Les Glorieuses is a series of wine tastings held on four Mondays in May every year in Martigny. It’s open to wine and food professionals and tends to attract many sommeliers – Mondays were chosen because that’s the day when many restaurants are closed and sommeliers have a day off.
I made it to two of the tastings this year and because the winemakers were so interesting to talk to I managed to visit only some of them. I decided in June to take several weeks off from writing, so while I’m late publishing these May notes, I think they offer early indications of wines that are just now coming into their own. I’ve very recently had two again and wasn’t disappointed; a new Benoît Dorsaz Petite Arvine was included in a recent presentation I made to the student wine club at Les Roches hotel school in Bluche, Valais, and it was well received.
I focused more on the whites than the reds, so you’ll find more of these. Here’s what I found; you’ll see my top pick from each producer whose wine I tasted (in parentheses in the heading).
Didier Joris, Chamoson (Païen)
I generally kick off a Swiss wine tasting with a Chasselas, or when in Valais a Fendant, the perfect Swiss all-around white. This one wasn’t a way to ease into the tasting session gently – this was straight and upright and definitely a wine with no place for sugar. It set the tone for the rest of the Joris 2018 wines, made by this organic producer who is famously fierce about making wines with the soil and the grape centre stage (shhhh, listen to them!). There’s no softening from a second fermentation and the touch of CO2 that Joris leaves gives the Fendant a nervous tension.
The Fendant and the Petite Arvine both left me searching for aromas, ditto for the Chardonnay. They were still closed in mid-May, not long bottled. And yet, it was easy to see that these are wines I will soon appreciate: character is there. The Petite Arvine surprised me with notes of wisteria, versus the more usual grapefruit and rhubarb I associate with the grape. The mouth offers good minerality.
We talked about the long, hot summer and the long, slow fermentation and speculated about what might cause that. Maybe less nitrogen, which plays a key role in fermentation? But you’re not here to read about soil and wine yeasts.
The Joris Paien (Heida is its other name and Savagnin is the grape) is another story, with high marks for its pleasing acidity and also structure. These grapes are grown on two Rhone valley slopes. In mouth, this is simply beautiful, my favourite of his wines. CHF35
Daniel Magliocco et Fils, Chamoson (Nuance Blanche)
Mikaël Magliocco, the fils in Magliocco et Fils, and I have danced around each other on social media for a while, without quite meeting, although I have tasted the family’s wines before and liked them. Son Mikaël’s Instagram photos of life in their organic vineyard are a source of real pleasure. In Martigny we talked about young wines and older ones and when to drink them. “Our job is to preserve wines, not to say you must drink this in, say, 10 years.” I very much liked the Paien (it was a good year for this grape in Chamoson) but Nuance Blanche, a blend of Paien and Petite Arvine surprised me by exceeding either – I’m not always a fan of this blend and tend to prefer the single-grape wines. The balance of this 50-50 wine is perfect, though, with a nose that tickles with hints of pencil shavings (graphite) and a zinging salinity at the end, typical of the Arvine. CHF23
Their web site (Fr) has a fine description of the 2018 growing year, “Millésime flamboyant“, from the slow start to the summer work to keep grape yields under control and maintain quality.
I also liked the Hermitage (Marsanne), which Magliocco fils called “a winter wine”, to my puzzlement. At our house it’s a wine to go with roast chicken for a late summer dinner outside. He liked that idea, for younger wines, but “I like to make a casserole dinner, sit around with friends with an aged Hermitage and some cheese and just talk. There’s nothing finer.”
Benoît Dorsaz, Fully (Pinot Blanc)
I’m such a fan of this winery’s Petite Arvine and Fendant that I decided I had to make a point of focusing on their other wines – how glad I am that I did! Maryline, wife of Benoît, reminded me of the magical place that is Les Follatères, a domain that is also a clos (completed enclosed, in this case by mountain forest and steppes) at the elbow of the Rhone river. It is mostly hidden from the world and I love taking walks along the river here, admiring the deep aquamarine colour of the fast-flowing water. She suggested I try the Pinot Blanc (CHF18, but only 330 litres are available this year!), the only white planted on this slope, which is well-known for its Pinot Noir and other reds. Note: the winery sells a collection of four reds from the clos, which makes for a great home tasting experience. This is one of my top picks for 2018 whites: so complex in the nose and it unfolds with energy; the mouth is all richness and acidity, magnificently balanced. At 14.5 degrees this is not a featherweight wine and you do feel the alcohol at the end. The harvests are small because the clos was hit by frost a few years ago, wiping out several of the vines.
Impossible for me to skip the Petite Arvines, of which there are two. Les Perches is a dry version, not oaked, that comes from the hillside above Fully, towards the western end. It is regularly one of the most elegant and classic Arvines I know. The 2018 was still closed, just bottled, when I tasted it, but like the Chamoson ones I tasted a week earlier, I had notes of wisteria rather than the more usual grapefruit and rhubarb. The acidity in mouth was pleasing and I loved the complexity: this is a wine with great promise, I think, but it needs a few more weeks before it starts to offer more aromas – and then it will be an excellent wine for years, not just months.
The second Arvine is part of the Quintessence line, which is Dorsaz’s oaked line, so we were tasting the 2017, with the wine having several months in oak. I like it, but I prefer my Arvine straight and dry. This oaked version has a more subtle nose but a classy mouth with grapefruit, particularly in the finish.
Christophe Abbet, Martigny (Ermitage/Marsanne)
The Fendant by this creative wine producer in Martigny – once described by wine shop Cave SA as half-alchemist, half-sorcerer – is one of the best I tasted during the spring/early summer, but this is a bit unfair because it was a 2017, well developed compared to the very fresh 2018 Chasselas wines. It has a delightfully fruity nose and mineral mouth, a wine with verve.
Most of Abbet’s vines, including these, are in Fully, which considers itself the capital of Petite Arvine. His Petite Arvine 2016 and Paien (Heida, Savagnin Blanc) 2017 are both, as expected, very good: grapefruit nose and good acidity if less fruit in mouth for the first. The Paien is, for me, too young, noticeably in the still somewhat neutral nose, which gives hints of almonds – but the mouth is lovely, all rich fruitiness that is balanced well by the acidity. A wine that holds promise.
Abbet makes a renowned oaked blend of Marsanne and Petite Arvine called Ambre, sold in 50 cl bottles for CHF77, but that wasn’t part of my tasting session, sadly. In any event, it deserves a web page to itself! Happily, the Ermitage (Marsanne) was in my lineup and it quickly became one of my “wow” wines during these recent tasting weeks – a bit smoky in the nose, funky in the old-fashioned positive sense, with a rich mouth. A very fine wine. CHF36
Rodeline, Fully (Paien, Combe d’Enfer)
The Rodeline winery is one of the best around for comparing different grapes and grapes from several terroirs that are handled in different ways.
I started with two Fendants from their Plamont terroir, a 1-hectare stretch of vines in terraces above Fully, at 600-680 m altitude. It’s a beautiful, high spot looking down over the terraced vines to the Rhone river valley. Loess (wind deposits) soil lends itself particularly well to the Chasselas grape here. I am keen on the Plamont Chasselas, made without malolactic fermentation, grown on south-facing vines that are 35-plus years old. It has a complex nose with aromas of gunflint, and linden blossom and the 2018 has marked citrus fruits; it also has an exciting, slightly nervous mouth with a mineral finish. There are in fact two versions of this wine. I tasted the wine bottled in spring, but a second batch is matured in amphores and bottled in August. The amphores need more time before bottling, says Claudine Roduit. The cellar is now in its third year of a five-year experiment to see if the amphore version is the way forward.
In addition to the Fendant, the winery uses amphores for Humagne Blanche and Merlot. The other Fendant, Vieilles Vignes, is made from vines over 40 years old, with malolactic fermentation – a second fermentation that is sometimes used to soften white wines that are high in acidity. With Chasselas, a relatively low-acidity wine, it is sometimes used to create a creamy, softer texture that goes well with cheese. In this case, the vines are above 600 m and the wine is more mineral than some (which can feel like greater acidity if you’re unsure what it means for a wine to be mineral). This is a gentler wine, with more floral notes for me.
Petite Arvine is another grape that comes in more than one version. The three made by Rodeline range in price from CHF25-29.50 and are from three terroirs. The most intriguing is La Murgère, an Arvine with atypical aromas that I must taste again in November, during the Arvine Capital days in Fully, I was told. It’s made from a selection of old vines from two parcels next to each other, with accumulations of rocks and pebbles (which is what the place name means). These are massal replantings rather than cloned vines. The wine is big and rich, a gastronomy wine. The Arvine I preferred in late May is the Perronne version from grapes in Leytron that are 20 years old. This is a lighter, lively Arvine with grapefruit notes and the expected salinity in the finish.
The real star here was the Paien 2018 from Combe d’Enfer, CHF29. They have been making this wine since 2006 and it just gets better. This is an aromatic wine (grape: Savagnin blanc) with passion fruit and litchi notes, superb in mouth: big, rich, fleshy. My first reaction was to start thinking of great cheeses to go with this, nothing middling or simple. Next to me were the young owners of a very fine restaurant in Ovronnaz, Le Soleil de Dugny, who were having the same conversation. “Sorry,” he said, “We’ve just decided to buy their entire stock!” (I think this was a joke, but I want to reserve some, just in case).
Marie-Thérèse Chappaz, Fully (Petit Nature red blend)
MTC as she is widely known in the wine business, is a Swiss wine superstar, although I can see her cringing at the label, for she is not a celebrity status seeker, far from it. Her wines match their creator: honest, direct, interesting, uncomplicated and yet often complex. Selecting one favourite from her large lineup is very tough. At this point in my morning of tastings I decided to do a quick tour of the whites and leave myself time to taste a handful of red wines, from MTC, Cave Rodeline and Cave Devayes (Leytron).
The Chappaz Fendant has aromas that I don’t find in many of these wines, a touch of pine in particular, and unusual floral notes. The mouth has good acidity and is mineral: a very pleasing Chasselas. Grain Cinq 2017 is an aroma-lover’s joy, a blend of five white grapes that has a complex nose and is dry yet powerful in mouth: Ermitage, Païen, Petite Arvine, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner.
The Petite Arvine was still cloudy and would be bottled a week later, Marie-Thérèse told me. It sparked a conversation about oaked wines as we discussed various Arvines made in the area around Fully. “I don’t like a lot of it,” she said firmly. “It’s like too much makeup. I love minerality!” Let the grape shine through.
Moving on to reds … from MTC (red blend Petit Nature 2018)
Time for the reds. Dôle (Grain Nature Champ Dury) a wine I don’t always appreciate, but this one, Gamay and Pinot Noir, is excellent. Uncomplicated, unfussy, silky smooth, a great wine to simply share with friends over your favourite home meal, yes, please! A bonus: no sulfites. And then my favourite of the day, a surprise for me: the red blend Petit Nature 2018, from Gamaret, Gamay and Pinot Noir. A nose of cherries and black fruits with some dark plum notes, very smooth but an exciting and lively finish that is all fruit and yet not sweet. Suggested, says Marie-Thérèse, for thirsty hikers and indeed, it’s sold in 20 cl bottles, but the wine and the price of CHF7.00 is enough to make you lace up your boots so you can earn the post-hike reward.
And then I worked my way through several more wines in her dauntingly fine yet fun collection: the luscious white Ermitage, also a 2017, where I found kumquats in the nose, pineapples, cognac or perhaps armagnac – rich and remarkable. There was a small sample of a project, another white, that she took on when a neighbour asked her to care for a little patch of vines, a 2016 late harvest wine.
I carried on with the Pinot Noirs, of which MTC produces four single-grape wines. My preference was for the Chamoson 2018 which is a smartly deep bright red, very easy to drink – but allow time for the rich fruit to surprise you mid-mouth. Each of these Pinots takes you to a different depth, suitable for different foods, so you need to fall in love with cooking if you buy them all. At the rich, deep end of this cooking scale, with a good roast, you could open the Grain Noir 2017, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Cave Rodeline reds (Dole from 3 grapes)
Just time enough before closing to sample some of the Cave Rodeline and Devayes reds. The Roduits and MTC have several vine parcels near each other, so names such as Les Claives and Plamont tend to reappear. My favourite red of the day from Rodeline is the Plamont Cuvée Gneiss, a Dole (CHF20), of Gamay, Galotta and Pinot Noir, one-third each. The Galotta adds roundness, Claudine told me, when I asked why – most Doles are heavily Pinot with a bit of Gamay. This is indeed a smooth wine, a classy mix of the fruit from Gamay, Galotta’s roundness and the elegance of Pinot.
I also very much liked the Cornalin 2018, although it is young, far too young for now. The grapes are very much present and this will be a huge wine, I’m certain.
Cave Devayes, Leytron (Humagne Rouge)
The Gamay and the Dole from Gilbert Devayes are hard to beat, value for money, at CHF12.50 and 13: the Gamay has a very appealing mouth that is fruity, with spices, very smooth – the nose was slightly animal and needs to breath a bit. The Dole is 30% Gamay and 70% Pinot Noir, a classic with good fruit and spices, again lovely in mouth.
But my favourite here is the Humane Rouge 2018; there is also a 2017 oaked version. The younger wine has such ripe fruit and yet the balance in mouth is excellent. CHF17.50. Also worth checking out is the Syrah, but don’t drink it now, give it time. It’s beautiful to view, and the nose and mouth roll out in a fine way. Very smooth, with everything a Syrah should offer.
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