GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – I tripped over a wine book chapter written in 1987 this morning, from a book called “Search for Good Wine” by John Hailman. What a great way to see how very much Swiss wines have changed in the past 25-plus years, but more than that, to see how much wine writing has improved. You have to get past the typos, which I think are the result of poor scanning and no editing. Fendant, for example, ends up as Pendant, which is an unfortunate name for a wine. But the perception in English of Swiss wines and Switzerland in general as coming from another planet is pretty accurate for the early 1980s, about the time I moved here and discovered Swiss wines for myself.
A wine description that’s a little off
I think we can thank the Internet for our better wine information today – three cheers for good wine bloggers! I don’t mean to give the author a hard time but today you’d be jumped on if you wrote, not quite accurately, about “the elusive Ermitage, a white similar to the Hermitage of France, downstream on the Rhone. Ermitage is a white wine made from the Roussanne grape with something of the body of a good Rhine, but with an aroma of ripe apricots and a lingering flavor unlike any other wine, probably from the granitic soils and harsh climate which produce it.” It’s not elusive, it’s Marsanne and not its cousin Roussanne, a body like a Rhine wine is confusing and the apricot aromas are in the neighbourhood, but not in the wine. This stretch of the Rhone valley has some of the world’s finest apricot orchards. Granite is also in the valley but at higher altitudes, and the climate in the area around Sierre to Martigny isn’t harsh but rather ideal by many standards.
Ermitage, will the real wine please stand up?
“Marsanne arrived in Valais in the 19th century. It has its roots in the Côtes-du-Rhône region in France, in particular the area of Tain L’Hermitage, which is where the name Ermitage, used in Valais, comes from.
This is a vigorous, late-ripening grape whose full potential is realized when it has the best exposures, is grown in dry soil that is not very rich, and the harvest is well managed. It then gives wines that are full and rich, generous, often with notes of strawberry and wild raspberry. In some years the grapes can be harvested late. The sweet wine that results is a blend of richness, opulence, voluptuousness and subtle aromas of truffle, honey, raspberry brandy. This is a wine that is always worth aging, whether it’s a sweet or dry one, in order to let it fully develop its harmony.”
The Vins du Valais site offers this food and wine pairing suggestion for Marsanne. “Hard cheese, sweetbreads in cream and pumpkin soup with dry Ermitage; panheated foie gras with raspberry vinigar with sweet Ermitage.”
The Rouvinez family winery in Sierre makes a beautiful Marsanne, “Prafalcon“, named after the terroir that you can spot from the autoroute. I love it when wineries signpost their terroirs. Theirs is different from some fine ones produced around Fully, 40 km to the west towards Lake Geneva. Rouvinez also makes a good blend of Petite Arvine, Sauvignon Blanc and Marsanne, which shows off its potential in Swiss blends. Here is their description of the Prafalcon:
“Ermitage is the Valais appellation for the wine made from the Marsanne Blanche. It owes its name to the most famous vineyard where it is grown: that of Tain-l’Ermitage in the Côtes-du-Rhône region, where its origins lie. The ermitage is a late-harvesting grape and enjoys warm, pebbly and well-drained soil such as that of the Domaine Prafalcon (1.5 hectares) in the municipality of Sierre. It yields a rich, powerful wine with a strong character, which ages extraordinarily well.TasteYellow colour; complex fragrances evoking undergrowth, ripe raspberry, asparagus, mango, wild strawberries and white truffles; a generous, vinous wine with a delicately bitter finale.”