Swiss Syrah learning curve
Geneva was home to a terrific master class in June of Syrah wines from granite areas, a project offered by jointly by the AOC St Joseph in France and Fully vignérons in Valais, Switzerland. It included north of northern Rhone Syrahs from Valais and northern Rhone wines from France, whose vineyards share granite from the Mt Blanc Massif. I promised to write up my notes, and I will, but I held off because I wanted to do more comparison tasting, in particular tasting more Syrah wines from Valais, and not just from granite soil areas, to deepen my understanding of what granite does for this grape.
Syrah au fil du Rhône
I’ve been tasting more of them at home and on visits to wineries, and then a very good opportunity presented itself Saturday, the eighth annual Syrah au fil du Rhône in St Maurice, an event open to the public and well worth the time of any Syrah lover or those who are curious to learn more. It’s an unusual event, publicizing itself as organised by consumers, which I found puzzling.
Indeed, the people behind it are a group of wine-lovers who have nothing to do with the wine business. The main thing they have in common, I was told, is that they were all born in 1962! Each year they invite 25 wineries, selected because they have won top medals in a credible wine competition. Two were from France, two from Geneva, two from Vaud and the rest from Valais. The idea was to present Syrah wines from the length of the Rhone river, as close to the Rhone glacier as they could get given the prize criteria and down to the Mediterranean.
It was one of the most enjoyable public wine tastings I’ve been to, perhaps because 25 wineries with 1-3 bottles each is manageable, but also because it was very well organized and without exception, the wines I tasted were good. I managed to visit only about half the stands, my loss.
There was a crowd at 17:00 and it was Saturday, but I never had to wait in line to ask for a wine. A large percentage was young people; they weren’t there to get drunk but to have a good time: they had good questions, took a real interest in the wines, and the ambience was lively and pleasant. There’s definitely a future for wine in Valais!
What better way to continue the evening than to bring up from the cellar a beautiful older Swiss Syrah to go with the roast beef my husband was busy cooking while I was away. We had a Syrah Réserve from Cave La Madeleine in Vétroz, 2006. It brought back nice memories of visiting the cellar with my son and discussing wine with André Fontannaz, then coming home with this bottle. What an excellent idea to wait another 10 years before drinking it! Deep and rich, still fresh with fruit in the nose, yet complex and smooth; it is a good reminder that many Swiss wines do age very well. I highly recommend this one.
Here are my notes of some of my favourites, wines in St Maurice that I liked for a variety of reasons. Some were oaked, others not, some wineries brought two or three vintages but not all did.
Top wine: Syrah Antica 2016 (a served here from magnum) Domaine Cornulus, Chandolin. From the original selection of Syrah brought to Valais from France in the early 20th century. A classic this one: nose of black cherries, black pepper, some notes of toasting. The mouth is luscious – warm, big, rich, complex. From old vines, made in oak barrels.
Most unusual wine, in a positive sense: Syrah 2017, again from Domaine Cornulus, considerably lower in price (CHF22.50 versus CHF35). A very fun wine, possibly not to everyone’s taste because it is lively, quite mineral. The nose tickles and the mouth doesn’t have great depth but it is fresh and easy to drink. I would like it with less sophisticated dishes.
Good example of French Syrah, Domaine Eric & Joel Durand, Châteaubourg, France. Everything I expect from a St Joseph Syrah, the wines that built this grape’s reputation. 3 vintages of Lautaret: 2017, 2016, 2015, of which the 2015 was best. Youngest a bit animal in the nose, needs to breath, mouth gradually develops complexity. The 2016 is ready to drink, although the nose here too needs time to open. Good structure in mouth – elegance, class. The 2015 is rounder, smoother, has interesting complexity and the mix of fruit with toasting notes that makes these wines so lovely.
Good value for money
2016, Cave Mabillard in Champlan, CHF19.50. Stainless steel tanks, not oaked. From vines at about 700 metres, small yields, and I’m starting to see what higher altitude Syrahs are like. Very smooth, not enormous depth but lovely spice in the medium-long finish.
2016 and 2017, Domaine Dugerdil, Geneva, CHF18.00. Stainless steel tanks, not oaked. Pepper notes and also flavours in the finish, which give it character. Floral notes – violets? – which surprised me in the 2017, which is more interesting than the 2016 (a bit straight. The 2017 is still young, the tannins could use more time, although the finish is pleasingly long.
My wine picks
Gregor Kuonen cave in Salgesch, Valais, 2016, oaked, lighter than many in colour but great flavour and noticeably spicy.
Domaine Henri Cruchon , Echichens, Vaud, 2015, oaked, very good Syrah typicity, very good fruit (raspberry to my surprise) in the nose, lovely fresh mouth. Also love their Swiss wine publicity materials.
Cave La Romaine, Flanthey, Valais, 2017 excellent – rich, complex, good fruity nose; 2016 less interesting if pleasant; 2015 a wow! wine, but no longer selling it (taste it if you ever have a chance) – good to see what a great year can provide.
Adrian & Diego Mathier, Cave Nouveau Salquenen, Valais, 2016, a beautifully balanced wine, deep bright red in colour, fruit in nose, mouth very smooth and a spicy finish. But we expect as much from this three-time winner of the title of Swiss Winery of the Year.
Cave La Colombe, Conthey/Erde, young winemaker, 4 hectares on higher slopes, Grégoire Dessimoz (whose English is very good). Tasted the 2017, 2015 and 2014, each with distinctive characteristics of the vintage. The 2017 is balanced, good structure, the 2015 has a lovely nose (award-winner) and the 2014 is more open, rich. Keep an eye on him!
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