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 – 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 – 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.”
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!
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – France leaves us with no doubts: they are the world’s Chardonnay masters, based on 872 wines from 42 countries that were judged at Château des Ravatys, the wine estate of the Pasteur Institute at Saint Lager in Burgundy, France this week. The Chardonnay-du-Monde wine competition‘s top 10 wines included 7 from France. Canada had an ice wine among the top 10 and South Africa and the Czech Republic each had a winner.
Switzerland had 17 wines that won medals, three of them gold – and two of those went to the Cave de Genève, whose reputation has been growing. The new awards will help seal its name for fine wine: it won gold for its Genève AOC La Nomade Chardonnay 2011 and a sparkling wine, Baccarat Blanc de Blancs Chardonnay Brut.
Neuchatel producer Thiebaud & Co. won gold for a sparkling wine, Neuchatel AOC Cuvée Prestige Louis Thiébaud Chardonnay Brut.
Five of the Swiss winning wines are oaked and six are sparkling wines. They come from cantons Aargau, Geneva, Neuchatel, Vaud, Valais, and the three lakes region, thus representing all of the six wine-growing regions in the country.
Overall, the competition awarded 58 gold medals and 183 silver.
A new country taking part this year was Burma/Myanmar.
And a new “tool” has left me intrigued and a little baffled:
“The use of a new Professional Tasting Instrument resulting from applied research. In addition to organising a flawless competition is the desire to improving the reliability of measuring instruments. This resulted in the adoption of a professional wine-tasting glass for the tasting of sparkling Chardonnay wines. This new tool tested by judges of Effervescents du Monde (www.effervescents-du-monde.com) is an INAO-type tasting glass that contains a precise number of nucleation sites. The objective of this new wine-tasting glass “Fleur d’Effervescence“ is to optimize the tasting of sparkling wines, to calibrate their degree of effervescence, to control the formation of bubbles and to enable ideal expression of the foam…
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Happy news on the wine-tasting front: I’ll be giving two evening sessions in the near future, in English, for those who want to learn more about Swiss wines.
The first is at the Arvinis wine fair where I’ll be running an introduction to wine-tasting session with five Swiss wines and one from Lebanon, 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, remain standing and better yet, remember what you liked!
I did this last year, but this year I’ll be changing the format a bit, based on feedback from the 25 people I had for the session, and 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 English class was sold out.
Women only wine-tasting
The second is a very special new tasting session, just for women, which I’m developing with Les Sens Lémanique in Vinzel, and I’m quite excited about it. Women are known in the wine industry to have more perceptive noses than men, but women also tend to take a back seat at tasting sessions, so this is your opportunity to feel more at ease and say what you really think you’re smelling and tasting.
Beginners and women who are familiar with wine-tasting techniques but who want to develop their ability to appreciate wines’ finer points are both welcome.
“Summer blooms, flowers in our wines” will help us focus on what the pros are talking about when they say wines have floral notes. There is room for just 15 of us, making it an intimate session with a chance to really discuss what we’re learning, a key to better understanding wine.
Here’s the description from the web site of Les Sens Lémaniques, which has a growing variety of special courses; register on the site:
“Summer blooms, flowers in our wines”Learning to use your nose to appreciate wines: a small group of women will spend an evening celebrating Spring and exploring floral notes found in Swiss wines – rose, violet, wisteria, etc. – to better understand the basics of wine tasting and to learn more about excellent wines produced here. The emphasis will be on wines from French-speaking Switzerland, tasting 6 wines. We’ll work with bottled smells and real flowers to first identify floral smells in nature and extracts, then move on to the wines and briefly discuss the four main olfactory groups found in wines: vegetable, mineral, animal and empyreumatic (grilled, toasted notes), and how we go from these to some 500 aromatic substances, including floral notes.Wine-tasting presented by Ellen Wallace, editor of GenevaLunch.com online news media, whose blog “Among the Vines” appears on the site. She is also responsible for the English version of the Vinea Swiss Wines app for iPhone and android, the multi-language definitive guide to top Swiss wineries.Date: Tuesday 4 June 2013, from 18.30 – 20.00 (Length 1-1/2 hours)Price: CHF 80.00
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – If you’re near Bellinzona Thursday 14 March, this is a not-to-be-missed opportunity: the Mémoire des Vins Suisses annual tasting session open to the public, where you can taste vintages from the past 10 years of some of Switzerland’s finest wines.
The wines are from the Trésors des Vins Suisses collection, or wine bank, of the group of 50 wineries that are members of the MDVS, the country’s elite club of wine producers.
Each producer adds 60 bottles of each vintage for a wine that is selected when the winery becomes a member, and at an annual meeting the group holds its own tasting session to comment on and discuss the wines, as well as inviting the public to do the same at an open session.
- Date: Thursday 14 March
- Place: Castelgrande, 6500 Bellinzona
- Time: 14:00-18:00
- Tickets: entry is free if you register online in advance, or CHF20 at the door
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The Memoire des Vins Suisses (MDVS) group of elite wine producers has just added 10 new members, a significant change, with nine of them not producers, but individuals who actively promote Swiss wines through their work.
The Jean René Germanier winery in Vétroz, which left the group in 2008, has returned, bringing with it Amigne Balavaud Grand Cru as its contribution to the MDVS wine bank.
The group was created in 2002, with just a handful of top Swiss wineries, and it initially focused on creating a bank of wines that they believed would age well. Each winery contributes 60 bottles a year to the “Trésor des vins suisses” bank, to test which grape varieties and methods offer Swiss producers the most promising options for developing older vintage wines.
The newly added Amigne from Vétroz is the only wine of this grape variety, widely viewed as one of Switzerland’s finest native grapes, with excellent aging potential.
The new members bring the group to 64, of which 50 are wineries – after adding cellars each year from Switzerland’s six wine regions, the group opted in 2012 to limit iindefinitely the number of wineries to 50. This year the group’s newcomers are individuals who have added to the renown of Swiss wines: Jérome Aké Béda, sommelier; Hans Bättig agricultural engineer at Zurich’s ETH federal polytechnic; Pierre Emmanuel Buss, journalist for Le Temps; France Massy, journalist for Le Nouvelliest in Sion; Mark Segmüller, sommelier and restaurant owner; Pierre Thomas, journalist; Rudolf Trefzer, food and wine writer; José Vouillamoz, grape variety researcher, geneticist and author; Eva Zwahlen, wine writer in German.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The Swiss, for those who don’t know it yet, are very good at whipping up extraordinary gastronomic feasts. Switzerland has 100 Michelin starred restaurants in 2013, one of the highest per capita ratings in the world, and it has local wines that can hold their own at such meals.
It’s not surprising, then, that Swiss wine consumers, with well-trained noses and taste buds, should show a growing interest in older vintage wines. Switzerland doesn’t have a history of large-scale wine aging.
Wineries are mostly family operations and land is expensive and hard to buy, plus sitting on the wine for several years requires a level of investment that small businesses can rarely afford.
Historically, barrel rooms for oaking wine have been a luxury.
This is changing. Swiss wineries are opting for quality over quantity and a greater mix of top-line wines.
My wakeup call on this came in 2009, when I visited Sierre for a vertical tasting session by the Memoire des Vins Suisses group (MDVS), tasting several vintages of the same wine. I had my first Chasselas that wasn’t from the previous autumn’s harvest. I was puzzled, intrigued, and not entirely convinced – but at least I had the good sense to recognize it was because I didn’t understand what to expect from an older white wine.
Then in 2010, the Clos, Domaines & Châteaux group organized a tasting of a large number of older vintages of Chasselas, wines that bore little relation to their light, fresh young versions and that changed my ideas about old vintage white wines.
I had previously assumed only reds could age well, with a few exceptions. Not true.
The Frères Dubois in Cully held a vertical tasting in September 2012, one decade of their Dézaley Vase 4 Grand Cru wines, a wonderful opportunity to see the impact of each vintage on just one wine from one terroir: each was distinct, as they were, clearly, when young. But with age, the distinctive features of each vintage became more apparent.
I saw this again last November when another tasting session of Chasselas wines, a food and wine pairing but with several older vintages, was organized in Lausanne by the Association for the Promotion of Chasselas. A commentary on the wines was made by Jerome Aké, the sommelier at Auberge de l’Onde in St Saphorin, as famous for his poetic descriptions of wines as for his knowledge of Swiss wines (he was the Swiss Sommelier of the Year a few years ago).
Discovering what I like about older white wines
Jerome on the nose of a 1998 Yvorne Chateau Maison Blanche (my translation from his French): “Intense yellow robe with touches of gold and yellow mimosa reflections, good viscosity with tears clearly visible. A complex first nose with notes of citrus fruits and a hint of petrol, evolving towards dried fruits, nuts and fruits soaked in alcohol. After swirling, the second nose takes us down a path of minerals and spice, with notes of damp earth, nutmeg and curry powder.”
The wine in mouth, which he described well, was perfect, leading us to think of Tio pépé and lemons, a well-balanced wine with “remarkable freshness, worthy of great Rieslings as they develop.” The wine’s finish was marked by mineral freshness, making it perfect for fine cuisine.
We had it with coquilles Saint Jacques.
And there, I think, Jerome helped me see what it is I like about well-aged white wines: when they are good, they are surprisingly fresh.
A public new to older vintage wines can find it puzzling and even confusing to taste them on their own: if your idea of a Chasselas is crisp and mineral and very young, you might need complementary food to appreciate a 10- or 15-year-old version of the same wine, with its darker colour, nose of toast and beeswax and roundness in mouth.
Other white grape varieties age well, too
The same is true for other grape varieties, not just Chasselas.
I discovered how well Petite Arvine can age, at the Rouvinez winery in Sierre in August 2012 when the family hosted a vertical tasting session.
Petite Arvine is one of my favourite wines, with grapefruit and sometimes lemon notes and a slightly salty finish that I love (if you’re not into salty finishes, just a note to reassure you: the wine is not salted!).
I found it hard to imagine how it would age well.
The first Chateau Lichten Petite Arvine, from vines on a hillside near Leuk – you drive above them as you head up to Leukebad/Loèche-les-bains – was put on the market in 1994, and we tasted 10 wines from that year to 2010. The 2002 in particular but also the 2004 were startling: lemon and grapefruit notes very much in evidence, and beautifully fresh in mouth.
For a detailed description of the wines we tasted, Lauret Probst wrote a lengthy blog post (French).
A very special vertical tasting took place in Sierre in February, hosted by two members of the MDVS, Denis & Catherine Mercier and Maurice Zufferey, who jointly celebrated the 30th anniversaries of running their wineries. They brought out several vintages from their wine collections for a small group, using the wines as a springboard to discuss their problems and successes in aging different wines.
Cornalin, which today is widely considered one of canton Valais’s most successful native grape wines, was saved from near distinction by Zufferey’s uncle, Claude Calot, with whom he worked as a young wie producer. He has been making Cornalin for several years, and the older vintages were beautiful.
The Nuits des Vieux Millésimes is born
Wine writer Alexandre Truffer had the foresight in 2012 to see that the best way to help wine-lovers explore the growing collection of older vintage Swiss wines would be to have very good chefs create meals around them.
The Nuit des Vieux Millésimes was born: wineries with older vintages join forces with chefs in French-speaking Switzerland for one night and diners can take their pick. The 2012 night was a great success, with 10 restaurants, and this year 15 were part of the project, with long waiting lists for some of the restaurants, all of which offered the special menu and wines Thursday 28 February.
I joined about 80 people at Le Crans in the resort of Crans-Montana, for a meal featuring older vintages of nine sweet wines, a feat I doubted could really work (I was wrong).
Alexandre organized another event last Saturday, an older vintages fair in Morges, where the public could try vertical tastings, several vintages of the same wines, from a number of different producers.
Golden opportunity to taste some, in 10 days in Ticino
The Memoire des Vins Suisses deserves some special credit for encouraging wineries to move in the direction of aging. The group, 50 of the country’s best producers, has created a bank of wines. They each add to the stock of their original, selected wine in the “bank” each year. They share their knowledge of what helps a wine age well when they meet once a year, each time in a different corner of the country, with its own geographic and climatic conditions. They taste the wines to see how they are aging.
And they invite the public in to sample their wines. Put Bellinzona on your agenda, 14 March from 14:00-18:00 for the next Trésors du Vin Suisse tasting session. It’s free if you register in advance online or CHF20 to just show up at the door.
Coming next: How to eat a 9-course dinner and drink 9 sweet wines