The Morges wine fair opens wine-tasting season
Divinum, in its third year, is set to stay, if success is anything to judge by. By 20:00 Wednesday night, opening night, crowds were good, the wine was flowing and producers were being plied with questions. The wine fair expects 18,000 people by the time it closes late Monday 8 April.
There are several reasons to make time for it this weekend. The quality is good, with 1,352 wines being presented by 140 wineries, and you can easily talk to the producers. Most of the cellars are from French-speaking Switzerland, with a handful of German and Italian language area wineries as well as foreign ones. Groups of wineries – Clos, Domaines & Chateaux, Les Artisanes, the Morges Servagnin producers – are taking part.
Divinum is held in a large tent at Independence Park, also called Sports Park, next to the tulip festival that is a colourful treat on warmer, sunnier afternoons (some sun forecast for Friday, Saturday and Monday). The tent itself is a better space than Les Halles, the old building next to the train station where Arvinis, an earlier wine fair, took place for 20 years. The aisles are wider, spaces for booths and thus for tasting are better organized, and before dark falls the daylight that comes through the white tent top offers much better light.
Divinum was created by Morges wineries when Arvinis was obliged to leave the town due to major renovations and construction around the train station. It has managed to create a local feel but with enough other wineries to make it worth any winelover’s time. The tourism office is involved and services such as a free shuttle bus to/from the station are good. The tent is next to a large parking lot, but do keep in mind that police in Vaud run frequent checks and it’s wiser and safer and kinder to take the train or bus. If you have time to explore the town, its military castle and lakefront, do so, and keep in mind that this is a good Swiss town for coffee shops and chocolate.
Entry is CHF25 or 20 for students and CHF45 for 3 days. You can pay at the door or order online from fnac.ch; you are handed a glass at the door and it’s yours to keep.
Hours: Friday 16:00-22:00, Saturday 11:00-22:00, Sunday 11:00-20:00 and Monday 16:00-21:00. If you’re going early I suggest you dress warmly, but by 18:00 the crowd warms up the tent.
You can’t buy to take home, but for wineries this is an important time for taking orders. No obligation at all if you simply want to taste, but it is a great chance to find wines you like and order them for delivery or pickup later.
I would have liked to taste far more wines, so this is not a list of the best wines, merely my own choices of some special wines among the 60 or so that I tasted.
Discovery wine: 6TUS Pinot Noir***, Schmid Wetli family winery in Berneck, Appenzell. This was the top of the line of the three Pinot Noirs I tasted here; the grape is the winery’s specialty and they do it very well. The vines are from steep slopes not far from the Rhine and Lake Constance. See Uncork now for details.
More Pinot: Two more Pinot Noirs, both from Neuchatel – home to some of the most elegant, classic Pinots in Switzerland. The first is from Cave de la Béroche, between Yverdon and Neuchatel, which has an interesting collection of wines. I was intrigued by the Cru de l’Hôpital 2015 unfiltered red** because when we hear about unfiltered and Neuchatel wines the reference is usually to Chasselas. This wine is made in cement tanks and its second fermentation occurs without any help – “we intervene as little as possible” in the entire process, I was told. The 2015 is very good, a wine with character. The 2016 is thinner, yet with good acidity so that the mouth pleases; give it a bit of time.
The much-lauded Maison Carré winery in Auvernier is as rich in good wines as it is in history; if you haven’t visited, you should see this wonderful Medieval house in the town centre. They have a 2013 Pinot Noir ** at Divinum, which is a treat because you don’t often have a chance at public wine-tastings to sample an older vintage. This one, which matures in oak barrels and tanks of varying sizes, allows you to see what happens after six years. The winery often brings its Pinots to market later than most because these are wines that benefit from some time to develop. Here, the initial strong red fruit notes are paling and the wine is a bit austere as it develops secondary aromas (the post-fruit ones), and the finish is slightly sour. If that sounds negative, it is definitely not: this is an elegant wine; pay attention as you sip it quietly and it will speak to you. It is just one of several Pinot Noirs this biodynamic cellar makes.
A Swiss food blogger who lives in western Switzerland has just published a very thorough wine tourism article for anyone tempted to visit the area – the scenery is beautiful and the food and wine are great, so let yourself be tempted. Scenic Vineyard Trail from Biel/Bienne to La Neuveville.
Humagne Rouge mid-line and top-of-line I consider winemaker Olivier Mounir and his predecessors at Cave du Rhodan in Miège, Valais as fine wine producers who are also activists, these days for his efforts to help move the canton to organic wine production, in the past for pushing Salgesch/Salquenen to create the first AOC in the canton. His collection of 30-plus wines, different lines with different prices, is a bit daunting. The winery has several of them at Divinum, so this is a good time to do some comparison tasting.
I particularly recommend trying the mid-range Humagne Rouge**, a Valais specialty wine, then the top*** of the line one; both are very good. This is a difficult grape to vinify if you’re aiming to keep the wine light, fruity and crisp, for Humagne Rouge can quickly become dense – he achieves success with both of these wines. I was puzzled at first by the lack of aromas and then realised I was one of the first visitors and the bottle needed time to open – do remember if you notice this with a wine that it might need 5 minutes to open. I waited, we talked and I suddenly had a great nose of red currants and spices.
While you’re there, do try the Syrah**, a very sensual, light and crunchy version. An aside, a neighbouring winery, Caprice du Temps in Miège, has a Syrah with these same notes of green olives and spices, and I think we’re seeing the impact of terroir on these north of northern Rhone Syrahs.
Another winery where you can learn a great deal about Humagne Rouge is Cornulus from Savièse, above Sierre. I tried their mid-range**, a fine fruity, chewy and relatively light one from vines next to Conthey. Easy to drink, a wine that will always find happy homes. And then there is the wow! Humagne 2016 from Corbassières***, much fruitier, richer, with a far more complex nose. It’s older and it’s bigger, more expensive of course (CHF45, versus CHF27 for Bailles and less for the basic level version). There will be room at my table for this one, for sure, to go with a gigot d’agneau, for example.
Moving on to Cornalin
One of my favourite Cornalins*** – another Valais specialty wine – in Morges is Mounir’s 2015, an organic wine. It is made with lower yield vines, giving a wine that is dense, more concentrated and rich than the less expensive version. A beautiful wine.
A winery whose Cornalin I always love is Cornulus. I had just tasted the Humane Rouge, and I was taken aback by the Cornalin. Read the labels, especially this year at Divinum! Many producers had such small quantities in 2017 that they are now out of or very low on stock. In order to answer clamouring clients who want to try the new wines, they are bringing their 2018, some of which are not yet bottled. This is one such case, and once you realize this, it’s fine. Talk to the producer, ask questions, and you’ll get a good education. In this case the Cornalin is clearly very young, very grapey, to the point where it might be hard for less experienced tasters to judge it. But the aromas are intense, all sharp fruit, and the mouth is huge. It’s already clear that this is a wine with the wow! factor, but like teenagers, it hasn’t yet all come together. It will, believe me.
How to charm
Okay, who can resist wordplays when a winery called Domaine des Charmes makes a wine called Les Grands Charmes**, and it is delightful. First, an explanation for anglophones, in case you are not aware: “charme” is also a tree in French, the common hornbeam, a hardwood, in English. This is a winery that does some creative work, with unusual (for Geneva) grapes such as Findling and a popular (delicious) old vines Gamay called Red Baron. Les Grandes Charmes is a pure Gamaret, one of the best I’ve come across, all red and black fruits in the nose, round with smooth tannins. Olivier Conne, the son at this family winery, suggests you leave it for 3-5 years, and if you can’t wait, that you carafe the wine.
In praise of Servagnin
Do not leave Divinum without trying a glass of Servagnin, if you aren’t familiar with this Morges appellation specialty, a Pinot Noir with a history and a quality charter. If you know it already, you’re probably heading straight to this stand. You can also read more about it in my Swiss wine book, Vineglorious! Switzerland’s Wondrous World of Wines.
These are some of my favourite Pinots. Enjoy Divinum, and Santé!