LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND – The art of aging beautifully has not always been appreciated by lovers of Swiss wines, but a group that includes many of the country’s best producers is working steadily to change this.
The Memoire des Vins Suisse (MDVS) is a group that meets once a year to taste the wines in their storage “bank” and debate how well they are aging and what might be learned from this. It includes 51 wine producers who each contribute a particular wine, putting several hundred bottles of it into storage with the others, each year. The group includes a small number of journalists and people in the food and wine industry from throughout Switzerland.
Learning about how wines in Vaud age
The MDVS opened its 2014 tasting sessions at the Clos de l’Abbaye, an extraordinary chateau in Dézaley owned by the city of Lausanne. It is familiar to anyone who takes boat rides on Lake Geneva to see the Unesco World Heritage site vineyards as the castle with red-and-white striped shutters with cutout hearts that sits just below the huge Dézaley sign in the vineyards. Twenty-four Dézaley and Calamin wines were tasted 6 March, vintages from 2012 back to 1979, made by eight producers (not members of the MDVS). In the evening the group sampled yet more of the wines with dinner, including a 2002 and 2001 with two cheeses at L’Auberge de l’Onde in St Saphorin. Story continues below
Each year the group visits a different wine region and hold their tasting sessions in emblematic locations. They visit vineyards and taste wines from groups of other producers to explore the mini-climates and terroirs that give the country an extraordinary patchwork of fine wines.
Several of the producers have told me this weekend that it’s important for them to learn more about the aging process, but this is also networking par excellence, with a golden chance to explore other regions and how they do things and the opportunity to have rich discussions about a wide range of subjects. This year the Mémoire de Vins Suisse is in canton Vaud, fanning out from the capital Lausanne to several strongly contrasted regions within the canton: Chablais with the Vaud Alps as a backdrop and its ancient castles in Aigle and Yvorne; the stark terraced Unesco World Heritage vineyards in Lavaux; the rolling hills and history of battles in northern Vaud and at Grandson; the softer contours of Lake Geneva’s western areas.
Public has a chance to discover these wines
Sunday morning the group will taste its own wines from the storage bank. Sunday afternoon they offer the public a wonderful chance to discover these wines, with tastings at the Lausanne Palace from 14:00-18:00. Each wine producer in the group provides three vintages. The tasting session is free if you register in advance; CHF20 at the door. Dézaley is widely considered to produce some of the most extraordinary Chasselas wines in the world. It is small: 54 hectares, with a very special terroir created by glaciers that left little in the way of rich deposits here. Roots go very deep for water. The Vins Vaudois Office writes:
“And then you have to put your calf muscles to work climbing this hillside to understand fully that these terraced vineyards, carved out by hand, were the result of a sublime inspiration! It’s not surprising that the wine that comes from this clay and limestone earth is slow to yield its secrets: it merits a respectful, attentive, almost mystical attention. It reaches its zenith only after some years, but the reward for those who are willing to wait is well worth it – unctuous, opulent, mineral, with notes of toast and honey and beeswax, like music from an organ in a vaulted space playing several registers.”
Its minuscule neighbour, Calamin, has only 16 hectares, and yet the two Chasselas appellations are distinctly different, with Calamin producing wines that often have notes of damp stones and fresh rain and a remarkable slightly bitter finish. The OVV says of it:
“Chasselas benefits here from the very distinctive clay soil, its perfect exposition to the sun and the three suns of Lavaux – the daily star (known in the canton as Jean Rosset for its red-tinted edges), the sunshine that is captured and reflected back by the lake and that which is held by the stone walls that hug its warmth during the day and gently release it as night falls. The result is wines that are virile, classy in their richness and balance, with notes of caramel and chalk and a deliciously delicate bitterness in the finish that raises them to the level of nobility in the wine world.”
Each vintage ages differently, west is not east
These are wines that age well, no secret to people who live in the area, but thanks to its systematic tastings the MDVS is now providing a clearer picture of how different wines age.
Pascal Fonjallaz, one of the producers who presented his wines, says he is convinced that acidity is the key to the way different vintages develop over time. “Each vintage has its own potential and they way they age is different. Each time, the wine has its own potential – one is rich, round, another is tender.”
The 2000 and 2009 vintages for his wines are rich, easy, generous, with good balance. They give wines with honey and raisin notes but the mouth remains fresh.
Location is all-important, even in the space of 500 metres. The eastern edge of Dézaley gets up to 1.5 hours more sun and different thermal patterns from Lake Geneva, compared to the western edge. Calamin’s soil is different: a double layer, the locals say, the result of a massive landslide long ago that looks a bit like the sunken centre of a cake that didn’t rise properly.
Some of my favourites are the vintages with greater acidity, which first seem remarkable for their youth, but offer a complex mouth. I particularly loved Frédéric Hegg’s 2000 Calamin and thought I had made a mistake at first because it is so fresh it’s hard to believe this is 14 years old – until you discover its complexity in mouth. Chasselas is known as one of the best terroir grapes, reflecting with a touch of magic the place where it is grown when placed in the hands of capable wine producers.
It is now developing a well-deserved reputation for aging well, too.