LOCARNO, SWITZERLAND – Thursday evening I gave a talk to a sellout crowd at the Anglo-Swiss Club in Locarno on unusual and rare Swiss grape varieties. We then tasted five of these wines. Here are some brief notes on the wines, with contact information for the wineries. All of these wines are produced in limited quantities.
Räuschling, white wine from Zurich
We began with the very delicate Räuschling from Weinbau Schwarzenbach Reblaube in Meilen, on Lake Zurich, the family winery long known for producing some of the best wine from this grape. I’ve previously done vertical tastings of this wine, with the Mémoire des vins suisses group, and the capacity of these wines to age well is surprising and impressive. The 2015 we had Thursday has only recently been bottled so we’re talking about a typical, very young wine, with all the crispness and lemon notes you hope to find were there. Elegant, fresh with real zing, perfect with lake fish. Details on its production, in French and German.
Rèze, white wine from Valais
We followed this with another white with high acidity, this time from canton Valais, the Rèze that – like Räuschling in Zurich – was once so widespread in its home canton. Along came phylloxera and vineyards were replanted with safer, but also easier grapes. These are now making a comeback thanks to some hard-working producers. Serge Heymoz at Cave Les Sentes above Sierre let me take three of his last six bottles from his tiny but well-respected production from 2014, in part because he was busy bottling the 2015 the day I came by. He says his wine should be treated as a “discovery” wine, given that it is not easy for today’s consumers to immediately appreciate its qualities – dry, tart almost to the point of bitter, but clean and plesasant for those who don’t insist on too much fruit in a wine. A small number in the group said it was their favourite wine. Remarkably long in mouth.
Completer, the monks’ ancient white from Graubünden
Completer, an elegant wine with a higher alcohol (14°) content than some, is easier for most people to understand. The 2013 version we had, from the Donatsch winery in Malans, Graubünden, spent some time in oak. The clarity of the robe is remarkable and beautiful. The nose is all elgant fruit with underlying mineral notes – we easily found quince and honey, with plum notes in mouth. This was a big favourite, a wine that needs food and that promises an evening of pleasure with a meal. Another wine that has a beautifully long finish.
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Servagnin, Vaud’s special red, an old clone of Pinot Noir
The origins are lost somewhere between myth, historical legend and more recent DNA analysis. It doesn’t really matter, for this particular clone of the grape, reportedly brought to St Prex in Vaud in the 14th century and more or less unchanged since, has a story we love and a smooth Pinot Noir profile that you can’t help but like. We felt that while the 2014 we tasted was very good, it was still a bit young, almost austere in mouth with tannins that are still too closed, but that in two years it would come into its own. There are nearly 20 wineries that produce it, under the terms of a strict quality charter. Ours was from the award-winning Ville de Morges winery.
Cornalin, a beauty from Valais
Our very special wine of the night was the 2013 Cornalin from Denis & Anne-Catherine Mercier in Sierre. It is the flagship wine of this small winery, known as one of the top producers of this grape that nearly died out, a native of Valais whose official name is Petit Rouge. Reminder that this is not the same as the lesser Cornalin grape from Val d’Aosta. The typical rich black cherry and griotte notes were very clearly present, a pleasure for everyone to find them easily. The mouth is pure velvet. A “rustic” wine that has nothing rough about it. The wine is ready to drink but will also be good later – best at two to five years, says the producer.
Good news for his Cornalin fans: the winery is planting a bit more Cornalin and building a new underground oaking cellar and will use it for the 2016 harvest. Cheers and here’s to more of this beauty in the future! Note that you need to contact the winery directly (see link above) as they do not have a web site.
We ended the evening with a book-signing for Vineglorious! Switzerland’s Wondrous World of Wines.
A word about Locarno and wine, for other visitors. If you’re in a position to take the Brig-Locarno train that goes via the Centovalli, do so. It’s a slow train but the 3 hours 10 minutes is faster than by car, and you have time to look at the striking scenery – waterfalls, naturally green lakes and rushing rivers, steep mountainsides, charming hamlets.
I was a guest of the club at the Belvedere Hotel, a four-star hotel I happily recommend, with one of the best hotel breakfasts I’ve had in a while. For those on tighter budgets, there are numerous country inns near the city and plenty of B&Bs in town. This is a rainy area on the edge of Lago Maggiore, compared to southern Ticino. The light is extraordinary when the sun is shining and even on a damp day I enjoyed a stroll around the edge of the lake, with scores of cyclists and people walking.
The tourism office is helpful, with a desk at the main train station. Note that if you are taking the train to or from Brig, it is at the Locarno FART station, on the uphill side of the main station.
I visited the Matasci winery, a worthwhile stop for wine-lovers. Ask about tours (French, German, Italian). Some 800 grape growers in the area send their grapes here; Matasci, which has nearly 40 employees, produces the wine, accounting for 20% of Ticino’s total output. The shop has two sections of wines from Ticino and other countries (as well as Matasci’s own, of course), one for good but more ordinary wines compared to the pricier top-level wines upstairs. The family is also known for its contemporary art collection, most of which is at Riazzino, 6km from Locarno.