GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Thousands of visitors to Geneva’s wineries for the annual open house day today will be welcomed with glasses from a very fine harvest. The 2011 vintage wines were presented officially a week earlier to invited guests of Opage, the cantonal agricultural office. The evening was off to a good start: the event was hosted by the International Museum of the Reformation and its director, Isabelle Graesslé, opened the speeches with a chuckle, saying that she found it quite funny for Calvin to be welcoming Geneva’s wine producers.
She then waxed poetic about how much she has always loved to “se rustiquer” in the springtime, heading out from the city centre “to one of the nearby wine villages for a lovely fresh fish with a cool glass of white wine”.
The wines presented were marked by three features: wineries are presenting a larger number of grape varieties including several rarely seen in Switzerland, many of the wines are exceptionally well-structured because they are not as rich and have better acidity than 2010 wines, and a wonderful crop of young wine producers suddenly appears to be making their mark.
New generation showing off its talent
Geneva’s now long-gone reputation for making uninteresting little wines is in no danger of coming back, with the new generation at the helm. The canton went through a rough patch in the 1970s and 1980s when several growers, who had previously just supplied grapes to wineries, turned to making wine themselves. Some succeeded brilliantly, but others were mediocre and their wines did little for the canton’s name, despite some excellent producers making world-class wines.
The situation is now well under control, with the market pushing out most of those whose wines were, frankly, not very good. The new generation is well-trained, often well-traveled, not afraid to experiment but with the know-how to do so intelligently, and it appears to have set its standards high, judging by the new wines. Women oenologists are now taking the reins from their fathers or are part of a couple producing the wine in at least half of the wineries listed below.
What to expect at the winery open houses
This open house day will show off the 2011 vintage for wines that have not been oaked, with some of them so newly bottled the producers haven’t had time to label them. And 2010 wines that have spent up to a year in wood will be part of the day’s treats.
Notes on the 2011 harvest and vintage: a perfect year, with early flowering, a hot July followed by a hot, dry autumn with harvesting lasting from early September to late October with optimal conditions. Fermentation: good quality, quick. The white wines are particularly notable for their expressive noses, with very good structure supporting the aromas. The reds are notable for the presence of silky tannins.
Tip for exploring the area: if you spot a thick map called “Le Compagnon” 2012 published by terre-avenir.ch, which is part of Opage, grab it! It’s a wonderful map to all the regional products in canton Geneva, but it’s also the most useful map for touring the vineyards. A precious find!
How to visit Geneva’s open winery day, published 2010 but tips are still valid.
Note that several wineries are also open this Sunday 13 May, as a Mother’s Day treat.
Here were my top 10 picks from the official presentation (not ranked), where I concentrated on white wines, and made a small tour of the reds at the end:
- Pinot Blanc Réserve de la Commune de Cologny 2011, Domaine de la Vigne Blanche, Cologny, well structured, rich; father Roger Meylan’s daughter Sarah is putting her stamp on these wines (CHF13)
- Aligoté de Peissy 2010, Les Perrières, Peissy, a great wine for aperitifs, well-balanced good acidity, fine delicate aromas (CHF12)
- Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Domaine des Faunes, Dardagny, typical notes of citrus and grapefruit but less apparent aromas than some of the other Sauvignon Blancs, rich and less acidic than some (a point in its favour): “Sauvignon Blanc is so exuberant you have to keep it in check for good quality” (price N/A)
- Scheureube 2010, SYD/ Stephane Dupraz, Soral, one of the more unusual grape varieties here, from a Riesling and wild grape crossing: very aromatic and nose could be confused with a Muscat at first (think grapes!), wonderful acidity, would be perfect with asparagus and since this is now in season, stock up! (CHF15)
- Kerner de Genève 2010, Domaine Les Abeilles d’Or, Chouilly, another close kin of Riesling, an interesting vertical tasting of 2009, 2010 and 2011: beautiful nose of violets, a wine with great finesse (CHF19.20)
- Le Sybillus 2010, La Printaniere, by vineyard that used to do only single grape (varietal) wines, but as they shrink their yields for quality, they have moved into doing blends, says Frederic Dugerdil, and this is a fine example of the new venture: 70% Sylvaner Riesling, 30% Sauvignon Blanc. (price, N/A)
- Chasselas, Domaine du Molards, Russin (open Sunday 13 May): very aromatic with more minerality than one generally expects from Geneva’s Chasselas wines (Vaud’s are famously mineral and Geneva’s are traditionally richer, more floral): beautiful in mouth. Papa is a grape variety fan and the winery has a small museum and an extraordinary collection of 26 grape varieties for the sheer pleasure of it. (CHF9.00)
- Findling, Les Grisling Blanc, Domaine de Charmes, Satigny: beautiful nose of that aroma I personally always have trouble identifying (I grew up in Iowa where we didn’t have these delicate peaches), pêche de vigne. Elegant wine. (CHF12.50) At this point I moved to the reds and this winery’s Merlot 2010 is a beauty, smooth and silky tannins, a great example of how well Geneva can now grow this grape, giving Ticino a run for its money.
- Gamay 2010, Domaine Dugerdil, Dardagny: fruity nose with typical red fruit notes but enlivened by pepper and spice notes, very straight and clean, an elegant version that is one of Geneva’s best examples of this grape variety, with Sophie Dugerdil’s signature (CHF11.50)
- Gamay, Briva, Domaine Les Hutins, dardagny, fruity nose, another elegant version of this varietal, and great fun to compare it with the previous year’s oaked Gamay, from one of my favourite wineries in the canton. (price N/A)