“Great Swiss wines you shouldn’t miss…”
The latest batch of 167 reviews (available to subscribers) by Stephan Reinhardt, just out, is headed “Great Swiss wines you shouldn’t miss when you’re in Switzerland”, a list of many very fine wines. Several of the wines receive well over 90 points in the Parker system, with doyen Marie-Therèse Chappaz highlighted: five of her sweet, late harvest wines received notes of 97 to 99.
To put the excitement in perspective: these reviews are helpful to top wineries, and fine Swiss wines need all the recognition they can get (and deserve) in order to help boost exports. Lesser but still good wines will have a trickle-down benefit from all this.
One source fits all; many is better
Last week I had a long talk with wine producer and consulting oenologist Bernard Cavé from Vaud, who mentioned that many threads are finally coming together – ensemble, they are raising the profile of Swiss wines abroad. These include various events, the Mondial du Chasselas international competition in Aigle which celebrates the country’s main white wine every June and, of course, the Wine Advocate reviews of Swiss wines.
His remarks came up when I recounted the three days I recently spent in Vaud and Fully, Valais, with nearly 40 members of the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin from Los Angeles and other parts of the US. One of them had received a copy of my book Vineglorious! as a gift and suggested to the others that they should visit, to learn firsthand about Swiss wines. Certainly some of them read Parker’s wine notes, which will reinforce their visit.
Robert Parker reviews are a great boon to wines here, but any business needs critical mass to get the public’s attention, not a single, albeit forceful voice. These wine notes are a useful new reference, but just some of many, and it’s the sum of the many that we need. A few years ago a family member in the US told me he was relieved to be able to subscribe to Parker because he didn’t have to think anymore about wines; Parker’s notes offered a failsafe shopping list. Ouch.
Happily, we are now in an era where diversity in wine is appreciated, as are diverse critics’ voices.
I’ve tasted wines a couple of times as part of small groups of professionals that included Stephan Reinhardt; I’ve been impressed by his serious, thoughtful approach to the wines he tastes. Clearly, he is very good at his job.
I also admire the other people who routinely taste and comment on Swiss wine, but consensus is not always the case at any of these tastings. Stephan often tastes with Swiss German and German wine professionals and I do notice then what I think of as Switzerland’s weingraben – like the röstigraben or the polentagraben, an intangible cultural line where French-speaking wine critics approach wines differently from German speakers.
West of the weingraben
Personally, I find I’m generally happier with some of the French reviewers, whose critical notes are more often in line with my tastes and my cultural experience. They have a deep vein of knowledge, with most of them having grown up alongside today’s wine producers, and I like to tap that for unexpected wonderful surprises – but that’s just me.
I was taken aback by Stephan’s first sentence, which reminded me how easy it is to be in eastern Switzerland and forget that the heartland of wine is to the west, “…wine lovers must come to Zurich, Zermatt, Davos or Bern to enjoy great Swiss wines, because the exports rates are truly minuscule.”
Be assured you can certainly find plenty of great Swiss wines easily in Geneva, Lausanne, Neuchatel, Martigny, and Sion, in restaurants and shops, not to mention in big resorts such as Verbier and Crans-Montana!
Wine Advocate’s top wineries: the list
This is Wine Advocate’s most recent list of wines reviewed; several other wineries have previously received high marks.
MTC’s top two
Wine Advocate rarely hands out notes of 99, so for Marie-Thérèse Chappaz (MTC) to have two wines with that note is remarkable. The first is her 2006 Ermitage “Octobre 240° Oe” and the second her 2014 Petite Arvine Grain par Grain Domaine des Claives – chapeau, Madame! The list includes 19 wineries and among the very nice surprises were high notes for wines made by the coming-up generation: four 2015 wines from Sierre, Valais’s Catherine et Denis Mercier – daughter Madeleine as oenologist – were noted over 90, with the Cornalin given 92 and the Syrah 93; Gérald Besse with daughter Sarah in Martigny, Valais has a Petite Arvine vintage 2015 with 93.
A series of 20 Petite Arvine vintages from Provins are included (I took part in this tasting and will soon publish my own notes), and 43 of MTC’s wines were reviewed by Stephan.
I’m increasingly convinced that you don’t really taste a wine properly until you’ve had it with food, so let me add a comment to the 2008 Cornalin from the Mercier winery in Sierre, which we served with steaks to guests last May. Wine Advocate gave it a 91 – and I’m still smiling at the memory of the meal, where the wine felt very close to perfect. “Early” yet, according to WA, so if you have one in your cellar know that it’s fine now, perhaps even better later.