GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Arvinis opens officially Wednesday evening 17 April in Morges, the unofficial start to the wine-tasting season in Switzerland.
The fair, held at the CFF Halle next to the train station in Morges, attracts some 20,000 people every year during its five-day run. Visitors pay CHF35 for a glass that they carry around to sample the 2,500 wines on offer.
Most of the wines are Swiss and many will have been bottled in the past month, with many white wines from grapes harvested last September and October now ready to sample. The fair is well-frequented by Swiss consumers keen to see the bottled result of the 2012 harvest. Last year’s weather created some difficulties for wine producers, and the quantity was down, but overall quality is very good, with some producers having an excellent year.
Tip: ask producers how the weather last year affected their particular region, since the impact varied hugely from one area to another.
Foreign wines are a popular part of Arvinis and you’ll find wines from the US, Lusitania, Portugal and Greece, among others.
This year’s guest wine-producing region is Lebanon, which began making wine at least 5,000 years ago. Ed. note: I will be publishing tasting notes this evening from the Lebanese wines available at the fair. A touch of serendipity is that the Visions de Réel film festival, which opens Thursday evening, also has Lebanon as its guest, with several Lebanese documentaries being shown and a conference Monday 22 April on films from this tiny country that has for millennia served as a crossroads for many cultures.
Visitor’s guide to Arvinis
Here is an updated version of last year’s popular nutshell guide to visiting Arvinis. But first:
Sign up for Ellen Wallace’s one-hour introduction to wine-tasting!
Friday 19 April, 18:00, advance registration required
I’ll be running the introduction to wine-tasting session at the Arvinis wine fair. We’ll taste five Swiss wines and one from Lebanon, whose producers are the guest of honour at the 2013 fair. We’ll concentrate on the basics – this is for beginners – and I’ll give you some tips for how to visit stands that offer a total of 2,500 wines – how to taste wine, talk about it (you’ll learn a few new French words) remain standing and better yet, remember what you liked!
I think you’ll find it fun and a great way to prepare for the rest of the evening.
Cost of the session: CHF35 (entry to Arvinis, also CHF35, which gives you a glass for tasting at all the stands)
Date: 19 April, from 18:00-19:00. Register online and sign up in advance; last year, the first year it was offered, the class in English was sold out.
People have told me that what they would really like are some suggestions about how to visit Arvinis and a) not end up drunk and b) learn something about wine c) while enjoying themselves.
The problem with any wine fair is that it’s daunting, especially if you’re not familiar with many of the wines.
Here are my suggestions, valid for any wine festival or fair where the offer is bigger than your body can handle:
- Do look at the English version of Arvinis‘s site, where you’ll find a map, information on the guest of honour (Lebanon) and the list of exhibitors, to start.
- Decide before you go how to limit yourself, because with 2,500 wines available for tasting you’ll be lost if you walk in and start with the first one, moving in a straight but increasingly crooked line.
- Spit it out! This is crucial, because once you’ve drunk one glass of wine you can’t really do justice to the others; you simply won’t be able to taste them accurately and really judge them. Everybody spits; that’s why the crachoirs/spitoons are there. Just grab it if it’s not next to you, and use it. Tip: Keep a tissue handy if you’re not used to doing this and worry about dribbling.
- Some people opt to just taste white wines, others to do just red wines. Every stand offers both, so be disciplined and stick to your plan.
- Some old hands like to do it geographically, maybe sampling wines from 5 neighbouring towns and villages. The easiest way to do this is to open the pdf document on the exhibitors’ page, then note the location of the wineries. They are listed here alphabetically but each entry shows the region or sub-region, such as La Côte in Vaud or central Valais.
- I like to pick grape varieties and sample wines made from the same grape from a group of producers. If you want to try this: Chasselas and Sauvignon Blanc or for those who like very dry wines Sauvignon Gris work for the whites. Try Pinot Noir, Gamay and Gamaret for the reds. These are all widely grown in Switzerland, so you’ll have plenty of options.
- Take notes. Write down anything you like, or do like the pros and try to note what you smell (aromas of rose or apple or pear or hmmm, rubber?) and then what it feels like in your mouth (racy, smooth, big and fills your mouth, tannins pinch your mouth dry?). But mainly, make a note of what you don’t like and what you love. Tip: I photograph the wines I like with my cell phone, so I don’t have to note label details.
- Ask questions. What does the winemaker find in the nose (always a good question if you don’t trust your own nose)? Is it oaked, meaning it has spent some time in wood, or how soon is it bottled after the harvest? What was 2012 like as a vintage for this wine? Don’t be afraid to say you know nothing or next to nothing; wine producers love that as it gives them a chance to explain their wines.
- Spit it out! This is the most important rule, so I’m repeating it. You’ll enjoy the wine more, believe me. And save your favourite for last, going back and trying it again, and this time, feel free to drink it. But just one, if you’re driving (and I hope you’re not).
Wine producers come from a number of countries and this is a good opportunity to compare Swiss wines to those from other countries. Keep in mind that the downside of wine point systems such as Robert Parker’s is that while they might help us decide what wines are good value, their encouragement to compare wines can make us overlook one of the great glories of the wine world, its diversity. Enjoy the differences!