Three beautiful red wines, each one remarkable for its fruit and freshness, come to life in an unpretentious cellar that is part of a larger family farming business in Argovie. Producer Pirmin Umbricht, blond hair falling forward, is keen to show me another white, to hear what I think, and we carry on with our barrel tastings. Each one is clean as an arrow, impressive. He works largely alone on his wines – he has to finish bottling in the next two days because the neighbour who provides the bottling machine needs it back. What do I think, he asks again: he really wants the input. He’s curious, energetic and innovative, and a good listener.
But it’s the reds I’ve been drinking at home since my visit, thoroughly enjoying them, and these are the ones I’ll share for now. A Malbec – a grape grown by only a few people in Switzerland – and two Pinot Noirs, one his regular, the other a Spätlese, the earliest of late harvest wines.
Aargau, I’ve discovered, is much bigger than I thought, and has more wineries. One of them is Gutwein Umbricht in the neat little hamlet of Untersiggenthal, which sits in the triangle between Basel, Olten and Zurich. Rivers slice the landscape as they head towards the Rhine. This is a part of Switzerland that I’ve seen too often from the unattractive and too-busy highways that link northern Swiss cities. It’s important to remember that just out of sight lie rolling hills and rivers – the perfect place for vines.
Pirmin Umbricht runs the family winery; his younger brother runs the thriving family fresh vegetable shop and delivery business. The pair, in their early 30’s, are popular restaurant suppliers. Pirmin was named one of three promising young winemakers for 2018 by GaultMillau, which remarked on the 11 grape varieties he has planted and the “marvels” he makes from them. The grower, for his part, is keen to work with the shifting landscape, which offers him so many options here.
I asked him if the award had made much difference. He laughed – he laughs easily and often – and said not really, that his focus remains very much on providing good wines locally. His father grew grapes and sold them; the winery/vegetable business is a project begun by the sons, who are keen to grow the firm but putting the emphasis on quality. I watch villagers cycle up to the shop and discuss vegetables at length. It’s winter and not all of these are grown by the Umbrichts. “But people know they can count on us,” says Pirmin, as we pore over a map of the vineyards, sprinkled around the area. His brother, sorting orders on another computer, nods.
The Malbec is a fine surprise, if you know it mainly as a South American wine with aromas of plum and blackberry, sometimes tobacco, or a French one, which can tip towards tobacco and green pepper. This is a bright, lighter wine with black cherry and raspberry notes that nevertheless has a good structure and moderate tannins. CHF19, cellar price
The regular Pinot Noir is another light and bright wine, elegant and fruity without being fruit-forward, very easy to drink. I find it hard to believe this is CHF14; it’s certainly good value for money.
The Pinot Noir Spätlese is simply one of the nicest of these wines that I have tasted. German-speaking Switzerland is fonder than the French region of making wine from the earliest of the late-harvest grapes. They can have a sweetness I often don’t appreciate. Once again the wine has a purity and lightness, fruit ever-present, that I am seeing as Pirmin Umbricht’s signature. The finish lingers and then suddenly the fruit, deep and rich, wraps itself around your mouth again. Vinous. Nice, very nice. CHF16.
These are the kinds of wines I almost hesitate to tell people about; consider yourself lucky and put this on your list of worthwhile detours.