The new GaultMillau guide can be purchased in bookstores and online for CHF34.90 in French, CHF52 in German. The two language versions differ: the German one contains all 830 restaurants and lists of hotels, wineries, popular dining spots and the guide’s stars of the year. The French version has all of this but “only” 395 restaurants – those in French-speaking Switzerland plus the top spots throughout the country.
GaultMillau’s 125 best Swiss wineries: what the list signifies
Swiss Wine and GaultMillau began to work together to create an annual list of the best Swiss wine producers a few years ago. They came up with 100 [note correction, 01.11] (later boosted to 125) for the first list, published in 2014. Since the list was published as part of the must-have consumer guide to Switzerland’s best restaurants, it was assumed by me and many others that the wine list was created mainly for consumers. But the list offers little detail, so that’s a puzzle at first sight.
The 2020 Gault&Millau Guide Suisse/Schweiz, which came out officially 7 October, is indeed for consumers and offers pages and pages of mouthwatering descriptions of food in places you’re sure to enjoy, but if you’re hoping to find the equivalent in tempting notes about wines, you’ll be disappointed. On the other hand, the list is a very useful tool for anyone who wonders what wine to order in one of the 870 excellent restaurants in the guide.
Last May Geny Hess, president of the jury whose job it is to decide on the 125 top wine producers, spent some time explaining to me how his team works, over a fine long lunch where we were guests. I was intrigued, for when the first list was published I heard grumblings from a few corners that here was yet another list of wineries and it was probably just a compilation from other lists. Not so.
I called Geny this week to ask him to clarify how the wineries are selected and what the purpose is. Yes, we were right to think the list is for consumers, but it’s really to help restaurants that are keen to carry Swiss wines, so they can make it clear to diners that these cellars make superb wines. And by superb wines, they mean consistently, reliably. The list, please note, is producers, not wineries, an important detail when a new generation is coming on board in a winery. The young winemaker will be carefully watched, says Hess, to see if she or he is able to maintain the high standard set earlier.
“It’s not just one [great] wine that interests us,” says Hess. “It’s all the work, over time, of a winemaker.”
To that end, the jury follows a winery’s work, tastes all of its wines, for three to five years before deciding that the cellar can be on the list. About 10-15% of the wineries can be expected to change each year: some producers retire, others don’t consistently maintain their high standard. Enter, on the list, new wineries, or in some cases wineries that slipped but improved enough and over time to join the list again.
The wine producers are simply listed by the guide, as proof that for the jury of eight professionals who taste the wines year in, year out, these Swiss producers are very good, the best in the country. More detail is provided for the newbies, an additional six producers, the “rookies” that GaultMillau names as part of its efforts to help identify up and coming winemaking talent. The list of 125 also does not include a group called “icons” of Swiss winemaking, whose lifetime talent has been proven year after year until there is no question about the high quality of their work.
The judges each have a region and they spend the year suggesting, selecting wines and wineries, sharing their lists and their results; there is some crossover and then the entire group meets for a major tasting session once a year. “We’re looking to see if there is an even quality in their work, over time,” says Hess. “We’re not interested in wines from contests. We’re not looking for one winning wine.”
The judges are listed in the guide, so there is nothing secretive about the work: Paolo Basso, 2013 World’s Best Sommelier; Jacques Perrin, director of Cave SA wine merchants/school and a member of the European Grand Jury; Elsbeth Hobmeier, journalist and wine, food and tourism author; Hess, who is a longtime Swiss wine expert and editor; Ueli Kellenberger, chef at Rössli in Bad Ragaz and owner of a top-level wine collection; Nathalie Ravet, sommelier at Ermitage des Ravet (19 points), GaultMillau’s Sommelier of the Year 2007; Gilles Besse, oenologist and producer in Valais, and former head of Swiss Wine, the country’s wine marketing organisation.
There will be doubts and questions, as with any list. I looked in vain for two Valais wineries that I’m convinced should be on the list. But it’s true that despite my enthusiasm for them I probably don’t manage to taste all of their wines each year for several years. All of the judges, in their jobs, taste far more wines each year than I will ever manage.
Without further ado, hat’s off to these people, for every last one of them makes great wines.
GaultMillau’s six wine rookies 2020
- Sandrine Caloz in Miège, Valais
- Solange, Lucie and Tristan Perey in Vufflens-le-Château, Vaud
- Patrick Adank in Fläsch, Graubünden
- Susi Steiger-Wehrli in Küttigen, Aargau
- Manuel Tresch in Altdorf, Uri
- Davide Ghidossi in Cadenazzo, Ticino.
New icons in Swiss winemaking
The equivalent of a lifetime achievement award goes to:
- Anne-Catherine and Denis Mercier in Sierre, Valais
- Violaine and Raymond Paccot in Féchy, Vaud
Sommelier of the Year 2020
Another important award goes to Edmond Gasser, the young sommelier at the Beau-Rivage Palace in Lausanne, Anne-Sophie Pic’s restaurant 19-star restaurant. I’m particularly pleased about this because I think he has all the attributes of a top sommelier, starting with a superb knowledge of wine, an open mind and an ability to talk about wine to people who are not experts, to understand what they need to know. Bravo!
GaultMillau on restaurants for 2020
As for those 830 excellent restaurants, I can only say that I nearly failed to write this article because I was so distracted by the description of Tanja Grandit’s work at Stucki in Basel – she’s not only the Chef of the Year 2020, the second time she’s been given the title, but she’s earned her 19th point. There are now eight Gault Millau chefs with 19 points in the country. I’ve eaten at Stucki and loved it, but the description of how Grandits new pet trick is to make her own cheese from goat “petit lait” every Wednesday, then use the petit lait for her veal tartare, makes me want to jump on the train to Basel tomorrow to try it.
A select group of seven new top chefs on the list make dining out sound very, very tempting as well. There are 96 new restaurants in the guide, 103 chefs who gained at least one point, and – ouch – 48 who lost a point. A small but important change if you are a regular to fine dining: GaultMillau has aligned itself with guides in neighbouring countries and the number of toques or chef’s hats shown for the best restaurants is now five instead of four.
Recipes, tips and chef interviews online
For those of us whose budgets don’t include top restaurants five days a week, there is some small compensation in viewing a daily dose of information about this world of fine dining at Channel on Gaultmillau.ch, which has a daily feed of high-quality videos – recipes, interviews, new restaurants and more. I’ve just watched one about making fries with garlic and herbs and … excuse me, but it’s now time to find something in my kitchen.