I’m happy to vouch for 2017 as a fine year for Swiss white wine: last week I tasted all of the new wines presented by members of the Mémoire des Vins Suisses and most were excellent, with virtually no disappointments. The reds were generally vintage 2016. Given the longer time in cellars before they are presented, compared to what we often see at public tastings, these are wines that are ready for market, and thus easier to judge.
Once a year, in tandem with its annual general meeting, the Mémoire des Vins Suisses group invites the public to a tasting session where wineries present three vintages of their wine. Each member of this group, generally considered to include many of Switzerland’s best wineries, has one wine in the group collection. Several vintages in the collection are assessed each year to see how well they are aging.
My top picks among the 2017 whites
Prices are cellar prices, for indication only, as many are for the 2018 wines now going on sale. Three Chasselas wines:
Clos de Mangold, Domaine Cornulus, Savièse, Valais. My top pick for whites this year. A well balanced yet rich Fendant from old vines on the Clos Mangold slope near Sion, a hot year with mature grapes, that managed to give a fresh wine. Exquisite. CHF17.50
Calamin Grand Cru Cuvée Vincent, Domaine Blaise Duboux, Epesses, Vaud. A classic of this rather special mini-section of Lavaux, and a reminder that these Chasselas wines as well as ones from Dézaley, improve with age. Almost sparkling with highlights from its very pure robe, a nose that is more citrus than mineral, richer than many Chasselas with a slightly sour finish. I like it mainly for the potential; I would wait to drink it. CHF21 (70 cl)
Château Maison Blanche, Yvorne (Vaud). This has long been one of my favourite Swiss Chasselas wines, so I start out a bit prejudiced, but yet again, the wine lived up to my expectations: mineral, lime and gunflint, big for a Chasselas and always just a bit thrilling, giving what the French call a frisson. CHF18-25 in shops.
Marsanne, Räuschling and 2 Petite Arvines
The first two have little in common with each other or the Arvines, but I’ve grouped them together because I think they give a nice sense of the variety we have with Swiss white wines.
Ermitage (the traditional Valais name for Marsanne wines, nothing to do with Hermitage in France) Les Serpentines, Domaine Gérald & Patricia Besse, Martigny-Croix (Valais). We move into a different range of notes here, white truffles and spices, some forest undergrowth, with a mouth that is dense; you feel the ripe fruit. A wine that makes me think it’s time for a nice meal. CHF28.70
Räuschling Seehalden, Schwarzenbach Weinbau, Meilen (Zurich). I tasted this right after the bottle was open and had to come back to it after a bit – definitely a reminder that all wines need at least of bit of breathing time. I love this wine every year, and 2017 is no exception: crisp and clean, lemony notes, high acidity, refreshing and begging you to eat some good fresh lake fish. Note that they make four Räuschlings so be sure to sample the range if you stop by the winery, just outside the city of Zurich. CHF21
Petite Arvine Les Grand’Rayes, Maurice Zufferey, Sierre (Valais). I love this wine, with its classic nose and mouth: aromas of citrus (lemon and some Bergamot orange) and rhubarb both for this vintage, and a well-structured, full wine in mouth, with the perfect saline note at the end. A close runner-up for my favourite white this year: it is complex but not a complicated wine that depends on terroir and perfect handling for its beauty. CHF25
Petite Arvine Maître de Chais, Provins, Sion (Valais). Wonderful to be able to taste these two Arvines side by side, for they are quite different, the result of different terroirs and winemaking approaches. This wine is part of the line that Provins, the country’s largest winery and a cooperative, calls “reference” range of 12 wines. The wine is made from carefully selected grapes from the best wine parcels, cultivated by up to 30 growers, and it spends some time in oak. The 2017 is rich, with notable acidity – one for wine-lovers. CHF27.90
Sauvignon and Heida (Savagnin)
Sauvignon Blanc, Les Hutins, Dardagny (Geneva). I don’t love this as much every year, but 2017 was just right for these grapes. The nose is black currants, which it took me a minute to work out because other fruits come along quickly, notably passion fruit, which I love to find in wines. This impressive and not subtle nose leads into a gentler, rounder wine in mouth and then the acidity hits. A wow! wine that I found delicious, and that made me long for fish. CHF18
Heida St Jodernkellerei, Visperterminen (Valais). We had the 2015 Salvagnin, as Heida is known elsewhere: this is a big, high alcohol wine that spends time in oak and needs that to hit its stride. It ages beautifully, but even as a relatively young wine here, it elegant and complex. The winery mentions notes of apple and hazelnuts and citrus and orange peel, and as the wine unfolded for me I may have found all those aromas, but I was enchanted enough to stop looking. A very special wine from one of Europe’s highest vineyards, a cooperative with many small growers who tend their vines part-time. CHF43
My top picks among the mostly 2016 reds
Four Pinot Noirs
Raissennaz, Domaine Henri Cruchon, Echichens (Vaud). The wine’s name comes from a very fine terroir above Morges, remarkable for its mix of soils that give what the winery aptly describes as a wine with “dense and chewy silkiness”. A Pinot Noir with a delightfully fruity nose this year and a rich mouth. This is an excellent example of where we might be headed, in terms of aromas and palates, with high quality biodynamic wines, for the Cruchons are fully invested in this approach. CHF36
Pur Sang, Caves de Chambleau, Colombier (Neuchâtel). Expectations run high when a Pinot Noir blend is named Thoroughbred, and this wine delivers. Neuchatel has some very classy, elegant Pinot Noirs, and this is winery consistently produces them – it two Pinot Noirs and this blend, which is essentially Pinot Noir made from old selections of this grape, which are low-yield producers. The wine is made slowly, spends 22 months in oak and, not surprisingly, is not made every year, for the grapevines don’t always provide enough raw material. It is a beautiful red wine to look at and well-balanced, with aromas of red fruits and spices followed by a mouth that is dense and yet with finely drawn fruit. A class act in 2016. My top pick for red wines. CHF89 (available only in wooden crates of 6)
Pinot Noir Grand Vin, Weingut Wolfer, Weinfelden (Thurgau). A classic, made with 12 months in new oak barrels, which gives a finely balanced wine: lovely fruity nose, fruit and tannins and good structure in mouth. The 2016 is not as smooth as some vintages, and still feels a bit young. I would wait a while to drink this.
Bondola, Merlot-Cab blend, Nebbiolo
Bondola del Nonu Mario, Azienda Mondò, Sementina (Ticino). The rare Bondola single grape wine, one that is so easy to fall in love with – this should be and is here a fun wine, a bright deep red colour, great fruit aromas and a mouth that is fresh and fruity. A very cheering wine! CHF19
Pio della Rocca, Tenuta Castello di Morcote, Vico Morcote (Ticino). A perfectly balanced blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon: classic red fruit aromas, not too rich or extracted (concentrated) in mouth. Just the right wine for so many meals. The Merlot is sufficiently present to make this a very Ticino wine, but the Cabernet lifts it. CHF39-50 in shops
Nebbiolo, Tenuta Vitivinicola Trapletti, Coldrerio (Ticino). The grape that makes great wines in Piedmont, Italy, doesn’t always reach its potential in other soils and climates – Switzerland grows very little of it – but in Trapletti’s hands this is developing into a fine single grape wine. The 2015 is still very young, yet pleasing, with tannins that are integrated.
And finally, two Syrahs
Syrah Quintessence, Benoît Dorsaz, Fully (Valais). One of two consistently beautiful Syrah wines that are among my favourites from Valais, but this one is slightly more acidic and austere – very much a mountain wine, to be savoured, for me. Grapes are grown on the loess soil slopes of Les Perches, and I just discovered that the vines are massal (not cloned) from Côte Rotie vines, chez René Rostaing, whom I recently visited, a magical Rhone winery. This Syrah spends 12 months in oak, with the barrels blended and another six months in tanks. CHF30
Syrah Chamoson Vieilles Vignes, Simon Maye et fils, St-Pierre-de-Clages (Valais). The other of my two lovely and elegant Valais Syrahs, this one from the valley, a classic nose of spices, especially white pepper, and black fruits. It is made in large vats where it spends 12 months, with another 8 months in concrete tanks. The mouth is smooth, rich, chewy – another class act.
Notes on the older vintages
The Mémoire offers the rare possibility to sample various vintages of the same wines, so we have a chance to understand how they evolve, and what we might expect if we cellar the younger ones for a few years. Here are a few highlights for me, from this year’s tasting:
Cave du Rhodan, Mounir Weine in Salgesch has a fine Pinot Noir that I found improved greatly with age: the 2016 was good, the 2013 better and the 2010 was incredibly fruity and young, with excellent freshness. Do not equate older vintage with aging.
Denis Mercier in Sierre makes one of the most beautiful Cornalin wines around and if I had any doubts about its ability to age, this tasting would have ended them. The 2016 was very good with a little smokiness that I loved, the 2012 more interesting because more complex, and 2008 was simply excellent.
Domaines des Muses, Sierre, Humagne Blanche: we had a good talk about how 2015 and 2013 were not typical and while their intensity made them interesting, the 2017 holds more promise, with classic aromas (more floral than fruity). Worth keeping it in the mouth for a bit to learn more about this wine that has gradually fallen somewhat out of favour.
Grand’Cour in Satigny, the Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon blend: I greatly preferred the 2015 to the 2011 and 2007, probably simply because the warm sunny later vintage was just right for these grapes.
Les Frères Dutruy, Gamay in Les Romaines lineup: this is always one of my favourite wines, a wonderful example of what heights Gamay can achieve. The differences in vintage can be marked, with 2017 simply deliciously fruity and deep, with 2015 longer in mouth and very balanced – and the 2012 needing more time, with less fruit and a more vegetable aspect to it.
Cru de l’Hopital Traminer, Vully, was simply splendid for all three vintages. If you haven’t yet discovered this Gewürztraminer, you have a treat waiting for you.