What to expect and some of the great finds at Arvinis in Morges
Notes on wines from California, Swiss top picks
I spent a few hours Thursday at Arvinis and my first tip is this: do spit out the wine and do take along a bottle of water to keep yourself well hydrated if you’re planning to do anything more than just drink a glass or two of wine. Even when you spit out the wine, your system begs for water if you spend a couple hours tasting.
My thoughts on this year’s fair: I found the California wine section initially confusing because all the stands have the names of the wines’ importers clearly displayed, so there was a stronger Swiss presence than I was expecting. Fair enough: these are the people who can actually take your order and get you the wine later. Note that you can’t buy wine to take home with you from Arvinis, another good reason to take the train instead of driving, but all of the producers and merchants have order forms.
There was less English spoken than I was expecting, so don’t be prepared to find a group of Americans selling – only a handful of these wines’ exhibitors are American.
The California wines are an interesting mix, in terms of quality and price. If you’ve spent time in California and know the wines there, the selection will feel limited. If, on the other hand you’ve tried to find them in supermarkets and wine shops in Switzerland or France, you’ll find a bigger selection and some good contacts for the future. Prices:
I was happy to see bottles for under $40, because one of the shocks for Europeans visiting California is the average price, well above that for good wines in Switzerland, with far too many wines overpriced. “Americans have gotten used to paying too much for their wines,” one exhibitor confided. Fortunately, the ones at Arvinis are mostly good value for money.
The American wine part of Arvinis was organized by the American Wine Institute in Switzerland, whose web site has good background information on California wines.
Notes on California wines at Arvinis
My favourites included:
Merryvale has vineyards in Napa and Stormont. These wines are probably more acceptable to many Europeans than the Big Cabs: the Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Napa that have made California’s reputation outside the area, possibly because French rather than American oak is used more, avoiding the unbalanced buttery vanilla aspect of many American wines. I preferred the southern Starmont wines. The Merlots on offer at Arvinis include the Starmont one from 2006, aged 15 months in French oak (87% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot). and an unfiltered one, 2005, from Napa: too woody for me, with strong tannins, but an interesting wine, with red berries notes moving into chocolate and toast (90% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Malbec). Note that Starmont is their “green” winery, part of a growing trend in California.
Talus Lodi Zinfandel 2006 is a wine with a lovely peppery finish that I very much enjoyed, and it’s worth sampling because Lodi is south of Sacramento, a very different wine region from the coastal areas further west and a younger appellation than many (1986). The winery has the Lodi vineyard and Sebastiani, which is in Sonoma, next to Napa. This is a less expensive and more rustic wine, which I found pleasant.
The Coppola name is a pull of course, that magical blend of movies, sunshine, California and wine. The winery’s bottles surprise by their affordable prices, until you realize that the filmmaker, with strong Italian roots, grew up with wine on the table at every meal and he believes it should be good and in the family budget. The wines are color-coded by grape variety (which Americans call varietal), so they are consumer-friendly. The Claret is a lovely smooth wine, but the ones I fell for were the hard-on-budget but beautiful 2005 Cask Cab with its distinctive wooden label, for which 3M was called in to specially design the glue, and the 2004 Rubicom, ahhh. This is an elegant wine, aged 18 months in French oak, strong but velvety tannins. And then there is the bottle which women in particular will fall for, named after Francis Ford Coppola’s daughter Sofia.
Winecarte.ch, a Swiss-based online California wines shop opened in 2000, has a a Cuvee StE (for St Emilion style) 1999 for CHF89, not a cheap wine, and it’s a well-made one, elegant and long in the mouth, but I found the nose too American for my now Europeanized taste. However, the slightly more affordable Carol’s 2005 Cabernet, a Big Cab with its red currants, toast, spices is a good buy, a pleasant and typically California style wine for me (77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Petit Verdot), from northern Napa Valley. The online shop is well worth browsing, with a good collection.
Swiss favourites from the 2010 fair
I decided this year to focus on wineries that have long been on my list to visit, and I skipped most of my usual favourites, thinking to catch up with them on a second Arvinis visit. Keep in mind that you can order these wines online later and have them delivered, with most of the winemakers in Switzerland shipping via the post office.
Here are my top picks:
Domaine de Morges has a 2008 Pinot Noir, not aged in oak for CHF13 from grapes grown on the slopes above the town and it has real individuality. If you’re considering doing an at-home tasting to compare some of the region’s Pinot Noirs in the near future this is a good one to include. I also like their Laureat Rouge, a blend of Gamay, Garanoir and Pinot Noir which is a Terravin gold winner.
Diego Mathier of Adrian Mathier winery is one of the country’s best winemakers, the 2007 Swiss Winemaker of the Year, the fourth generation of a family that now has 25 hectares, a relatively large winery by Swiss standards, with dozens of wines on offer. He is particularly known for his Pinot Noirs, but he is gaining a well-deserved reputation for his blended wines as well. I compared three of his Pinot Noirs:
- the Salquenen, which is a fruity, perfectly balanced wine that he created with younger wine drinkers in mind
- Lucifer 2009, which he bottled just last Wednesday, so we’re talking about a young wine, but a beautiful one, with plenty of power, a bit of spice – a true terroir wine from mainly grapes in Salgesch and Sierre
- Grand Reserve, bottled a month ago, from his five best vine parcels, a wine that will be good in six months. “This is its first year,” says Mathier, who is one of the most amiable winemakers around, “and it’s really what I’ve wanted to do – without oak, with the best grapes, with a lot of testing.
The last two will age well. His Cornalin, Merlot and Syrah are also very good. The Syrah has a clear nose of black olives, whereas most are more green pepper, and at CHF20 this is a good buy.
Marie-Bernard Gillioz has a very small (3.5 hectares) bio winery near Sion in canton Valais. She is currently the subject of a great photo exhibit at the Salquenen/Salgesch wine museum east of Sierre, “A cactus in my vineyard.” Her blend, le Garance (Humagne Rouge, Syrah and Cornalin) is elegant and brings out the best in that wonderfully Valaisan grape, Humagne: her wines are a good starting point if you want to understand what “terroir” really means, where the soil, the micro-climate, wind, sun and water are allowed to produce a unique product.