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Geneva holds its wineries’ open house day this Saturday, 30 May, a great chance to discover some of the little treasure chest wines hidden there. Grape names you rarely hear in Switzerland, or at least not in French-speaking Switzerland, like Scheurebe, Kerner, Findling, Dunkelfelder and Cabernet Dorsaz, are on the wine lists of several wineries.
Note that open house in Geneva is a one day event, from and not the entire weekend, as in larger wine regions Vaud and Valais.
Ticino is also holding its open day this Saturday, if you feel like heading south and sampling Merlot in particular, the canton’s specialty.
Right bank is home to experimentation
Geneva is known for its Gamay for reds and Chasselas for whites, the two most widely grown grape varieties. If you’re new to the area or new to the region’s wines, you might not be aware of its excellent reputation for small amounts of other specialty grapes, most of which are found on the Right Bank, around the Mandement area. Growing conditions there are more varied, with steep hillsides facing the sun in a number of directions, allowing growers to try small amounts of unusual grapes.
A few wineries that are known for these:
Domaine du Centaure, Claude Ramu, Dardagny – his Actéon wine, Kerner, Findling
Domaine des Charmes, Conne family, Satigny – Findling, aka Griset Blanc, which surprised the wine world when it turned out to be of Hungarian origin after DNA tests were run: floral nose with mandarine and pear notes; also try the award-winning Sauvignon Blanc
Domaine les Perrières, Satigny, another good place for Sauvignon Blanc, a grape that likes Geneva
Domaine de la Donzelle, Dardagny, Aligoté, the grape mixed with black currant syrup or alcohol that made kir such a famous drink over the border in France, as well as Mondeuse, with a story of its own
Clos des Pins, Marc Ramu, Dardagny, Scheurebe (German, cross between Sylvaner & Riesling), an exotic floral and dry white.
Domaine du Paradis, Russin, Aligoté and plenty of other surprises – just ask!
If you’re over on the Left Bank, a winery that is equally a pioneer for grape varieties is Domaine de la Vigne Blanche in Cologny: be sure to try some of the blends.
The list is far from complete, but do branch out and try some new grapes this year, a good way to learn more about wine, what you like best and to understand why.
The display of Morges wines at the Arvinis wine fair, which opened Wednesday evening, does a good job of showing off the guest of honour wines. It made me decide to taste mainly red wines, a departure from what I usually do at Arvinis.
The basics for an Arvinis visit
My suggestions, based on last night’s tastings, follow. First a couple of tips: do take public transport, to avoid parking hassles and the temptation to drive after drinking more than you planned. With 2,500 wines waiting to be sampled, you need a plan. I usually decide to taste just whites, or maybe 2 white grape varieties, followed by 2 red.
The entry fee is CHF30. You’re given a glass and be sure to hold onto it because that’s your passport for the wine. And do take the glass home as a souvenir. If you take the train and it’s after 21:00 you won’t be the only one carrying a dirty wine glass.
Here’s to Swiss reds!
I began by tasting the Servagnin 2013 lineup, Pinot Noir wines from the Morges region. They have a wonderful story and these are lovely Pinot Noirs, wines that reflect their terroirs well, with a strict quality charter for 19 wineries. Here’s a bit of background, from my book Vineglorious! Switzerland’s Wondrous World of Wines:
Marie of Burgundy, daughter of the powerful Duke of Burgundy, Phillip the Bold, was the pregnant wife of the overseer of the Morges castle in Vaud when, in 1420, she fled to Saint-Prex 6 km away to escape the plague. She thanked villagers with several plants of the grape much loved by her father, thus introducing Pinot Noir (also called Servagnin at the time) to Switzerland. In the 1960s Marie’s vines nearly disappeared but were saved in extremis, just as local producers were adopting the name Salvagnin for all their red wines from all grape varieties. Two last Pinot Noir Salvagnin clones were saved and today a small number of producers in the Morges region have brought it back with a strict quality charter, making elegant fruity wines called Servagnin de Morges.
I had four favourites Wednesday:
“Phenaillette”, winery Romon in Villars-Ste-Croix – elegant, drier and less markedly fruity than some, with a hint of licorice on the nose.
Les 3 Terres, winery Valmont in Morges – raspberries and strawberries on the nose, well-balanced structure, elegant, rich for a Pinot Noir, round.
Marcelin, Morges – a classic with clean lines, and possibly my favourite, with a subtle nose. Smooth, balanced.
Ville de Morges – the city’s own wine is one of the best, slightly fruitier than the Marcelin, longer in mouth than most of these.
Another I liked: Bolle, with good balance and a drier finish than most.
I didn’t have enough time to make the rounds, but some I enjoyed, and they speak English at these stands:
Cave de Genève, “Philippe Chevrier”, a more sophisticated version than Clémence, the other Gamaret the cellar offers.
Les Frères Dutruy, Founex, their 2012 “Les Romaines” Gamaret is inky purple, very smooth in mouth, and they have limited quantities, so ask (say I sent you) to try it.
Try these first, then ask to try blends with Gamaret. Suggested stands for this: Domaine du Paradis, Geneva; Clos, Domaines et Châteaux group from Vaud; Les Artisanes, a group of women wine producers whose wines often show you another face of Swiss grape varieties, particularly in blends.
Some recipes can’t go wrong and here is one you can test in May, when spring is painting its colours in the Jura: the combination of Satigny, Geneva winery Domaine du Paradis with the hotel’s chef Rudy Pacheco in the dreamy setting of the Hôtel des Horlogers in Le Brassus. It’s 45 minutes from Geneva and Lausanne, in the Jura, and if you really want to relax, stay the night (it’s a great time out place) and take advantage of the special offer.
The hotel occasionally offers Wine & Dine evenings that feature excellent wineries, with Pacheco developing dishes paired with the wines.
This time it’s oenologist Didier Cornut from le Paradis who has selected his wines, from the domain’s large and fine collection. He’s known, as well, for wearing horns – you’ve probably worked out by now that listening to him talk about his wines adds a great deal to the fun. He’s happy to expound in English, the result of time spent working in Sonoma Valley, California.