Mémoire des Vins Suisse—Geneva 2016
After 40 years and more than a thousand wine tastings later—after countless wine dinners, winery visits, seminars, panels, junkets and bottles opened at home—I am finally ready to confess that two of my favorite wine events ever are the two most recent MDVS gatherings: Mémoire and Friends in Zürich and Les Trésors du Vins Suisse in Geneva. Why? Because they both offer a stunningly diverse and highly curated collection of Switzerland’s best wines in an immersive tasting format that is both crash course and master class combined. They also offer the value-added opportunity to button-hole Marie Thérèse Chappaz, chat-up Dany Varone and eavesdrop on the guided tasting tour of José Vouillamoz. Still, no matter how you cut it, I’m a rank amateur when it comes to Swiss wine. Grizzled and cynical about the state of wine in general but enthused and pliant when talk turns to chasselas and plant robez. These tastings have allowed me to discover that it’s great to be an old dog with a new trick to learn.
For those of you unfamiliar with Mémoire des Vins Suisse here’s a synopsis. MDVS was founded by several wine professionals and journalists in 2005 and conceived as a kind of laboratory-cellar to track the evolution of the group’s chosen wines. Today there are fifty-six wineries that each contribute a single wine to be followed from vintage to vintage and over the course of time. This tasting, Les Trésors du Vin Suisse, brings together the group of fifty-six to present their MDVS chosen wine across several vintages. Each wine reviewed below is the MDVS chosen wine for the specific winery involved. Each is monitored annually and presented to the public with the ultimate goal of proving that Swiss wines are capable of positive development and evolution over time. It is a great cross-section of types, styles and trends and a celebration of the personalities involved. And they all show up in force.
Later in the year is the Mémoire and Friends tasting which is an expanded event that invites many more “friends” than the current fifty-six. This event invites each winery to present a portfolio of wine and is as close to an intimate national wine fair as any I have attended. Think VinItaly but cozy and quaint. I look forward to the 2016 version in Zürich.
What follows below are my notes of what I found to be this year’s standouts. I did not taste every wine available so I may have, and undoubtedly did, miss some excellent others. This half of the post focuses on white wines. The next will conclude with notes on the red wines tasted.
Cru de l’Hôpital (Môtier-Vully, Fribourg): An excellent biodynamic winery located in the Trois Lacs region adjacent to Lac de Morat. There is very little intervention in the cellar although the secondary fermentation is generally not encouraged in the whites. The soils here are ancient and composed of glacial rubble over sandstone. Traminer is a beloved specialty but there is very little of it to go around. This cuvée comes from 40 year old vines.
Traminer, Vully (gewürztraminer)—
2014: Very pale straw in color. Shy nose includes typical gewürz suspects: rose petals, litchi and yellow curry spices. Palate is somewhat light in body but impeccably dry. Flavors are sweet, floral and perfumed. I suspect this is still in slumber as it lacks the intensity of what follows.
2011: Pale straw in color. Pronounced petrol nose with floral (rose) notes. Orange and grapefruit rind dominate the palate which is sweet and lovely. Finish is long with pleasant gewürz bitterness. This is sneaky powerful but with a lot of charm.
2008: Pale gold in color. Very intense candied flower and citrus fruit nose. Divine fruit confit palate that is also floral and sweet. Effortless balance and utterly complete. It’s not often that I put charming and gewürz in the same sentence. There is the slightest hint of decay in the finish but not to worry. Drink now.
Schwarzenbach Weinbau (Meilen, Zürich): Räuschling is a cross between gouais blanc and a vine from the pinot family. There are only 23 hectares or so remaining in Switzerland and virtually none anywhere else. The Schwarzenbach family is a noted specialist of this uniquely Swiss wine. Thankfully they maintain a deep library of vintages dating to 1895 from which native yeasts of the late 19th century have been resurrected for current use and sale. The wines made from räuschling are typically etched with dry acids and rather simple aromatics that are hard to get a read on. They come into their own with significant age.
Meilener Räuschling, Seehalden, Zürichsee (räuschling)—
2014: Very pale straw in color. Shy nose of flowers and quince. Simple, perfumed floral flavors with some over-sized acids. All structure and steely.
2011: Straw colored. Some modest development on the nose. Fresh herbs and flowers that seem reticent to show themselves. Very fresh. Palate is lean and very apple-y with some lingering perfume. Still seems unrewarding at this time. Muscadet-like?
2008: Straw colored. Finally some evolution. Floral and baking spice nose offers a very promising glimpse of future development. The palate offers some heft with its baked apple and sweet spice flavors. Finishes customarily lean with some lingering perfume.
Weingut Hermann (Fläsch, Graubünden): Completer is among the rarest of the rare native varieties and left for dead only a decade ago. A scant two hectares remain but its adherents are enthused about its miraculous recovery. I feel extraordinarily privileged to have sampled these six wines, from three vintages, from two of the greatest producers. The wines are eye-opening and profound.
Completer, Fläsch, Graubünden—
2014: Platinum in color. Very expressive, racy, citrus, floral and fresh snap pea nose. Vibrant. Palate is full-bodied, rich with glycerin and permeated with charged acidity. Unique. There is roasted grain and honey as well. Finishes dry, floral and perfumed. Very promising future. This is really excellent.
2011: Pale straw color. Fabulous egg cream/vanilla custard nose. Fresh but complex notes of grain, caramel and oak. Medium-bodied but rich and textured. Roasted grain, honey, caramel and vanilla. Lavishly sweet but always with electric acids. Firm. A real conundrum because it is at once developed and primary. One of a kind. Excellent.
2008: Straw colored. Nose of crème pâtissière and freshly baked génoise. Sauternes-like. Palate is fat and oily but delicate and balanced. Liqueur-like intensity but fresh. A little of this and a little of that. A firm streak of acidity keeps each element in line but free to do its thing. Hard to describe how impressive this really is.
Weingut Donatsch (Malans, Graubünden): This family winery is another champion of this obscure variety. If anything Donatsch’s rendition is even more dramatic than Hermann’s. Martin Donatsch, the next generation winemaker, is committing significant resources into expanding its footprint but since completer is so terroir specific this is a slow process.
Completer, “Malanserrebe”, Graubünden—
2014: Silver/straw in color. Nose is rather neutral with hints of white flowers, green almond and minerals. Very undeveloped nose. Palate is rich and textured but again rather neutral. My first thought was pinot gris-like. The mineral acidity kicks in on the palate. This one is coiled and needs time. I think the wait will be worth it.
2011: Silver/straw in color. Small citrus nose (kumquat), white flowers and yellow fruit. Palate is a shocker: fat, rich and sweet. Thick, luxurious glycerins. Flavors of roasted grain (barley), hazelnut, honey and vanilla. The ample acids give these flavors unbelievable length. Fabulous wine.
2008: Straw gold. My coup de coeur. A nose that is pure, mature sauternes; and a good one at that. Lots of caramel and roasted cereal. Fantastic palate of rice pudding and crème pâtissière. Somehow, as sweet as this is, it finishes dry because of its underlayment of acid. The conundrum continues.
Domaine La Colombe (Féchy, Vaud): An important biodynamic winery on La Côte. A very consistent producer of terroir driven chasselas with several interesting crus. They are typically balanced and very fresh with clean citrus and mineral notes. The Brez cuvée is from the Terroir collection of Raymond Paccot’s portfolio.
Brez 2014, La Côte, Vaud (chasselas)—
2014: Pale straw in color. Nose is very fresh with citrus and green apple notes. Palate is brimming with fresh acids, crushed stone, green apple and light herbs. A grüner veltliner look-a-like.
2011: Pale straw in color. Unusual nose of eucalyptus and sea air. Very fresh but layered palate. Deceptively simple. Lemon oil flavors with a streak of mineral acids. Very good length and depth of flavor.
2008: Straw colored. Very complex nose of caramel and buttered popcorn. Secondary characteristics abound. Palate is layered with cream, citrus and caramel. Still vibrant with mouthwatering acids and citrusy finish. This is excellent and another great example of how chasselas can age with grace.
2005: Straw/gold in color. Oxidized and aldehydic notes on the nose. Funky, cidery notes of bruised apple. Flat palate. Nothing left to give.
Château Maison Blanche (Yvorne, Vaud): Typical Yvorne soil of limestone covered with glacial deposits, mostly small rocks. This domaine produces a flintier, leaner and drier style of chasselas. The noted pierre à fusil aroma and flavor are pronounced here. Mostly subtle wines with lively acids and mineral characteristics.
Yvorne, Grand Cru, Chablais, Vaud (chasselas)—
2014: Pale straw in color. Delicate nose of white flowers, apple skin and lemon. Palate is sweet and textured with lemon, fresh herbs and pierre à fusil. Textbook chasselas if a bit on the simple side at this stage.
2011: Straw colored. Cooked white fruit, green herbs and cereal on the nose. Nicely balanced and interesting. Lively palate that is balanced, fresh and textured. Lemon curd flavor and texture. A little creamy. Very good.
2008: Straw colored. Lovely, subtle tropical fruit nose of pineapple and passion fruit. More fresh fruit and less confit than above. Palate is dry but nicely layered with fruit and grain flavors. Very good, mature example.
Domaine Monachon (Rivaz, Vaud): Father and son team with notable holdings in Saint-Saphorin. Their chasselas from this cru is beefier than most with a nice saline and mineral quality. This seems to age deliberately and evenly. I liked the wines from this property very much.
Saint-Saphorin, Les Manchettes, Lavaux, Vaud (chasselas)—
2014: Pale straw in color. Fine aroma of stone, brine and citrus. What I think of as typical St.-Saphorin. Fleshy entry with lots of perfume; citrus and white flowers. Medium-weight with lingering perfume to close.
2012: Pale straw in color. Really fine aromas of white flowers, quince and honey. Racy style acids and loads of fresh fruit on the palate: apple, pear and lemon. Nothing over-ripe with zingy acids. Lovely.
2010: Pale straw in color. No sign of visual age nor terribly secondary on the nose. Some nuttiness but mostly cooked white fruit. Palate is juicy and appetizing with soft cooked fruit. Structure is still tight. Very good.
Domaine Blaise Duboux (Epesses, Vaud): Another top-flight winery that is committed to biodynamics and minimal intervention. Fabulous chasselas from the Grand Crus of Dézaley and Calamin. This estate is one of the few to seamlessly package minerality and freshness with savory, textured flavors from vintage to vintage and village to village. These are very polished and beautifully delineated wines.
Calamin, “Cuvée Vincent” Grand Cru, Lavaux, Vaud (chasselas)—
2014: Straw colored. Really fine nose of citrus, green herbs and honey. Palate is middle-weight and racy with honey and crushed stone. Some minerality. Finishes pure, compact and with authority. Lingering minerals. Very good.
2012: Straw colored. Fine nose of vanilla, lemon curd and green herbs. Very focused and linear. Palate is a little awkward with distinctly herbal flavors and backward fruit. Finishes slightly bitter. I think this may be slumbering at the moment.
2010: Straw colored. Opens with malted grain, vanilla and fruit confit. Palate is middle-weight, rich but laser focused. Delicious, bright flavors of candied lemon peel and ginger. Somewhat exotic. Even though this is still youthful it offers so much now that it is hard to resist. Stellar chasselas from a master.
Domaine Louis Bovard (Cully, Vaud): Bovard’s Dézaley “Médinette” is one of the few recognizably Swiss wines to be found in foreign markets. And a great ambassador it is. Always well made and compelling it is also one of the best candidates for extended aging. The four wines below display a very measured and confident progression through youthful primary stages, adolesence, middle age and finally into a mature plateau. None of them display any fatigue or quit. It is a pleasure to taste through them.
Dézaley, “Médinette” Grand Cru, Lavaux, Vaud (chasselas)—
2014: Pale straw in color. Invigorating, fresh witch hazel nose: white flowers and aromatic bark. There is a fabulous palate of ripe fruit, plums, cloudberry and green herbs. Great length and persistent flavor. Nice young chasselas with the capacity to age like its older brothers.
2011: Straw colored. Green herbs and fresh English peas on the nose. The palate starts shy but develops richness and breed with air. Ripe yellow fruit and saline minerality. The beginnings of umami complexity. This is just beginning its secondary period and promises a lot of positive development. Loads of life.
2008: Straw colored. Starts with green, herbal notes and a likeness to sauvignon blanc. The palate shows some cream, vanilla and roasted grain. It is broad, fleshy and still vibrantly youthful with still fresh acids. Mouthwatering and complex. This is a great example of mature chasselas.
2005: Straw/gold in color. A bit of cider and pickling brine aroma. Palate is nutty and creamy with remarkable depth of flavor. Acids are juicy and lend an air of youthfulness and freshness to an otherwise delightfully mature bottle. Still has some room to grow. Very good.
Domaine Cornulus (Savièse, Valais): The dynamic duo of Stéphane Reynard and Dany Varone have propelled this domaine to the top of Swiss viticulture. Everything they do is done with style. The wines, across the extensive portfolio, are always compelling, expressive and polished. This is from the Clos du Mangold vineyard which sits upon one of the numerous limestone deposits found in the Alps and the Valais. It is one of several varieties bottled separately under the CDM label. I find it to be among the most ambitious and complex chasselas in Switzerland.
Clos du Mangold, “Vieilles Vignes”, Valais (chasselas)—
2014: Platinum colored. Walnut skin, grapefruit, apple and green herbs on the nose. Distinct minerality with citrus and nutty flavors. Palate is luxurious and mouthwatering. This is one of the finest chasselas year-in-and-year-out in the Valais.
2011: Silvery/straw in color. Very fine savory nose with hints of lemon peel and herbs. Very rich, almost thick palate with savory fresh herbs as its focus. Flavors linger along the spine of minerally acids. Very good.
2008: Pale straw in color. Appetizing double crème de gruyère nose. Lemon curd and cereal notes as well. Once again an astonishingly rich palate with flavors of cream and candied citrus peel. Exemplary length. One of the finest whites of the afternoon.
Domaine des Muses (Sierre, Valais): Another rare native variety; thought to be a cross of colombaud blanc, from Provence, and chichaud, from the Ardèche. It is reputed to be neutral in aromatics and rich on the palate with aggressive acidity; it is, therefore, a good candidate for barrel fermentation and a mitigating secondary fermentation. Robert Taramarcaz, proprietor of Domaine des Muses, manages to coax the most out of this reclusive variety and is a leader among its proponents.
Humagne Blanche, “Tradition”, Valais—
2014: Pale straw in color. Very aromatic and sweet, spicy nose. Gingerbread notes. Lots of fat in the texture. Flavors of cream and sweet spices (cinnamon/nutmeg/clove) linger into a rich, prolonged finish. Plenty of acidity for positive development. Very nice.
2013: Straw colored. Cookie dough nose (butter/cereal/sugar). Palate is integrated with more vigorous freshness than above. Rice pudding flavors with real freshness. These are beginning to remind me of the Completer wines tasted earlier but not as dramatically lavish.
2012: Straw colored. More aromatics of the spicy, creamy ilk. Signature creamy, cereal, spicy notes on the palate with some marmalade notes. Very nice.