Uncork now: my wine recommendations as well as reflections on what makes good and great wines, what wines work with what foods. You want to know what Swiss wines to buy, why and where, take them home and just enjoy them? Join me. Santé!
What to uncork, 31 January – Geneva is probably tired of hearing that although its wines were not so great in the 1980s, it’s made a real recovery. That was, after all, 40 years ago. So, let’s retire that line, along with the worn-out phrase about how Swiss wines are the country’s greatest secret.
The villages around the city of Geneva have been consistently making good to excellent wines for at least 20 years. What is changing is the steady recent climb in the number of unusual wines that you might not expect to find here. Some time ago I tasted Novelle wines at an open house at Cave SA in Gland. They impressed me so I went back later and asked the staff to recommend some Geneva wines I didn’t yet know. Here are two I’ve recently enjoyed, thanks to their suggestions, from two wine producers who are just a kilometre apart but very different, except for their spirited independence.
Merlot with heady, sensual fruit
Jean-Michel Novelle has had a reputation for being something of a rebel in Geneva wine circles. He trained as a nose for the perfume industry, but joined the family winery, Le Grand Clos. He promptly replanted much of its 7 hectares at the edge of Satigny, calling his revised vineyard a “laboratory”: 9 grape varieties that had not been grown in Geneva and others, including Merlot, that were uncommon.
His wines all exude seductive aromas remarkable for their precision, with the emphasis on fruit and more fruit. He changed from traditional Guyot training and delayed pruning to encourage later flowering, shifted to organic techniques ahead of most others, and, since 2010, he hasn’t used wood for his 16 grape varieties, believing it hides the fruit. On the side, he he still works as a consultant to wineries in Chili, after some years doing so in South America and the south of France.
Iconique Merlot from his line of single grape wines is made in stainless steel tanks. It is dry, without the roundness and softness that give some traditional Merlots their appeal yet it is more complex than most Merlots, which makes me think that it works well to delay the growing season and wait as late as possible to harvest. This wine is upright compared to many Merlots but not austere: its fruitiness lends it elegance and the tannins are silky.
The nose of the 2015 startled me. Such intense licorice and menthol notes in the attack! Blueberries and black currants took over, eventually blending with sweet spices. The mouth was beautiful, lusciously smooth, plenty of black fruit and again those spices, with good acidity and an elegantly long finish. Everything about Novelle’s wines is sensual, so you won’t be surprised to find the web site is as well. CHF35 cellar price
Roussanne, upriver version
Christophe Bosson’s farm Domaine d’Esize is right on the flat banks of the Rhone in Aire-la-Ville, on the southern edge of the city. A farm it truly is, for in addition to cultivating 14 varieties of grapes, mainly as a star grower for the Cave de Genève, he has 40 hectares of grains and vegetable crops. He is an award-winning producer of colza oil and hard wheat, the kind the Italians grow (and people scoffed when he said he could grow it in Geneva) and use for the best pasta. He grew the wheat to be able to make the pasta his wife Veronique “the epicurean” wanted, then went to work with a pasta maker in Meyrin to produce good pasta. And if you’re gourmands to this extent, you have to make the kind of wine you might want with it. But that’s another story, another wine for another day.
Bosson is into soil: he’ll happily take you through the nitty-gritty of improving poor soils, the joys of perma-cropping and how you can nudge good wines from surprising bits of land if you understand what makes their roots happy. He makes soil interesting. He also makes interesting wines for his own account. The one I fell in love with is a very classy Roussanne. It’s a white with a beautiful light bright gold colour, a pleasing nose of spring flowers and herbs, excellent acidity. Very easy to drink.
Since little of it is grown anywhere, here’s what you might not know and should about this lovely grape: it’s similar to Marsanne, to which it is related, according to Wine Grapes, my bible on varieties. Both come from the northern Rhone area in France, with Marsanne more widely grown because it is not as difficult as Roussanne, which is actually a finer grape. It is more aromatic and has better acidity, which also means the wines have good aging potential. Roussanne tends to appear in blends, often with Marsanne. For Bosson, being that bit further north along the Rhone means the grape works well on its own.
Bosson’s wines are all the more surprising because he describes himself as self-taught, the rare wine producer in western Switzerland who did not go to Changins, the wine school/university. He likes, he says, the “belle aventure” of learning new things, but it’s clear that he is a sharp observer of nature, he knows how to turn to the right people for help, and he’s very focused on quality.
The soil where the Marsanne grows is under renovation, a 2-3 year project. He labels his approach to soil and his crops and grapes “my own soup”, environmentally-minded but using machines on slopes that are 30-45% because he’s convinced he’s doing the environment less damage than some compromise alternatives. Organic? It is “a bit like church, and I’m too curious.” Marsanne, CHF21 cellar price