For months I’ve been planning to bring my knowledge of the wines at La Cave de Genève up to date. I have tasted the improvements in the canton’s wines, and given that this winery is the largest one, producing about one-third of the wines, I wanted to understand what is going on.
Yesterday I finally spent the day there and I came away enchanted and feeling a bit foolish that I hadn’t made the time for a winery visit earlier.
Talk about change, and for the better!
If you’re planning to spend Saturday (28 May) exploring Geneva’s cellars during the Open Wineries Day, be sure to include this one. My personal inclination is usually for smaller, more artisanal wineries, but you’ll find this is a good starting point: the quality is good across a wide price range, the collection of wines is interesting and you can learn a lot about how wine is made if you ask a few questions (yes, they speak English).
About the winery
Some of the basics: It was created in 1994, but the roots of this cooperative go back nearly 90 years. The canton’s – and this winery’s wines – went through an unhappy patch from about 1970-1990 and developed a reputation for mediocre wines. If anyone suggests this is still the case, tell them to wake up!
Note that the web site has just been redone, and the English version of it will be up in a week or so.
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The winery receives grapes from about 50 growers, with some 320 hectares under contract (for 3,000 tons of grapes), and it works very closely with them throughout the growing season to ensure quality grapes, the key to good wine. An important change took place last year. Growers are required to harvest as early in the morning as possible, delivering grapes before 10:00, bringing them in new trailers that are specially equipped to keep grapes “inert”, in other words fresh, and to hold off urban air. This is especially important for those who must trek from the Left Bank across the city, about 20% of the grapes harvested take this route, and depending on traffic it can take up to 1.5 hours to reach the winery. Those from Satigny can make it to the cellar in minutes, but it’s crucial for all the grapes to remain equally fresh.
In 2007 La Cave de Genève moved from the centre of Satigny to the nearby industrial zone in Geneva, better equipped for the kind of investment and expansion that was planned. It’s too long to get into here, but if you have a chance to visit the winery do so, to see the cutting edge technology that required a huge investment: gigantic (10 m tall) new stainless steel fermentation tanks with their watering and temperature regulating systems, and specially designed closed tanks to make the Baccarat brand sparkling wines, which are one of Geneva’s best-kept secrets (actually, quite popular), a smart barrel storage room that represents an investment of half a million francs for the 500 barrels alone.
The winery has been rebranding its products, always a tricky business if you don’t want to lose old customers who have their favourites, but necessary if you have a lot of products that you want the larger world to discover. The group of brands and the labels make sense, but the winery has added special stickers with the old labels, so no one will get lost during the rebranding process.
The range in prices is CHF6 to 145; very few Swiss wineries produce good wine in the lower range – these are perfectly acceptable table wines for everyday drinking.
I was invited to visit Thursday for the launch of a new brand, the Belles Filles line, which is the cellar’s mid-range wines, in the CHF12-15 bracket. Earlier in the year Les Trésors was launched, good wines at CHF14-19, and a beautiful oaked line, up to CHF25, has been rebranded Clémence.
The Baccarat sparkling wines are very good value for money and if you want top quality and are willing to pay for it, you can buy the wines developed with Philippe Chevrier, owner-chef of Domaine de Châteauvieux, one of Geneva’s top restaurants.
The wines I tasted
The Belles Filles wines, all 2015, are fun and easy to drink. The Chasselas has a lovely nose but it’s a bit hot in mouth, meaning I could feel the alcohol, although it is 13.5, not too high. The Riesling-Sylvaner was a favourite for me, with a subtle yet clear nose (some grapefruit), very clean and slightly round. Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay are both well made, with the first a shade sweet for me and the second very crisp, with the fruit evident – nice. The only one I wasn’t keen on was the Gamay rosé, but I very much liked the other rosé, an Oeil-de-Perdrix from Pinot Noir grapes – lovely fruit, good acidity. The three reds were all good.
Two of us asked if we could try a Trésor wine, to get a sense of the difference. We had a Gamaret Syrah blend, 2015, which was bottled just two weeks earlier. It’s a lovely wine, all spices and fruit, if too young. I loved the finish and would happily try it in a few weeks or months.
Clémence wines with lunch: now we’re talking
The small group of us who were invited for the Belles Filles launch then went to lunch at Domaine de Châteauvieux, where we had a long and fantastic meal served, not with the chef’s own line of wines from La Cave de Genève, but with the Clémence line of wines. The food was paired with the wines. Here are the photos from lunch, where we could really see that serving these oaked wines with the right food made all the difference. My favourites:
Chardonnay “Baccarat” bru Blanc de Blancs, a sparkling wine with a lovely colour, tiny bubbles that go on forever, and remarkable freshness. Fruit, but also flowers. A delight.
Viognier, which has all the perfume one expects from this grape (pears and citrus fruits for me), with an elegance in mouth, where the oak’s role is very subtle.
Cabernet Franc, where I loved the spices and tobacco and the very long finish. It was perfect with the ris de veau de Simmental, meat that melted like butter in my mouth. A heavenly combination!