Swiss Pinot Noirs were stars at Matter of Taste
Pinot Noir Swiss style caught my heart – not for the first time – last week. I spent three days in wineries around the country tasting wines in the making, in barrels, mainly Pinot Noirs. Wonderful as it is to learn about wines by meeting them in their early, not fully formed days, tasting a very good wine once it is bottled and on the market is a greater pleasure.
Saturday I headed to Zurich for Matter of Taste, the fine wines walkabout organized by Robert Parker that featured 600 wines from around the world which have received 90 or more points from Parker’s Wine Advocate. Most, in fact, have 92+ points. About 50 of these were wines from host country Switzerland.
I had four hours to focus and compare top wines from different Swiss cellars, often the same vintage (mainly 2015, 2016): terroir becomes more visible and understandable when you can do this. These are all wines made by clearly competent people, with some differences in style, but the terroir impact is crucial if you want to learn more about Swiss fine wine. It helps enormously to taste a Pinot Noir from Maienfeld in Graubünden, then one from near Neuchatel and to talk to the people who make the wines.
From field to barrel to bottle in Zurich
Matthias Gubler from the Möhr-Niggli winery in Maienfeld had led me carefully through barrel tastings of different vine parcels on Wednesday. These are matured separately and blended before they are bottled as Pilgrim, a Pinot Noir whose 2014 vintage was awarded 93 points by Parker reviewer Stephan Reinhardt. It was one of the wines featured at Matter of Taste. The barrels, 2017, showed me wine with dark colour and structure from a lowland parcel where the grapes are destemmed. And another from the highest vines, at 650 metres altitude, with sumptuous aromas, but a lighter colour and lighter structure.
Tasting the wine – 2014 but also 2016 (93 points), which Matthias and his wife Sina brought along to Zurich – was exciting because I could now grasp how the final blend brought it all together. This is wine education at its most fun.
I must mention the Magnus 2016, given 94 points by Parker, only the fourth vintage of this exquisite wine (delicate yet very complex).
Great chance to compare wines
Matter of Taste let me compare different wineries’ Pinot Noirs, as well as make a series of other useful comparisons. (See: Matter of Taste 2019 walkabout, comparing wines) It is becoming one of my favourite places to taste numerous fine wines in one day. The setup at the Grand Dolder hotel is good, with space and time to talk to people from the wineries. The quality and mix of wines from around the world is unbeatable. I regret that I missed so many wines from elsewhere; I will try to spend two days there next year.
Overall, I think the event is very good. This is not a free or even cheap wine-tasting event, but you do get your money’s worth, with a chance to taste excellent wines and learn about them while tasting. The entry fee is CHF99 for one day and CHF129 for two days with early registration (CHF20 more if you buy late). Note that the fee includes a one-year $99 subscription to Wine Advocate.
Patrick Sauze, Matter of Taste business development and communications director, says the goal of the walkabouts is in fact to boost the number of subscribers. Each event includes a number of masterclasses, well worth your time although it subtracts walkabout time, a tough call – and each class is an additional CHF98.
Zurich and London are the two European locations where Parker holds Matter of Taste events, with seven others held in Asia and the US. This was the third year for the Zurich event. The wineries, invited, do not pay for their exhibit space and the number of wines they can bring is limited; Robert Parker wants to keep the accent on winning wines rather than on a winery’s production line.
Some of the same wineries and countries take part, others are new. This year Bulgaria and Slovenia were popular newcomers – I sampled two of their wines and was impressed. Napa wines from California were in Zurich in force this year and we saw newcomer wines from Argentina and Chile. According to Sauze, Switzerland’s reputation as a market where consumers know their wines and are willing to spend money on top fine wines is not going unnoticed.
Parker now has 800 Swiss wine reviews
Robert Parker is relatively new to Switzerland, reviewing Swiss wines regularly only since 2014.
We were told Saturday about several changes at Wine Advocate: more frequent publication by the reviewers to match today’s online reader expectations, more reviews by each person and new, useful details. The early reviews by Stephan Reinhardt did not always say when he tasted the wines, but now they do, an important detail when you’re reading reviews of older vintage wines. The changes are good and 800 reviews in four years is a major improvement over virtually none!
The changes at Parker have been accompanied by Swiss producers’ efforts over the past five years to ensure they are viewed internationally on a par with other countries, where fine wines are concerned. A certain amount of wooing has been done with Parker, and independently or as a result of this, there’s been increased awareness of Swiss quality at Wine Advocate – in the corridors I heard that Stephan Reinhardt is finding Swiss wines more interesting, as his familiarity with them grows (I didn’t have a chance to ask him directly).
What I’d like to see next
I have one recommendation for the Parker people: there are wines as good as the ones I tasted, from other parts of the country, and I think Wine Advocate readers would appreciate seeing more of these reviewed. The results feel skewered at the moment, with Ticino and German-speaking Swiss wine regions getting a disproportionate number of high points, a reflection of the Rösti divide as it applies to wine. I have no argument with the results themselves – these are great wines from excellent wineries and Reinhardt is thorough and careful in his reviews.
But if you live in French-speaking Switzerland, as I do, the Wine Advocate collection of nearly 800 reviews for the country seems unbalanced. It could be that the style and types of wines that I see as traditionally attracting Parker attention – “greatness and concentration as well as … finesse and elegance” (Reinhardt article, 2017) – are more easily found in German-speaking areas. I sometimes feel he is looking too hard for a line from elsewhere to follow – a Pinot Noir with Burgundy rather than Swiss clones is more likely to excite him when I don’t think it should. But that’s the joy of diversity, in wines and also in wine reviews, right?
I take heart from the fact that Reinhardt has just added 191 Swiss wines to his reviews, and now I’m hoping he’ll go further afield for his next tasting trip. Santé! …