GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The 7 Ceps wine competition is an interesting variation on the theme of “best of” that for most competitions means best of a grape variety or a politically defined region. These are wines from a geographically linked area, the vineyards in the greater Mont Blanc region with producers in Italy, France and Switzerland. The borders fall, and relationships among winemakerse are built. The competition, now in its 13th year, also aims to help wineries improve the quality of their products by providing information charts based on the results of the 70 judges’ assessments. All wineries entering the competition receive this, whether or not they have winning wines.
Here is the list of winners, announced 10 November, by category:
GENEVA, NEUCHATEL AND VALAIS
Gold: Domaine de Montmollin, Auvernier, AOC Neuchatel red, Pinot Noir, 2009
Silver: Jean Pierre Dalloz, Le Landeron, AOC Neuchatel red, Pinot Noir, 2011, Oeil de perdrix
Bronze: Cave Colline de Planzettes, Sierre, AOC Valais red, Pinot Noir, 2010
CANTON VAUD WHITE
Gold: Cave Cidis, Morges, AOC La Cote Blanc 2011, cuvée Euphonie
Silver: Uvavins Cave de la Cote, Morges, AOC la Cote Blanc 2011 cuvée Trilogie
Bronze: Artisans Vignerons d’Ollon, AOC Chablais Blanc 2011 cuvée Faveur des Muses
Bronze: Domaine de Marcelin, AOC la Cote Blanc 2010 cuvée Réserve blanche
CANTON VAUD RED
Gold: Domaine de Terre Neuve, Saint Prex, AOC La Cote Rouge 2010 Grand Cru Merlot
Silver: Domaine de Marcelin, Morges, AOC La Cote Rouge 2010 cuvée Esprit carmin
Bronze: Cave Cidis, Morges, AOC La Cote Rouge 2011 cuvée Gamaret Réserve
AOSTA VALLEY WHITE
Gold: Institut Agricole Régional, AostA, Vallée d’Aoste Blanc 2011 cuvée Perce Neige
Silver: Kiuva ScM, Arnad, Vallée d’Aoste Blanc Pinot Gris 2011
AOSTA VALLEY RED
Gold: Rosset Terroir, Aosta, Vallée d’Aoste rouge Doc 2010, Cornalin
Silver: Institut Agricole Régional, Aosta, Vallée d’Aoste rouge Doc, 2011, Pinot Noir
Bronze: Institut Agricole Régional, Aosta, Vallée d’Aoste rouge Doc, 2010, Fumin
Bronze: Coopérative de l’Enfer, Arvier, Vallée d’Aoste rouge, 2011, Enfer d’Arvier
Bronze: Maison Vigneronne Grojean, Quart, Vallée d’Aoste Doc Rouge, 2011, Torette Supérieur
AOC BUGEY CRU WHITE
Gold: Caveau Bugiste, Vongnes, AOC Bugey manicle blanc 2011, cuvée de l’Amandier
Silver: Caveau Bugiste, Vongnes, AOC Bugey manicle blanc 2011, cuvée des Eboulis
AOC BUGEY CRU RED
Gold: Caveau Bugiste, Vongnes, AOC Bugey manicle rouge 2009, cuvée la Truffière
AOC BUGEY RED
Gold: Domaine Monin, Vongnes, AOC Bugey rouge 2010, Cuvée les Falconnières
Silver: GAEC Maison Angelot, Marignieu, AOC Bugey rouge 2011, Cuvée reflet du Terroir
Bronze: Domaine Ducolomb, Lhuis, AOC Bugey rouge 2011
Bronze: Jean Christophe Pellerin, Saint Sorlin en Bugeu, AOC Bugey 2009 Cuvée Chatière
AOC BUGEY WHITE AND ROSE
Gold: Domaine DUCOLOMB, Lhuis, AOC Bugey blanc, Chardonnay, 2011
Silver: Caveau Sylvain Bois, Béon, AOC Bugey blanc, Roussette, 2011, Cuvée Coteau de Chambon
Silver: Terroirs de Chevigneux, Culoz, AOC Bugey Blanc, Chardonnay 2011, Domaine de Bel Air
Bronze: Domaine J Christophe Pellerin, Saint Sorlin en Bugey, AOC blanc, Chardonnay 2011
Bronze: Domaine JC Pellerin, Saint Sorlin en Bugey, AOC blanc, Chardonnay 2009, Cuvée Harmonie
COTEAUX DE l’AIN
Gold: Caveau Bugiste, Vongnes, IGP Coteaux de l’Ain Mondeuse blanche 2011
Silver: Caveau Bugiste, Vongnes, IGP Coteaux de l’Ain Molette 2011
Bronze: Domaine de Mucelle, IGP Coteaux de l’Ain Pinot Noir 2011
VIN DE SAVOIE, RED AND WHITE
Gold: Domaine du Vieux Pressoir, Les Marches, AOC vin de Savoie blanc, Roussette 2011, Cuvée Prestige
Silver: Domaine de Veronnet, Serrières en Chautagne, AOC vin de Savoie blanc, Roussette 2011
Silver: Stéphane Héritier, Clermont, AOC Vin de Savoie Frangy Blanc 2011
Bronze: Philippe Grisard, Cruet, AOC vin de Savoie Blanc, Roussette 2011
Bronze: Fils de René Quenard, Chignin, AOC vin de Savoie Chignin Bergeron Roussanne 2011
Gold: Emilienne Chappuis, Corbonod, AOC Seyssel blanc 2011
VIN DU JURA
Gold: SCV des Domaines Henri Maire, Arbois, AOC Vin Jaune Arbois, 2004
Silver: Domaine Richard, Le Vernois, AOC Vin du Jura blanc Savagnin 2007
Bronze: Domaine Richard, Le Vernois, AOC Vin du Jura blanc Chardonnay 2009
Bronze: SCV des Domaines Henri Maire, Arbois, AOC Arbois Blanc Chardonnay 2011
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – France’s itinerant wine film and photo festival, Oenovideo, is a hit at this year’s venue, Aigle, in canton Vaud.
I spent Thursday evening at the festival and was enchanted by the “L’Esprit du vin, le réveil des terroirs”, a 1h32 minute film on biodynamic winemakers, mainly in France. I was startled by the length because I didn’t notice the time at all – this is a beautiful film with splendid music, made by Olympe and Yvon Minvielle, two wine producers from the Bordeaux area. It’s a hymn to biodynamic wine, which is slowly but surely joining mainstream winemaking, and I’ve just joined the ranks of converts after watching the movie.
The Saturday selection includes films on wines from Alsace, Vaud and Amigne (Vetroz is holding its annual Amigne grape festival this weekend as well). But there are also showings of fiction and an interview with world-famous wine writer Michel Bettane.
Oenovideo opened Thursday evening 31 May and it features films all weekend, before closing Sunday. Twenty-eight films are finalists out of 114 submitted from 14 countries. Winners will be announced Sunday at noon.
“There seems to be very good interest in the films,” says Stephen Ashton from California’s Wine Country Film Festival, who is attending the Aigle showings for four days. “It’s only 10:00 on a Saturday morning and while it’s not standing room only, the place is nicely filled. There’s a good cross-section of films dealing with vines and wines.” Ashton owns a vineyard in Sonoma and the festival prompted his first trip to Switzerland. “Last night there was one on science and wine, that touched on how soils impact wine, for example. There’s a full range, from the humorous to the scientific. Just right now there was one on the wines of Portugal and how these ancient vineyard places are suffering from being in the EU.”
The festival also features a photo contest: 1,500 images were submitted for 2012, from 10 countries. An exhibit at the castle in Aigle has 100 of the best, enlarged for the display.
Ashton is clearly enchanted by the festival and its location, and he suggests “a pilgrimage to the chateau, an easy walk and the views are beautiful, with vineyards running around it like ribbons.” The chateau houses not only the photo exhibit; it is home to Vaud’s very good wine and vines museum.
He is scouting films for his festival, which runs in September, and he’s seeing some that appeared in California last year. “When you have films from wine areas, it’s magic. Natural products like wine, and culture and art – it’s the perfect marriage.”
Check out the programme in advance on the festival web site.
The films are being shown at the Cinema Cosmpolis in Aigle, next to the train tracks but on the opposite side from the train station. If you arrive by train, take the underpass. If you’re driving, there is a parking lot next to the cinema.
Chateau and Museum: be sure to build in time for a visit.
Vin Jaune, a master’s palette for the palate
BERN, SWITZERLAND – Eight generations of the Vercel family in Arbois, France, across the Jura mountains, have held onto a 1774 bottle of the region’s famed Vin Jaune, storing it in the family’s vaulted underground cellar.
Now the 87-centilitre bottle, with its typical Burgundian rounded belly and long neck, goes up for auction in Geneva 15 May.
The official site for Jura wines notes that the oldest Vin Jaune tasted in recent memory was a 1774.
It also points out that only a few older bottles are the exception to the Clavelin rule: Vin Jaune bottles hold 62cl because this is the amount of wine left after the unusual winemaking process reaches the bottling stage. The special bottle which holds this today is called the Clavelin.
Vin Jaune is famous for the extraordinarily complex range of aromas it develops as it ages.
There is nothing subtle about it and newcomers to wine generally find it hard-going, although for connoisseurs this is one of the heights of the art of making wine.
Its unusual maturing process is responsible for giving it such a deep, rich set of notes.
Once the wine’s slow fermentation is finished, it must be kept a minimum of six years and three months in oak barrels that are not topped up, as most wines are.
The wine is mostly protected from oxidization and contact with the air by a thin veil (the voile) of yeasts that forms on the surface.
What the buyer can expect from his 1774 Vin Jaune
Christie’s, which is hosting the auction at the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues, enthuses about its truly well-aged wine:
“One of the bottles from the same batch was tasted in 1994 by 24 professionals at Château Pécauld in Arbois, and was declared as ‘excellent’. The golden-amber coloured nectar, with flavours of nuts, spices, curry, cinnamon, vanilla and dried fruits, was awarded 9.4/10 points. Made to last centuries when of good quality, and nicknamed ‘the wine of kings and the king of wines’, this extraordinary bottle of Vin Jaune is probably the oldest unfortified example of what is to be still an astounding wine.”
It is the most expensive single bottle at the auction, with an estimated price of CHF40-50,000. But wine buffs with deep pockets will have other options at the sale, expected to bring in CHF2 million, including: a batch of Mouton-Rothschild from 1945 (estimate CHF65,000-85,000), a 12-bottle lot of La Tâche 1959 (estimate: CHF40,000-60,000), and an “incredible collection comprised of 338 bottles and 43 Magnums of vintage Château Latour wines”.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The BBC has just answered the questions we who watch Downton Abbey have been asking – where and what exactly is the real thing? It turns out to be a Highclere Castle, which has a real butler and real residents
But the “rose-tinted” Victorian world and drama we love to watch unfolding before us are a little different from daily life there in the 21st century.
And for that, assuming you are watching it after dinner, you really must have a fine glass of Port and a bit of Stilton, the classic and still perfect marriage. Port is Portugal’s pride and joy, but the country has much to thank the English for, when it comes to making this rich wine known to the world.
More on that later. For now, before I turn on the TV, let me raise a glass to that bygone era, where those who could afford to drink it knew a few things about their wine.
The Port: a 10-year-old Quinta de Val da Figueira port, made by artisan Alfredo Cálem Holzer, a deep rich and elegantly velvety wine that is enhanced by the sharpness of the British cheese. They’ve been doing this for 250 years, so it’s possible that a bottle was or will yet be served at Downton Abbey.
The Stilton: a fine little gift pot of it, not too-too blue, creamy and perfect on crackers, mmmmm.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Four Chinese wines did better than Bordeaux wines in a small blind tasting competition of 10 wines, in Beijing 14 December: shades of the Judgement of Paris competition in 1976 that shook French growers to their roots and put US wines on the world’s sommelier maps.
The Chinese wine market is widely expected to be the world’s largest in two decades, so anyone with a thirst for exporting wine to China trembles at the thought they might actually make fine wine in the Middle Kingdom.
China’s overall winemaking reputation has been pretty poor until now. There have been exceptions and the wines have certainly improved since I first tasted the only wine available in 1985, a rock-gut bottle of “Dynasty” that I drank in a fancy restaurant on the Bund in Shanghai. I’d been riding a bicycle through the Chinese countryside and drinking (good) beer for 10 weeks but after several years of living in France I longed for a glass of wine. To say that “Dynasty” didn’t do the trick is the kindest remark I can make. Note: it has improved over the years.
So is this blind tasting really significant? Yes, tiny though it was. It makes a statement that China is capable of producing good wines. More significantly, it focuses our attention on how different this emerging wine market really is from other wine markets, and it helps us sweep away some clichés about China and the purpose served by wine competitions and challenges that pit one group of wines against another.
Judgement of Beijing: the competition
Jim Boyce, one of the organizers, has been quick to point out that this is not, in fact, a remake of the Judgement of Paris, but the comparison is hard to resist.
AP carries a good overview of what happened this week. In essence, 10 judges, half of them Chinese and half French, tasted 10 wines, all 2008 or 2009, and the top wine was a Cabernet Sauvignon from Grace Vineyards in Ningxia.
Ningxia wine brings to mind – what? Not a lot, for most of us, but it is quickly establishing a reputation as a wine producing area, with a hefty French influence. Four of Ningxia’s five wines entered in the competition against the Bordeaux won out over their French counterparts. All the wines were priced at 200 to 400 yuan ($30-60).
The top five, with vineyard names in bold:
1. Grace Vineyard Chairman’s Reserve 2009 (priced at 488 yuan (US$77))
2. Silver Heights The Summit 2009 (416 yuan ($65))
3. Helan Qing Xue Jia Bei Lan Cabernet Dry Red 2009 (was 220 yuan ($34.50), now pending)
4. Grace Vineyard Deep Blue 2009 (288 yuan ($45))
5. Barons de Rothschild Collection Saga Medoc 2009 (350 yuan ($55))
The results came on the heels of another China wine win, just “three months after the Ningxia-based winery Helan Qing Xue’s Jia Bei Lan Cabernet Dry Red 2009 won China’s first-ever “International Trophy” at the Decanter World Wine Awards,” Jing Daily points out.
The competition appears to have been organized with credibility as a high priority. A group of journalists were witnesses to the preparation: bottles were shown, bagged for the blind tasting, and the wine poured before the judges sat down.
They were given 40 minutes, under the watchful eyes of the journalists, to rank the wines. They then discussed the wines for a few minutes before the final tallies were made known.
This is already a departure from many wine competitions. The task of the judges is normally to give individual marks to the wines. Once they are all marked or noted, on a scale of 1-20 or 1-100, for example, the organizers tally and make public the results. In some countries, and Italy comes to mind, the judges work entirely alone. In others, for example the Mondial du Pinot Noir or the Grand Prix du Vin Suisse, where I’ve been a judge, we work at small tables, not sharing our assessments, but if there is a problem we have the option to discuss it under the strict guidance of an appointed and experienced head of the table.
Our job isn’t for each of us to rank the wines, which you can do only with relatively small quantities of wine.
What it showed, what it didn’t
The web site The Grape Wall of China asked the judges to take their assessments one step further and give the wines “love” notes. “The judges had four options: love it, like it, don’t like it or hate it,” writes regular contributor/blog administrator Jim Boyce. The result makes telling reading and gives more insight than the rankings, a good reminder that appreciating wine is not an objective quantitative adventure but an emotional business as well.
In fact, several other posts on this blog and others about wine in China make it clear that some of the most popular measures of wine success come from challenges of wines that involve different groups of judges, from high-level professionals in one challenge to consumers in another.
China is a very young wine market and the most pressing needs are to educate wine consumers and to find out what they like. Wine challenges that invite consumers to take part seem to be a good way to learn their tastes.
Boyce argues that the challenge was fair to the French wines, despite some criticism that these were not equal groups of wine, that the French wines suffer from a 48 percent tax. Chinese wines value-added and other taxes come to about 20 percent. But these are wines that consumers want to see compared because they are similar in price, he points out.
China’s native wines
China has eight wine regions, all of them studied by the government and designated as appropriate – enough sunshine, precipitation and the right soils.
The Helan mountains in Ningxia are northwest of China’s populated eastern areas.
Beaujolais Nouveau, a marketing ploy that worked, turns 60 today
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Sixty years ago you had to be in France to get a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau, the light Gamay with notes of strawberries and raspberries that hits the streets of France every year in November.
It was sold, in those good old days, on 15 November, starting in Paris, where the capital adopted with gusto the idea of the newly invented wine, or rather one dressed up and given a birthday and a name in 1951.
The wine was bottled only six to eight weeks after the harvest, which meant it had no tannins to speak of: it would therefore not age well but, as with the pretty young and uncomplicated girl it resembled, who cares about age when you can have fun now.
Leaving home and the pain of middle age
Beaujolas Nouveau in the 1970s became a marketing gimmick, with producers racing to Paris with the first bottles. Then Geneva area bars and cafés started to offer it about the same time that the fun caught on throughout Europe in the 1980s, moving to the US, then going global in the 1990s.
There is nothing new about Beaujolais Nouveau itself: Beaujolais vin de primeur wines have been sold since Beaujolais became an AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) in 1937, just as primeurs have been made in every wine region of the world since wine made its appearance. And before the primeurs the region had a post-harvest wine that was just a shade more fermented than grape juice or must.
Wine merchant Georges Duboeuf almost single-handedly developed the frenzy around the new wine, which initially had the advantage of bringing in some cash for producers at a point in the season where they wait for the wine to reach bottling stage so they can sell it.
The growth rate was phenomenal, with some 2 million bottles sold in the early 1950s, up to 238 million in 2010. In the late 1990s Beaujolais Nouveau almost became a victim of itself, with too much bad wine flooding the market.
The industry had a facelift, lost several kilos in the form of companies that went under, and now it appears to be enjoying its 60th birthday.
The good, the bad, and the fun of it all
Every year the question comes up again: it’s fun for a day, but is it any good?
Answer: Part of the fun is asking the question, as it lets newbies talk about wine and wine snobs wax wise.
Mostly, it depends on whose bottle you buy. The market-dumpers are diminishing, so your chances of falling on a truly awful bottle are less than they were 10 years ago. And Beaujolais AOC, the real stuff that has to wait longer to be bottled, has improved markedly in recent years. Good Beaujolais producers make some beautiful wines.
The vin primeur version is lighter and as good or as bad as the products you’ll get from the same winery later.
Nicolas and Sandrine Durand from St Amour are delighted with their 2011 Beaujolais Nouveau, says Roger Pring from Beaujolais, who works with me as part of the Swiss Wine Guide English version team.
Durand, who was once a Paris-Dakar racer, says the early harvest this year was a bonus.
“We had a very dry June, which worried us, but then a very wet July, which was great for the vines. They ripened earlier and we harvested earlier, so the wine has had more time to mature before bottling.” For Durand, 2011 is a very good year, comparable to the great 2009 vintage, giving him three good years in a row after a disappointing 2008.
Roger agrees, saying Durand’s is an “excellent wine”, even better than another Beaujolais Nouveau he tried earlier.
Here are a few tidbits of Beaujolais trivia while you’re sipping your glass.
- The 2011 harvest was three weeks earlier than the 2010 one, making it one of the earliest on record: 24 August to 16 September this year.
- The late harvest is giving this year’s wine a deeper colour and powerful fruitiness, somewhere between red and black fruits, with less acidity than in 2010.
- Beaujolais, and the primeur is no exception, is made by pressing the grape bunches as a whole.
- The grapes are almost entirely harvested by hand, the only region in France where this is true (and if you see how low the vines are you’ll drink to the pickers’ health, particularly for their backs.
- There are two appellations, Beaujolais, with 72 villages in the south and east and half of it is bottled as Beaujolais Nouveau; Beaujolais Villages, with 38 communes and the steeper, hillier parts of the region.
Now, the serious side: how to drink it
Beaujolais Nouveau – not a sip of it before midnight; it should touch your lips only as you cross the line into the third Thursday of November. Drink it with just about any food and it works well, since it is a relatively light wine. Toast your friends or, as they often say in France raise a glass “to your lovers” (take care who you say this to, though).
Consume in moderation, don’t drive after drinking, and plan a date with the Real Stuff Beaujolais, now that you know 2011 is a very good year.
Background story, GenevaLunch visits two of Beaujolais’s best
LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND – For background, see my article, “Switzerland’s splendid neighbour: Côtes du Rhône”. In October I tasted and discussed at length with winesellers and sommeliers and other journalists a sampling of wines from the Côtes du Rhône region.
Here are my notes on the whites and rosés (reds to follow). The first three wines are from the north, the last two from the southern part of the 200-km long Côtes du Rhône region.
The appellation is followed by the name of the bottle, vintage, winery name and the village:
white: Saint Péray, “Fleur de Crussol” 2009, winery Alain Voge in Cornas
From granite hills, vines over 60 years, 16 months in oak, 100% Marsanne, a wine that will age
Nose: very round, almost honey
Comment – love the nose, a very elegant and sophisticated wine but not for every taste
white: Condrieu, “Invitare” 2010, winery Michel Chapoutier in Tain l’Hermitage
Nose: the typical expected peach, but also with apricot, making it more interesting than some and with good minerality
Mouth: light, dry and long in mouth
Comment – A very fruity and gourmand character, expressive and exuberant although Chapoutier says this will go with time. A lovely, fresh wine.
white: Hermitage, “Chant Alouette” 2008, winery Michel Chapoutier in Tain l’Hermitage
100% Marsanne, bottle is named after the terroir
Nose: honey, but second nose is interesting with richer notes of hazelnuts, butterscotch and caramel
Mouth: good complexity and fresh despite the notes of honey
Comment – A terroir wine that is distinctive and to my surprise when I looked up the technical notes on the web site, only one-third of the wine is oaked with the rest matures in vats. Chapoutier suggests serving it with foie gras, crayfish,lobster or poultry in sauces, white meats, goat’s cheese, blue cheese, spicy dishes and curry. I would have to try it with the last two to be convinced, but the nose is rich enough to support these without the wine being heavy, so he mght be right.
rosé: Tavel, “Prieuré de Montézargues” 2010, winery Prieuré de Montézargues in Tavel
Blend from very small yields of Grenache, Cinsault and Clairette
Nose: citrus, exotic fruits, light cherries
Mouth: refreshing, harmonious, rich yet dry, a great example of a Tavel, one of the classic rosés
Comment – after writing the above I came across this press review page of the wine and had to laugh because it is reviewed by several major wine writers or publications, and to read about the nose you would think it is four different wines. So trust your own judgement here and enjoy it. I like Hachette’s suggestion here of having it with white meat, as I think it deserves more than most charcuteries offer. More delicate salmon colour than some Tavels. Producer Guillaume Dugas has turned to bio, quite successfully if this is any sign.
rosé: Tavel, “Dame Rousse” 2010, winery Domaine de la Mordorée in Tavel
Grenache is the main grape here, grown on sandy soil.
Nose: flowers, white fruits
Mouth: round and full-bodied, chewy, almost has the structure of a red
Comment – A much more vivid pink than some, a clue to its stronger character. It will accept aging better than most rosés
2011 vintage: warm, deep cherry and plum notes await us after unusual year
LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND – Good news arrived from France Monday, that 2011 wines from the Rhone Valley, after initial tastings, show wonderful promise.
Grapes harvested at optimal ripeness are giving wines marked by fruitiness and warmth, with plum and deep cherry notes, verging on the over-ripe, according to the Inter-Rhône growers association.
The wines stand in strong contrast to the 2010 vintage and recall 2009, a very good year.
It was a year that could have been a disaster, as in Switzerland: “a summery spring, a spring-like summer and a perfect autumn”, the group notes. I’ll wait until winter to taste them, when they are closer to what we’ll find on our tables, but when I recently tasted a series of these wines, including several 2010s, I liked a good number of them.
A long ribbon of vineyards running from south of Lyons to Avignon
Côtes du Rhône, literally the “banks of the Rhone”, is a beautiful wine area, the continuation of a broad ribbon of vineyards that starts in Switzerland’s upper Valais region, threading its way through the length of Valais, Vaud and finally Geneva before reaching France.
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Swiss wines and their great neighbours, the wines of France’s Côtes du Rhône region, have some similarities but the differences underscore the reasons for variety in wines, which in the end is what keeps us all so interested in the stuff.
The Rhone river is the first clue, for even in Switzerland the wines to which it gives birth vary hugely, wines that express their terroir particularly well, from the Petite Arvines and Cornalins of Valais to Vaud’s Chasselas and Geneva’s Gamays.
The start of the Côtes du Rhône wine region is Vienne, just south of Lyons, 180 km from Geneva via the autoroute. It ends far south, in Avignon, near the Mediterranean, running through 171 communes and six administrative departments: Ardèche, Drôme, Gard, Loire, Rhône and Vaucluse.
Weekend wine discovery trips from the Lake Geneva region are easy
It provides some beautiful wines, such as the much-touted Hermitage, Côte-Rôtie and Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines. It is also home to many very good to good wines at moderate prices. They are available in Swiss shops and, for those who long to combine wine-tasting and a weekend jaunt, not too far from home, the Côte du Rhone region is perfect, a short drive to a region where wine tourism is booming. The Vins-Rhone web site is a good starting point; I’ll be doing some touring there in coming weeks and will write more on this aspect of discovering the wines.
Where to begin: the grapes, the geography
Côtes du Rhône wines have suffered somewhat on world markets in recent years by the growth in New World wines. They don’t have the sexiness of Bordeaux wines with exotic prices nor do most have the noble titles of many Burgundies. The size and number of appellations can be daunting and, as elsewhere, the wines range from the mediocre to the great.
Red wines dominate here, 91 percent of the production, but there are some fine whites and roses, not to be overlooked if you’re on a discovery trip.
Getting a handle on these wines isn’t always easy for consumers outside France, but it’s worth the trouble, and the region itself is working hard to make it easier for us, with some success. One statistic that backs up the promising changes seen in the vineyards is that 16 percent of the region’s winemakers are under age 35, a figure well above the national average in France.
Two main varieties, many blends
To start, think of just two main grape varieties, Grenache and Syrah, although a third, Mourvèdre, is also considered a main variety. The region is the cradle of Syrah, which has become known as an international variety, probably the 7th most widely grown grape in the world.
Several other varieties are grown as secondary grapes, mainly to contribute to blends made with these two: 22 varieties officially, but many of them in small quantities. Michel Chapoutier, one of the region’s best-known winemakers, noted for his passion for terroir-strong wines, says “Why just three grapes, when the Swiss have so many? Like a chef, a good oenologist can cook up wonderful blends! Growers here have long planted the grape varieties they know grow best.”
Chapoutier points out that growers learned from the diseases that struck the vineyards in the 18th century and a later over-use of fertilizers. “If we have a good bacteriology of the soil we can have just as much complexity in our wine offerings as with many grape varieties.”
Chapoutier was speaking to a group of sommeliers, wine wholesalers and retailers, and journalists during a day out on Lake Geneva to taste Côtes du Rhône wines (my tasting notes will follow this article).
It was an invitation too good to turn down, since one of the first labels I discovered and explored in France when I moved there from the US several years ago was Côtes du Rhône Villages.
I was ready to move on from dirt-cheap and very strong North African wines proposed by my student friends, the kind that left you with purple lips (blessedly, a short phase in my wine-drinking career).
A French friend suggested that Côtes du Rhône Villages wines, a step up from plain ordinary Côtes du Rhônes, was a good entry into the confusing world of appellations and French wine labels.
Before trying to understand the appellation system, however, take a look at the geography of the Rhone Valley.
In the north, the river is still reeling from its heady rush through the rocky Alps, and granite is a feature of this landscape, very old rock fractured by the Alps, with a soil that holds various minerals. The vines are mainly on the right bank as the river heads south, with the notable exceptions of Hermitage and Croze-Hermitage, where pebbly soil is a feature that adds interest to the granite base.
Further south, the landscape and the soil change significantly. It’s softer here, pebbly soil gives way to sandier soils with loess (windblown sediment) deposited in part by the Mediterranean mistral winds. The mistral, the result of different pressure systems between the north, next to the Alps, and the south, near the sea, can be violent, but growers here appreciate the positive impact it has on their vines.
And in between is a wealth of varied pebbly dry soils that shift as the rivers turns and winds its way south.
From north to south, this is a land of marked seasons: heavy rainfall the gives way to high amounts of sunlight and very warm temperatures.
Appellations, nothing to be afraid of!
The labelling, or appellation system for the region’s wines has three main categories, starting with the top quality regions. Grape yields vary from 46 hectolitres per hectare in the regional appellation to 42 and 42 for Villages and named villages.
- Appellations locales, which covers 18 crus, including the most famous wines of the region
- Côtes du Rhône Villages, wines from 95 communes and within this group 17 have geographic designations that can be mentioned on the label; the region’s web site in English, which offers a handy guide to appellation system, refers to them as “named villages“
- Appellation Regionale Côtes du Rhône, covers wines from 171 communes.
Tasting notes from a series of whites, rosés and reds from the Côtes du Rhône:
Coming next: the reds
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Here is the list of the 16 wines we tasted blind at the beautiful Chateau Mercier Sunday 4 September.
“We” was a group of 18 journalists invited to attend Vinea to learn more about Swiss wines. Most but not all of the group are experienced wine writers.
One-third of the group is Swiss, the rest from other European countries, so there was undoubtedly a European bias.
For an explanation of the tasting session see my news report.
The wines are listed here in the order in which they were tasted, with their ranking in terms of the points we gave them listed in parentheses before their names.
We were told only the name of the grape variety and the vintage, and we knew that two wines in every category had to be Swiss.
These were all crisp and dry, including the Napa Valley wine, which hardly anyone in the group guessed was from the US.
2. Switzerland, Valais
(2) Chardonnay Rive du Bisse, oaked, 2006, Gaby Delaloye et Fils, CHF28.00
3. Switzerland, Graubuenden
(1) Chardonnay Flaesch 2009, Weingut Bovel, CHF28.00
4. USA, California
(3) Chardonnay Su’Skol Vineyard 2007, Hess Collection Winery, CHF29.90
2. Switzerland, Valais
(1) Ribex Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Louis Bovard, CH27.90
(3) Pouilly Fumé La Demoiselle de Bourgeois 2009, Henri Bourgeois, CH34.8
4. New Zealand
(4) Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Cloudy Bay, CHF29.90
2. Switzerland, Ticino
(3) Castelrotto Ticino DOC 2009, Tamborini Vini, CHF37.00
(4) Merlot Cuvée Alexandre 2008, Casa Lapostolle, CHF24.80
4. Switzerland, Ticino
(1) Il Canto della Terra 2009, Cantina Monti, CHF75.00
(4) Côte Rotie 2006, René Rostaing, CHF59.20
3. Switzerlamnd, Valais
( 2) Syrah, oaked, 2009, Cave le Banneret, CHF24.50
(3) Shiraz 2009, John Duval Wines Entity, CHF37.50
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The Geneva Festival, which runs until 14 August, is giving Lake Geneva residents and visitors a rare opportunity to sample Indian wines.
The Indian Tourism and Development Corporation’s campaign, “Great Mélange-the Incredible India Journey” includes the Maharashtra and Karnataka wine regions, with wines from 9 Indian wineries available at the Wines of India stand erected by the Indian Grape Processing Board.
The red, white, rosé and sparkling wines available are from Sula, Four Seasons, York, Mercury, Vintage Wines, Fratelli Vallone, Zampa and Grover cellars.
India’s wines are likely to gain more attention on the world stage with the country recently becoming the 45th member nation in the OIV, the international wine organization whose members are countries, reports the Indian Wine Academy.