The wine: Electus 2013, Valais Mundi Provins, Switzerland
A clear and pleasing rich dark red robe. Nose marked by the main grape (35%), Cornalin, with notes of black cherries and violets. Complex nose, with waves of varying notes, including Mediterranean herbs for me, perhaps reflecting at this stage the 6 grapes in the blend: Humagne Rouge (28%), Diolinoir (18%), Merlot (9%), Cabernet Sauvignon (8%), Cabernet Franc (2%). Mouth: still young, tannins silky but a bit too present, overall good balance with pleasing acidity. Alcohol 14.5.
Give it time.
Blind tasting, a healthy free-for-all
I’m very impatient with an unhealthy tendency in wine journalism to take short cuts by tasting only wines that are already famous and to borrow and remix the wine notes or descriptions of well-established professionals.
So a blind tasting of famous wines, alongside professionals who know what they are doing and whose opinions I respect, is unnerving – and refreshingly fun.
The point of the exercise yesterday morning in Lausanne was to blind taste 11 very expensive wines and compare them to see where a special Swiss wine stands in the group. All were from the same recent vintage, 2013, which is relatively young for wines designed to be alive and kicking 2 or more decades from now. All but one wine sells for well over CHF100 a bottle (most, quite a lot more).
Babes in the woods, are these 4-year-old wines, despite carrying names redolent of ancient dark cellars and decades-old labels edging their way off dusty bottles. When I try to impress you by breezily saying that I spent Wednesday morning sniffing, sipping and then spitting out about CHF250 of wine from Chateau Angelus, Sassicaia and Opus One among other celebrated wines, all of them vintage 2013, just brush me off. Yes, we can drink these but what a shame, for they’re mostly aching for more time in the cellar. A lesson anyone tempted to pay a fortune for a wine should remember. Wait to drink it, or be willing to try to tease out from its youthful shape the classy adult it might become. And what if it just isn’t up to snuff later?
The hidden star of the show was Electus, the darling of Provins, a cooperative and Switzerland’s largest winery, based in Sion, Valais. Electus was a dream at the start of this century, then a 6-year experiment until the 2010 harvest, when it became a reality. Damien Carruzzo, winemaker/cellar master, when I asked him after the tasting if he felt, in its fourth year, that the initial idea behind the wine was working, said yes. It is meant “to create a mosaic of the grapes and terroirs”, the best in Valais, to show that the region is capable of making a distinctive wine of its own that can stand among the world’s greats.
The idea was the brainchild of Bordeaux oenology professor Nicolas Vivas, who was part of the dozen professionals tasting the 2013 this morning, and who remains enthusiastic about the wine’s potential. The 2013 vintage goes on sale next week. The 2011 currently sells at the winery for CHF150, the same price to private clients for the 2013.
So, is it a great wine? Can it hold its own against some of the biggest names in the business, in a blind tasting done in no particular order? In short, yes, at least at age 4, and the consensus today was that it holds good promise for the future.
You can find a good level of detail on Electus and its white wine sibling Eclat, in English, on the suitably elegant Valais Mundi website.
Journalist Pierre Thomas wrote a lengthy article (Fr) when the 2010 was introduced, with good background material.
Here were my scores today, rating them out of 5, with a few abbreviated notes. I didn’t know, of course, where they were from or what wines they were, until the blind tasting was finished. Links to articles by two fellow tasters appear below, after the bottle photos.
Poor Bordeaux, was my first reaction! My views were at odds with most other people’s – but then most others’ opinions were at odds with several others! Consensus is not what you get in this kind of blind tasting. In fairness, it’s important never to drink a Bordeaux too young.
Jérôme Aké, Switzerland’s Best Sommelier in 2015, whose opinions I often trust, was much more positive, or kinder, than I was. He’s a poet when he presents wines, and poetry starts with love.
Some comfort came from seeing that 2 of my 3 best wines were also rated highly by Paolo Basso, named World’s Best Sommelier the year these grapes were picked, whose wine notes have a steely precision.
After that it was a happy free-for-all. Too much acidity? Too much sugar? Good structure, no not balanced. Tannins too young. Violets? Hmmm, black cherries.
Relief all around, I think, that Electus the star was one of the most consistently pleasing wines, although there were questions about the nose – Brett? Closed?
The real lesson would be to re-taste all of these in 10 years, preferably in the same lively and honest company. My notes probably won’t send you running to the shop to buy these wines, but then I don’t work for the wine industry or for magazines supported by their advertising budgets.
We started with a mise-en-bouche, or whet your whistle white wine, Eclat 2015. Then, in order of tasting, with the order of bottles random:
1 – Château Pape Clément, France, 3/5, not particularly complex, needs more time, tannins too young
2 – Château Pontet-Canet, France, 3/5, nose seemed to evolve more than mouth, bit too animal (note from Damien later that this might be due to the bacteria typically found in biodynamic wines, of which this is one)
3 – Sassicaia, Italy, 4/5, happier here, nose a bit dubious (reduction?) but mouth fresh and fruity with good depth, good balance – overall very nice
4 – La Mouline, Côte Rôtie, France, 4/5, Very good, with elegant fruit, tannins need a bit more time – it feels like it is just starting on an interesting journey
5 – Solaia, France, 3/5, bit too hot, tannins need more time but an interesting and long finish
6 – Ornellaia, Italy, 3/5, lacks complexity, feel the heat of the alcohol, sugar over acidity so it lacks balance
7 – Chateau Pichon-Baron, France, 3/5, hmm, just okay – nice complexity in the nose, but the mouth disappoints
8 – Electus, Switzerland, 4/5, first real wow wine, with a wonderfully complex nose, waves of violets, licorice and some garrigue or Mediterranean notes. Needs time, like a teenager whose feet are too big.
9 – Château Angelus, France, 2/5, my lowest note, a bit thin and boring, as if some spark is missing, although the structure is good
10- Opus One, Napa Valley, USA, my favourite with 5/5, dense fruit in waves, balanced, luxurious, the one wine here I would happily drink now
11 – Alion, Ribera del Duero, Spain, one wild card thrown in because it sells for about CHF60 – 4/5, a bit jammy and lacks acidity, but overall pleasant