10 years on, how well are these wines doing?
The Mémoire des Vins Suisses has become so well known as a collection of some of the finest wine producers in Switzerland that it’s easy to forget the original idea behind the group was to create a bank of diverse Swiss wines with aging potential and study how well they lived up to their promise over time. Switzerland did not have, until recently, a profile as a country that aged fine wines, for reasons that have to do with winery sizes (mostly small), the high cost of land and thus storage space, plus local drinking habits that in many areas traditionally focused on young wines.
A fine wine is one that is able to endure and indeed improve with time and Switzerland has always had wines that could improve over a decade. But if you drink most or all of the wine you make, there isn’t much left to age, right? We Swiss drink nearly 99% of what we produce, and we import more than we produce. The significant improvement in Swiss wines countrywide in the past two decades has helped producers see that their wines are of a caliber to merit more time in the cellar. (More on Swiss fine wines and aging, my January 2019 notes from the Robert Parker Matter of Taste in Zurich)
5th Swiss Wine Vintage Awards in Zurich
Attitudes among wineries have thus changed and Monday, in Zurich, the public was invited to judge for itself 57 of the best wines from vintage 2009. The wines were selected from 93 that were submitted for the fifth annual Swiss Wine Vintage Awards; included were wines that were given at least 17 out of 20 points by a small panel of professionals from the Mémoire group last April.
Thirty-four wines were from Mémoire members, the other 23 were submitted by wineries from throughout the country. This tasting session was one part of the larger Mémoire & Friends meet-up featuring 150 wineries, which claims to now be the biggest wine fair in Switzerland. It was certainly one of the busiest I’ve seen.
I spent Monday morning tasting the 2009 wines and concluded that I agree with the press release (French version, German version, each with a complete list of the 57 wines): Swiss wines can in fact age well.
Surprisingly, it was almost always the big names – the wineries that make young sommeliers go “woooooww” – whose wines were a let-down. Two fellow wine writers and I were discussing this just as a group of young people began oohing and aahing and talking non-stop over glasses from two of the best-known wineries there. The wines were borderline drinkable, we felt, but powerful marketing and branding work seemed to have hoodwinked the group, who will be selling these relatively expensive wines to the likes of you and me, in their restaurants.
Dear sommelier: Please, use your head, stop chattering, take time to taste wines properly and have faith in your own judgement, for a big name does not necessarily mean a fabulous wine every time.
Pinots: time to drink them
I also agreed with the press release summary that the Pinot Noirs did not fare as well as many of the other reds. The reason suggested is possibly too much enthusiasm for wood back in 2009, which left Pinots over-oaked. It’s a delicate grape and while oak can help these wines move through time with elegance, a measured hand is necessary.
I felt, though, that several of these wines were simply too tired and reaching the end of their aging potential. I’m now going to look in my cellar for 2009 Pinots and drink them, not wait another minute. Several producers, when I asked them about these, said that 2009 was a hot year, and Pinot prefers a cooler season, especially if we want it to age well.
My favourites among the Pinots were those that are still fresh, balanced and elegant and yet with the fruit still present, remarkable after 10 years. A * signifies my favourite in a group of wines.
Pinot Noir élevé en barrique 2009 17.0 points. Zürichsee AOC, Pinot Noir
Lüthi Weinbau, Männedorf ZH, www.luethiweinbau.ch
A clear, light red tinged with the brown of age. Still a hint of strawberries in the nose with a touch of soft leather – think of an Italian or Spanish shop with young leather bags – and a mouth that is dry, yet rich in fruit, almost dense with fruit. Elegant.
Clos Martha 2009 17.5 points. Basel-Landschaft AOC, Pinot Noir
Möhr-Niggli Weingut, Maienfeld GR, www.moehr-niggli.ch
More red than brown. Nose relatively subtle, but the mouth still has fruit. A touch severe but not displeasingly so for this treasure from Basel. Class.
Zwaa Osterfingen Oberhallau Blauburgunder 2009 17.0 points. Schaffhausen AOC, Pinot Noir; Baumann Weingut/Weingut Bad Osterfingen Hallau/Osterfingen SH, www.baumannweingut.ch/www.badosterfingen.ch
Two wineries make this. Good ruby colour. Nose has plenty of fruit, freshness. The mouth is also fresh, but the wine lacks the complexity I found in some others. Still, a pleasing wine.
*Malanser Pinot Noir Barrique 2009 17.0 points. Malans AOC, Pinot Noir
Ueli und Jürg Liesch, Malans GR, www.liesch-weine.ch
A nice surprise, as I don’t really know this winery, and I felt it was the best among the Pinots – young, fresh, fruity, a wine that gives pleasure from the first nose to the finish, just what a good Pinot should give us.
Chasselas in its glory
The press release rightfully praises the Chasselas wines, which I barely had time to taste because the crowd was thick here – a sign that beyond canton Vaud the Swiss are starting to take this emblematic native white wine seriously as something more than a light quick drink to be served only when the wine is young. I heard praise a-plenty for these wines, though, for a fine Chasselas that appreciates a bit of warmth can develop luxurious aromas.
Other reds had a good 10th birthday
My favourites among the 2009s were the other reds – some Merlots, Cornalin, Syrahs and blends.
Crescendo 2009 17.5 points. Ticino DOC, Merlot
Tenuta San Giorgio, Cassina d’Agno TI, www.tenutasangiorgio.ch
A hint of sweet fruits without the sugar, delightful Merlot.
Merlot Riserva Tenimento dell‘Ör 2009 17.5 points. Ticino DOC, Merlot
Agriloro, Genestrerio TI, www.agriloro.ch
Still young, fruity. A wine with zip!
*Castanar Riserva 2009 17.0 points. Rosso Ticinese DOC, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carminoir, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot Tenuta Vitivinicola Roberto e Andrea Ferrari, Stabio TI, www.viniferrari.ch
I have not yet tasted enough of this cellar’s wines, so now it’s high on my list to visit them, as this wine confirmed earlier impressions that they make very fine wine. This is a Bordeaux-style blend with a very fresh nose and the wine is light and dances in your mouth. The finish has a touch of spice, very fun. They know what they are doing here.
Bondola del Nonu 2009 17.5 points. Ticino DOC, Bondola
Azienda Mondò, Sementina TI, www.aziendamondo.ch
I love this wine, young or old. A fellow wine writer was quietly working on his notes on Merlots when I said I thought this was great and held out my glass for him to sniff. “A great big beautiful salami! It makes me want to sit right down and eat hearty food!” He’s right: super fruit, notable acidity, a wine that makes you invite people to sit down and talk. That’s a good thing.
*Cornalin 2009 17.5 points. Valais AOC, Cornalin
Madeleine, Anne-Catherine & Denis Mercier, Sierre VS, www.mercier-vins.ch
I must be one of the biggest fans of this wine, and I feel like crying each time they run out of it, which happens some years. Bright and fresh cherries, with a mouth that has eased into a full richness. Yum.
L‘Odalisque 2009 17.0 points. Valais AOC, Syrah
Thierry Constantin, Pont-de-la-Morge VS, www.thierryconstantin.ch
Precision wine-making at its best, from this no-nonsense winemaker. This is an elegant Syrah with a slightly severe finish that is nevertheless pleasing – a fine example of how North of Northern Rhone wines from Valais are making their mark.
*Noblesse Sélection Maître Barrique 2009 17.0 points. Vully AOC, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc
Cave et Domaine du Petit Château, Môtier FR, www.lepetitchateau.ch
I remember my first meeting with this wine and the dynamic young brothers behind it, at the cellar in Vully, a small lakefront wine village that is well worth a visit. I was taken aback by the quality of their work, and this wine reinforces for me that they can make fine, big wines. Great nose of elderberry (think of Ricola’s fleur de sureau cough drops if you don’t know the fruit), mouth crisp, possibly lacks a bit of depth, but no points off for that.