confused by references to “best of 2012″. This isn’t Parker’s overall best of 2012, to clarify. It’s Schildknecht’s list.
Swiss account for 25% of reviewer’s most “thrilling” wines in 2012
The author has worked with Parker for years and is one of the mainstays of the reviewing system, so when he says something is good, winelovers listen. But the mention of three Swiss wines didn’t come with any notes, which puzzled me until I read the review: it’s his own roundup of some personal “wines that thrilled me” in 2012, in specific categories. Notes aside, that’s heady stuff for a winemaker, to have his bottle labeled thrilling.
Schildknecht selected just three wines from around the world for each of his four categories (plus three wineries, that form a Plus Ultra group), meaning that of 12 wines/wineries, 25 percent are Swiss. Not bad for a country that isn’t even listed by Parker’s Wine Advocate search feature!
The notes will reportedly be given later, so we’ll just have to wait for that detail.
The “Madame Pinot” group didn’t include any Swiss wines, for which he offers an apology because his collection offers Pinot Noirs that are not just good but “improbably” so.
“Variations on Bordelais themes” – his trio includes Cantina Kopp von der Crone Visini’s 2010 Tinello Merlot from Ticino.
“Fruit intensity without the least bit of superficial sweetness; carnal depth; myriad floral and mineral nuances; and sheer mouthwatering savor make this lean, downright refreshing 100% Merlot from glacial moraine in Switzerland’s southernmost village, Pedrinate, a wine that can change your mind about many things!”
“Chasselas – a.k.a. Gutedel; a.ka. Fendant – can render among the most distinctively and irresistibly delicious whites on earth” – two of the three are Swiss, in canton Vaud’s Lavaux region, Blaise Duboux‘s 2010 Dézaley – Haut De Pierre Vieilles Vignes and neighbour Pierre-Luc Leyvraz‘s 2007 St-Saphorin Les Blassinges. The third is just over the border from Basel, in Baden, Hanspeter Ziereisen.
“Where they’re famous for Chasselas – the only place – is in Switzerland’s Vaud, whose steep, towering terraces along the North Shore of Lake Geneva can in the best instances yield whites of distinguished subtlety. They are low-acid – usually undergo ‘malo’ – yet leave you groping for mineral descriptors that do them justice, as well as for another glassful of something so instantly refreshing.The extremely insightful, articulate Blaise Duboux and his 2010 Dézaley – Haut De Pierre Vieilles Vignes won’t let me rest.”
“Vaud veteran Pierre-Luc Leyvraz renders a single Chasselas bottling from a mosaic of parcels, committing a number of winemaking fashion faux-pas along the way. He showed me a remarkable vertical, so while you might want to look out for the vibrant and succulent 2010 that has recently been imported, I’ll single out here the 2007 St-Saphorin Les Blassinges whose silken amalgam of almond, quince, green tea, iris, and honeysuckle has haunted me ever since.”
The last group is basically “outrageous”, says Schildknecht. “Wines improbably delicious and in multiple respects unorthodox” – the trio includes Robert Taramarcaz’s Domaine des Muses in Sierre, canton Valais, with his collection rather than a single wine highlighted.
“There are few bottlings that I would want to see young Robert Taramarcaz of the Domaine des Muses relinquish, whether his Chardonnay, Fendant Marsanne, Païen or Petit Arvine; his Cornalin, Gamay, Humagne, Merlot, Pinot, or Syrah. Wine after wine, with few exceptions, this vintner displays an intuitive yet investigative sense for the potential of his grapes and sites, allowing them to speak with eloquence in a conversational (as opposed to overwrought or overly-stylized) tone. You’ll be happy you sought out the small quantities of these that have recently started to reach our shores.”
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – I’ve been following Ta-Nehisi Coates’s rollercoaster ride to speaking perfect French – he writes for The Atlantic, and I’m an old fan of the magazine. I suddenly realized he was going to be spending four days in Montreux, a serious crash course to maitriser la langue even though my sense of Montreux is that it’s better known for people singing, mostly in English! So I began following him on Twitter.
I didn’t have the heart to reply when he said today that 60 million people in France speak French, so how hard can it be? Answer: yeah, but can anyone claim to understand the French?
And then this evening, I realized there is hope for him and his French-speaking future. If I knew where he was I’d get a couple more good bottles to him, real fast, for sharing the ride.
Did not realize the wine in Switzerland was this good. Went to a tasting today. Fool gaffled me for all my Swiss Francs.
— Ta-Nehisi Coates (@tanehisi) March 27, 2013
New guide provides useful tool
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Organic wines, known as “bio” in French, and more particularly biodynamic wines, were long regarded suspiciously by many consumers, conjuring up vague (and not quite right) images of hippy wines made with animal horns and consumed with unpalatable brown rice.
Those were the bad old days and happily for winedrinkers and producers of these products, biodynamic wines, identifiable by their Demeter certification labels, are moving into the mainstream of wine production.
A sign of changing public attitudes and broader acceptance of this holistic approach to agricultural products, notably wines, appeared in Switzerland this week, with the launch of a very good French guidebook to biodynamic wines. It was accompanied by a tasting session of some of these wines, made by four Swiss producers.
Jacques Granges of Domaine Beudon near Fully, whose Gamay 2009 is one of the top wines in the book, says the time is right for broader public acceptance and interest in biodynamic wine. The horsemeat scare was important, he says, because it made people question how their food and drink are made, what’s behind the final product, but the trend started before this recent problem.
Guidebook makes it easier to find biodynamic wines, but also rates them
Details: Guide des Vins en Biodynamie, author Evelyne Malnic, publisher Féret, price euros 19.50.
Some 380 wineries were identified for the book; 102 of them submitted 382 wines from the past three vintages for tasting. Of these 92 percent were retained for the book, “an excellent score” according to the author.
The guide includes 19 Swiss wines from French-speaking Switzerland; wine journalist Alexandre Truffer contributed the Swiss section of the book, which may, in future, be expanded to cover a larger part of the country, he and the publisher said Wednesday at the Chateau d’Aigle in Vaud, where the launch was held.
Two of the 19 wines received top scores of five ladybugs (or ladybirds, depending on your English origins). The cheerful and helpful little garden bug is the mascot for biodynamic products.
Domaine de la Liaudisaz in Fully, Valais, winemaker Marie-Thérèse Chappaz, has five ladybugs for her “Dôle” 2011, with the guide noting “Pure pleasure!”
Domaine Henri Cruchon near Morges, canton Vaud, the Cruchon family led by Raoul, has five ladybugs for its “Sidéris” red 2010 blend, described as “aristocratic” and seductive thanks to a perfect marriage of elegance and maturity.
Some of the wineries are less well-known, but if they are included, they are worth exploring.
Mixed feelings remain about biodynamic, in the wine world
Biodynamic wines as a separate group of products is a movement that does not have a consensus of support in the wine world, but for an odd mix of reasons.
Worldwide, many wineries have improved their products in the past 10 years by reducing the use of chemicals and returning to more natural, often older practices in the vineyards. Some of these producers now pooh-pooh the idea that biodynamic carries this to a natural and necessarily better conclusion.
Others, and this is an old cliché that hangs around, ask if organic and biodynamic wines can really be good, because the emphasis isn’t on the wine itself, the quality of the end product.
The good, the bad, the ugly: ask the right question
This is simply the wrong question, says Reynald Parmelin of the domain La Capitaine in Begnins. It makes little sense to ask whether biodynamic wines are good or not, he argues.
“A wine is either made well or it isn’t, and that includes biodynamic ones.” Parmelin, who also has organic wines, was given Switzerland’s Prix Bio for his organic wines three years in a row, 2009 to 2011.
What’s the difference between organic and biodynamic, both of which are sometimes included in the phrase “natural wines”? It depends a bit on who you ask. I asked Raymond Paccot of Féchy five years ago, when he hosted a small group of producers who were discussing biodynamic methods. “Philosophy,” he said, noting that while organic producers use methods that are better for the soil, the plant, the end product, biodynamic requires a commitment to a more holistic approach to the end product and the entire chain of events that leads to wine in the bottle, its place in the natural order of things.
Swiss wineries, among the world’s most environmentally minded
Switzerland is a pioneer in integrated production wines, which, as one grape grower told me a few years ago, is as close as you can get to organic without being there because your small patch of vines is too close to your neighbour’s.
IP became popular in the 1970s and has grown steadily since then. The reason is easy to see. In a country that cannot produce massive quantities of wine because of limited growing space – look at those mountains and lakes! – maintaining the raw material, the soil and plants, in order to have top quality wines, becomes crucial.
Organic wines have strict rules and regulations for certification, and in a country of small vineyards, even those who would like to go the organic route are not always free to do so.
Canton Vaud is now 90 percent integrated production and other cantons have similar rates: it’s safe to say Swiss wine producers are some of the world’s most environmentally minded. IP has become so widespread that most wineries no longer bother using the Vinatura label to show they are certified.
Beyond this, many of the philosopher-wine producers who opt for the biodynamic path are doing this same: yes, being certified is important but no, saying their products are biodynamic is not their main marketing point. Quality is the bottom line.
The new guidebook makes it easier for the rest of us to find the best bottles.
Notes on 3 wines tasted at the Chateau d’Aigle book launch
Domaine Beudon, “Gamay” 2009
This is a beauty – fruity, fresh, vibrant, a wine with real character. Curiously, it was turned down twice for the Gamay AOC, apparently because it wasn’t “typical” enough. If so, that’s a paradox, because it comes from a line of old family vines that were saved and that may represent the closest thing we have to the Gamays of the past in this region.
La Capitaine, “Réserve Gastronomique blanche” 2011
An exquisite blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc that is surprisingly dry while also aromatic. It was designed in partnership with the Lausanne Palace to go with their seafood and shellfish dishes.
Anne Mueller, “Chasselas” from Villeneuve 2011
My first meeting with relatively new winemaker Mueller, who is energetic and passionate and creative, left me wanting to know more. She has wine genes in her family, but spent some years working in special education before the vines called her home. Her Chasselas is a beauty and the guide’s description of pear and rose petals, delicate aromas in a wine with body, is spot on. The woman’s touch here did not go unnoticed!