Festival des Vieux Millésimes

This annual event and the accompanying Nuits des Vieux Millésimes were founded and organized by Alexandre Truffer, Swiss editor of the French language edition of Vinum Magazine, for the edification of Swiss wine enthusiasts and members of the general public. Its organization is simple: participating wineries choose up to ten wines that they believe best express the merits of bottle age, make them available for tasting, then offer them up for sale to the participants. There is no pre-screening and no minimum age requirement although most dry wines were more than 10 years old and one was as old as 40. All wines were sourced directly from the cellars of the participants to ensure unquestioned provenance. The wines were not tasted blind. The tasting took place at the beautiful Château d’Aigle in the Canton of Vaud.

The 2016 winery participants included the five properties owned by the City of Lausanne: Château Rochefort, Clos des Moines, Clos des Abbayes, Domaine du Burignon and l’Abbaye de Mont all from Vaud; the venerable Sion co-operative, Provins Valais; the Domaine du Mont d’Or also from Sion; and a selection of sweet wines from the exclusive Valais consortium ConfidenCiel.

This event follows on the heels of the very successful and highly respected Memoire des Vins Suisse and Memoire & Friends gatherings but without the budget and the hype. It deserves our attention and attendance. My only criticism is that the goal of the tasting, to showcase the age-worthiness of Swiss wine, would be better served by a pre-selection of the best examples that make the point. I feel a few too many were past their prime and some fell completely flat. Besides that, a good time was had by all and I look forward to the the next edition. My notes follow.

Ville de Lausanne Whites

Dézaley Grand Cru 05, Clos des Moines, Lavaux, Vaud (chasselas): Straw to light gold in color. Appealingly green sauvignon blanc/grüner veltliner notes: fresh asparagus and freshly cut hay. More savory than fruity. The palate starts rich and waxy with nice sweetness and a touch of oxidized dryness. It offers appetizing flavors of baked bread, grain and citrus. Finishes full and dry. Very good.

Dézaley Grand Cru 97, Clos des Abbayes, Lavaux, Vaud (chasselas): Light gold color. Initial whiff of soy sauce, nuts and baked rye bread. Clear note of oxidation. Palate is rich and has a pleasant sweet and salty, yin and yang (umami), before finishing hot and dry. Clearly past its prime but still of some interest.

Mont-sur-Rolle Grand Cru 95, Abbaye de Mont, La Côte, Vaud (chasselas): Healthy gold color. Strong umami nose with baked apple and fresh herbs. The palate starts rich and somewhat sweet with a mineral, saline streak and edgy acidity. Clearly on the old side but not terribly oxidized. Hanging in there but the short and dry finish is sounding the alarm.

Allaman Grand Cru 93, Château Rochefort, La Côte, Vaud (chasselas): Dark gold verging on brown. Nose confirms well past-due date oxidation. Finishes gritty and bitter.

Saint-Saphorin Grand Cru 93, Domaine du Burignon, Lavaux, Vaud (chasselas): The look is a fresh, bright golden hue. Initial hints of reduction and pierre à fusil blow off almost instantly. The palate is salty soy sauce and drying oxidation. Finishes short, dry and bitter. But for its color and faint initial heartbeat there is little else of interest here.

Provins Valais Whites

Fendant 93, Pierrafeu “La Capsule Dorée”, Valais (chasselas): Healthy straw color. Appropriately named for there is a lovely pierre à fusil note that greets the nose. Beneath that there is a nice mineral/saline herbaceousness of pea-shoots and fennel. The palate is sweet and rich with green herbs, yellow fruit and minerals with an slight oxidized note of caramel. A really nice bottle and my favorite white of the tasting.

Ermitage 90, Les Chapelles “La Capsule Dorée”, Valais (marsanne): Dark gold verging on brown. Spot-on oloroso sherry nose. This has oxidized nicely and evenly. The palate is warm, rich and loaded with glycerin. Flavor of nuts and salted caramel. The dry, somewhat short and bitter finish slaps one back to the reality that this is not a sherry. An interesting bottle but more as a curiosity than as an example of a well-aged white wine.

Petite Arvine 87, La Pimpante “Les Grands Dignitaires”, Valais (petite arvine): The color of well-aged scotch. Whiffs of mature sauternes quickly give way to oxidized notes of rancid nuts and salted caramel. Out of this confusion rise clean notes of amontillado sherry. Wow, what a twist. In the end the reaper wins out, finishing short and dried-up.

Johannisberg 85, Rhonegold “La Capsule Dorée”, Valais (sylvaner): Dark straw or light gold in color. Initial nose is of cooked asparagus, parsnip, green peppercorn and candied citrus peel. Quite the odd combination. There are notes of oxidation but nothing overwhelming or distracting. The palate is full and sweet with singed fruit, pepper and marshmallow. The finish is sweet and of medium length. This bottle was actually quite nice.

Amigne 75, Raisin d’Or “Les Grands Dignitaires”, Valais (amigne): As with most amignes this one is sourced from the village of Vetroz. Medium gold in color. The initial nose is of buttered nuts but it quickly fades into gloomy oxidation. The palate is rich in a sherry kind off way but falls off into a dried-up, bitter shell of itself. Well past its prime.

Miscellaneous Whites from the Mondial du Chasselas

Yvorne Grand Cru 05, Clos du Rocher, Obrist, Chablais, Vaud (chasselas): Pale straw in color. Slight pierre à fusil nose with odd grassy notes of sauvignon and perfume of viognier. The palate is appropriately saline and mineral with a pear texture and supple sweetness. Finishes clean and medium-long. Very nice.

Dézaley-Marsens Grand Cru 95, “de la Tour”, Frères Dubois, Lavaux, Vaud (chasselas): Light gold in color. There is an aldehydic, single malt nose of dried apple skin. A zero, dried-out finish follows. Possibly corked.

Ville de Lausanne Reds

Dézaley Grand Cru 00, Clos des Moines, Lavaux, Vaud (pinot noir, gamay, merlot): Ruby center with brick edges. Pronounced underbrush and forest floor aromas with red fruit and green herbs. The palate is fresh and well balanced with slightly candied red fruit and sweet spices. Very soft with little or no tannins. This is a very appealing wine.

Dézaley Grand Cru 05, Clos des Abbayes, Lavaux, Vaud (pinot noir, gamay, merlot): Garnet center with orange brick edges. Nose of red fruit, herbs and bug spray. Secondary aromas abound but this still seems fresh. Nothing particularly varietal here. A little apple skin flavor. Finishes dry and astringent. This seemed out of sorts and unbalanced.

Mont-sur-Rolle Grand Cru 00, Abbaye de Mont, La Côte, Vaud (gamay, pinot noir): Pale garnet with orange brick edges. Opens with a nose of fresh tomato and rose hips. On the palate there are cooked fruits, vegetables and herbs. Very light and soft. Finishes astringent. Not my favorite.

Allaman Grand Cru 05, Château Rochefort, La Côte, Vaud (gamay, pinot noir): Solid ruby color to the rim. Fresh nose of violets, herbs and earth. Predominately gamay in character with a bit of the Beaujolais-like wet stone aroma. Solid palate of bright red fruit, minerals and a touch of gaminess. Enough tannin to evolve further. I like this quite a bit.

Saint-Saphorin Grand Cru 02, Domaine du Burignon, Lavaux, Vaud (pinot noir, gamay): Very pale ruby with orange brick edges. Lovely, harmonious nose of fresh strawberry, roses and spice. Very pinot. Palate is delicate, balanced and nuanced. Sweet, slightly cooked red fruit and a lovely sweet spiciness. An ethereal and delicate wine. Perfectly à point. My favorite red of the tasting.

Provins Valais Reds

Rouge d’Enfer 08, “Maître de Chais”, Valais (diolinoir, cornalin, humagne rouge, syrah): This interesting cuvée is aged in larch barrels, a species of deciduous conifer native to the alps and central Europe. Dark, nearly opaque ruby in color with black highlights. Fresh nose of red and black fruit along the lines of mulberry. Very primary still with floral notes of violet, dark berries, spice and sweet wood elements. Sweet, slightly roasted palate that floats between its cornalin and syrah roots. A little gamey and undeveloped. Texture is chamois smooth with a little tannic bite. I like this quite a bit but it needs a little more time.

Syrah 03, “Maître de Chais”, Valais (syrah): Dark ruby and slightly hazy. Opens with a nose of roasted red and black fruit, earth and dried leaves. The palate is vaguely sweet but seems both undeveloped and too old simultaneously. Finishes astringent and short. I don’t think this is going anywhere and amounted to a disappointment.

Pinot Noir 95, “Maître de Chais”, Valais (pinot noir): Medium garnet with orange brick edges. Neutral, unspecific nose that pricks slightly (ascetic acid?). On the palate virtually no pinot character with an astringent, past its prime, funkiness. Another disappointment.

Sweet Wines from the ConfidenCiel Collective

Marsanne Blanche Grain Noble 08, Domaine des Claives, Marie-Thèrese Chappaz, Valais (marsanne): Very pale straw color. Fantastic nose of peach liqueur, vanilla bean, and slight botrytis. Very youthful, fresh and bright flavors of peach liqueur and barley candy. Very well balanced, utterly smooth, luxurious and delicious. A terrific wine.

Marsanne Blanche Flétrie 08, Cave des Bernunes, Nicolas Zufferey, Valais (marsanne): Medium gold in color. Savory, root vegetable nose: cooked beets and spiced rhubarb. The palate is rich with root-y fruit and a slight oxidized drying. Not with the texture and class of above but still good.

Assemblage Blanc 06, “Goût du Conseil”, Domaine du Mont d’Or, Sion, Valais    (riesling, sylvaner): Medium straw color. Mild grain (barley?) aroma with a little bug spray and slightly grassy. On the palate there is some grapefruit pith bitterness with citrus and grassy flavors. Finishes hot. OK but not my style.

Ermitage Surmaturée 05, Côteaux de Sierre, Charles-Henri Favre, Valais (marsanne): Solid gold color. Secondary nose of sweet spices and barley candy. Palate is simple and slightly drying. There are notes of cereal, vanilla and caramel. Fully developed and perhaps at its best now. Good.

Ermitage Grain Noble 03, Clos des Corbassières, Coeur du Clos, Domaine Cornulus, Valais (marsanne): Old, burnished gold color. Intense grainy, barley candy and cooked rhubarb aroma. Rich palate texture with grain, vanilla and the beginning of fudge flavors. Long interesting finish. More rustic than refined. I like this quite a bit.

Grains de Malice Vendange Tardive 99, “Maître de Chais”, Provins, Valais (marsanne, pinot gris): Gold color. Root vegetable nose with quick drying acetyl sweetness. Well past its prime and without much interest.

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