I don’t usually quibble with subjective “Best Of” lists but I’ve got to argue with this one. To omit the Adanks is something of a glaring oversight. If this was the 25 or 50 Best Vignerons in Switzerland list, then fine. But surely they are among the Top 100. Especially when some of the names included have lacked inspiration, direction and imagination for years.
An early morning arrival in Fläsch gave me just enough time for an impromptu walking tour. The tiny but prosperous community was still quiet except for a few workers stripping leaves and laterals from the nearby vines. Their dim forms and subtle movements made the already solitary hill even more tranquil and beautiful. Because a substantial chill from the night before lingered, I pulled a sweater from my bag and noticed the upper halde was still deep in shadow. Any warmth from the sun was still an hour or so away. The inevitable freshness from a cool night is extended here, placing it behind more blatantly exposed vineyards in the race to ripeness. Shivering, I made a mental note to remember the delicious smell of this late summer morning.
As I walked, I warmed up and the narrow streets came into focus. The modern architectural trends I had seen around Graubünden seemed to climax here. Like all really good architecture these modern additions fit seamlessly into the village landscape enhancing an already considerable charm. I was struck by the interesting mix of traditional Swiss-German homes and architect-inspired weekend retreats for wealthy Zürchers. Notable among them is the bare concrete simplicity of the renowned Haus Meuli; the modern addition to the century-old farmhouse Casascura; and the clean lines of the new village school. Each offers a contemporary bridge to the sober, utilitarian structures of the past. Indeed, an architectural tour of the region would be time well spent.
In the heart of the village sits the rustically elegant Restaurant Adler and its beckoning arrangement of flowers and a regional menu that had me dreaming comfort food and a fireplace. It’s a throwback restaurant with all the Swiss kitsch you could want—paneled walls, a cuckoo clock, royal blue upholstery, regional lithographs and a traditionally clad staff. Its only concession to modernity is its updated interpretation of local fare. Not fussy-modern, but soul-satisfying and inventive. Its Heidiland Menu, seen below, is one option at 115 CHF, service included:
Sashimi of smoked char, horseradish mousse, beetroot, char caviar
Red wine soup, Bündner truffles and plum
“One hour” organic egg, venison ragout, wild mushrooms
Baked brown trout, pickled cabbage, apple, sesame potatoes
Flambé lemongrass crème brulée, strawberry and wine praline
The Bündner Herrschaft
I have written an overview of the Bündner Herrschaft region in previous posts—Profile: Weingut Donatsch and A Swiss Wine Primer—but it can’t be stressed enough that this is a very privileged and unique wine region. There is a long history of viticulture, a unique climate, nearly ideal topography and geology and a passionate, youthful generation to drive the future forward. The atmosphere is collegial and cooperative and the quality of its wine is rising.
My guide Patrick, the Adank’s eldest son, is a member of the next generation of Swiss wine elite. He impressed me as one of the smartest and most passionate young people on the scene today. After a stage in New Zealand, Patrick did time at Sylvain Cathiard and Etienne Sauzet in Burgundy, studied in Geisenheim, Germany, and is preparing for an upcoming stage at the cult Champagne house Bérêche & Fils to hone his fizz skills. His choice of contacts is calculated—the family takes inspiration from Burgundy for its pinot noir, pinot blanc and chardonnay; they admire Germany for its treatment of pinot gris and muller-thurgau; and of course father and son channel Champagne for their very compelling new sparkling wine program. Patrick is even eyeing an abandoned military bunker that maintains a constant 4º C year round for the project.
The morning tour began in the upper halde where chalk and clay predominate. Patrick points out that the soils are very similar to those found in Champagne which accentuates the minerality of the white varieties planted here. I heard the same reasoning from Martin Donatsch in Malans. Currently there is a massale selection of pinot blanc and chardonnay underway and the vines are planted at a density of 8000 per hectare, so not especially dense. The vines are trained using vertical shoot positioning, or VSP. What pinot noir there is in halde is almost exclusively of Swiss clones.
The Adanks are dedicating one of their parcels to biodynamics with the objective of converting all 6 hectares if the test proves successful. As in most of Switzerland there are no contiguous swaths of vineyard belonging to one family but many parcels scattered throughout a village. This creates additional challenges for biodynamics but it also presents opportunities for diversity and vineyard specificity. At present the Adanks eschew all herbicides and synthetic pesticides but do spray for mold and mildew.
The lower feld soils are more alluvial with clay over the ubiquitous limestone. The slope is gentle and more exposed to an earlier sun and the benefits of the foehn winds. Here most of the pinot noir resides including the oldest parcel and only vineyard designate, Spondis. Almost two-thirds of Adank’s production is pinot noir and the mix of Swiss clones and Dijon clones is about 50/50. Massale selection programs have begun with the Swiss clones of pinot noir which tend to add freshness and structure. Aside from massale Swiss clones most new pinot noir plantings are with Dijon clones which tend to give juicier, broader flavors and dark fruit aromas.
The newly renovated cellars of Weingut Adank play into the modern architectural theme beautifully with a fully functional tasting room and a modern three-level winery that burrows two stories below ground.
The grapes are received on the top floor where they are sorted before crushing and fermentation. All parcels are processed separately. Native yeasts are normally used but in some vintages and with some cuvées naturally derived yeast may be introduced. Sulfur is used judiciously. All cellar activity is in accordance with the phases of the moon.
All whites receive a 24 hour maceration before pressing. The pinot gris and muller-thurgau are fermented and aged in stainless steel on full lees. Chardonnay, pinot blanc and sauvignon blanc are fermented in oak within the second-level cool room where a temperature of 5º C is maintained. The chardonnay will age for up to a year in 50% new oak. All wood-aged whites rest on their full lees. There is no malolactic fermentation except for the chardonnay.
All pinot noir parcels receive a 10 day cold soak, then a 20 day fermentation in cuves. All of the red grapes are de-stemmed. Regular pump-overs occur in cuves with primitive temperature control capabilities. After pressing the wine goes directly into INOX to rest and then into barrels. The Classic cuvée is aged in INOX and 500-600 liter tonneaux, the Alte Reben in used oak and Spondis for 2 years in new oak barriques. The reds all receive a malolactic fermentation.
The tasting was presented in the cellars with father Hansruedi and Patrick Adank in attendance. I was highly impressed with the whites, which I had never tasted before, each of which offered very pure and distinct aromas and flavors. They are not minerally, per se, as are the Donatsch whites, but they contain a mineral element within a very fleshy, juicy core. They are fresh, clean, bright and a joy to drink. The single barrel chardonnay sample bordered on profound. The sauvignon blanc reminded me more of California than New Zealand but, as good as it is, they believe it is still a work in progress.
I don’t want to minimize the sparkling wine project. I believe Patrick has a passion for this and will see it through to the end. The first cuvée is simple—made without any reserve wine—but full of charm and grace. I like the idea that they are committed to pinot noir as a base while others in the area are using white grapes. This is a project to look forward to.
Adank’s pinot noirs are already well known award winners and the current crop will continue to win them admirers.
Brut “Blanc des Noirs” NV (2014), Graubünden (pinot noir): Very pale copper highlights. Lovely peachy, leesy aroma. Very fresh and delicate. Crisp and dry with mild strawberry, peach and yeast flavors. (Stainless steel fermented base wine, delicate press and aging on the lees for nine months. Very promising. Patrick is fully in charge of this project.)
Riesling x Sylvaner 2015, Fläsch, Graubünden (muller-thurgau): INOX raised on the lees. Pale silver with green highlights. Modest nose of lees, fermentation and simple floral notes. Crisp palate leads to a very floral flavors with some grapefruit pith. Very pleasant but a bit bottled up.
Pinot Blanc 2015, Fläsch, Graubünden: Very pale straw in color. Lovely nose of fresh tarragon, fennel and toast. Palate is textured with creamy white flowers and citrus zest. Very pretty in a slightly more fleshy style. Delicious.
Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Fläsch, Graubünden: Straw/gold in color. Nose is exotic with notes of tropical fruit, lees and oak. Flavors of lemon confit, marmalade and mango. Reminds me of California SB but with more freshness and delicacy. There is nothing overdone here. This is a very interesting direction for Swiss sauvignon blanc. Very good. (A new take on their SB program. Instead of traditional INOX fermentation which gave green notes they now press more gently and ferment in barrel.)
Pinot Gris 2015, Fläsch, Graubünden: Very pale copper color. Aromas of wet stone, pear and spices. Weighty palate but not heavy. Marvelous flavors of honey, nougat, walnut and pear. Fleshy and slightly creamy. This is excellent and one of the best I’ve tasted in Switzerland. A really nice showing for this often neutral variety.
Chardonnay 2015, Fläsch, Graubünden (new oak barrel sample): Straw gold in color. Wow! Purists will question the new oak dominance here but I know this is how the Meursaults of Coche-Dury begin life. A stunning amalgam of oaky cream, vanilla, spice and sheer fruit extract. Doesn’t have the minerally core of the best Meursaults but it has pretty much everything else. This is very sexy but will be blended with the stainless steel cuvée into what promises to be a really nice wine. Very impressive.
Chardonnay 2010, Fläsch, Graubünden: Straw colored. Slightly green aromas of herb and fresh asparagus. On the palate: toasted grain, citrus and vanilla with assertive acids that may outlive the fruit. Some sweetness in the finish but it’s cut short by an acid kick. Time will tell.
Pinot Noir, “Classic” 2015, Fläsch, Graubünden: (Fermented in INOX and raised in tonneaux and foudres. Bottled recently.) Lovely ruby color. Youthful red fruit and bushy undergrowth aromas. Nice concentration of fruit on the palate and a brooding green backdrop. Fresh green herbs and bright cherry/raspberry fruit. A touch of green bitterness. A little backwards but a promising pinot over the mid-term.
Pinot Noir, “Alte Reben” 2014, Fläsch, Graubünden: (Fermented in 600 liter cuves. 100% de-stemmed Swiss clones.) Ruby/garnet in color. Interesting nose of cherries, beets and a bit of horseradish. Very spicy and somewhat rooty. Palate is slightly bitter but full of nice cherry fruit fruit and root vegetables. Finishes a bit acidic and slightly tannic. Seems a bit backwards right now.
Pinot Noir, “Barrique” 2014, Fläsch, Graubünden: (Fermented in cuves and aged in 35% new oak. 10-20% whole cluster. Burgundy clones.) Slightly hazy ruby in color. Nose of slightly cooked red fruit and a touch of bitter greenness. On the palate lovely candied fruit with notes of vanilla and cocoa powder. More layered than the “Alte Reben” and more balanced.
Pinot Noir, “Barrique” 2008, Fläsch, Graubünden: Ruby/garnet in color with slightly browning rim. Beef bouillon and candied red fruit on the nose. The palate is nicely textured and developed with flavors of red berries and green herbs. Nice savory somewhat saline pinot noir.
Pinot Noir, Spondis 2014, Fläsch, Graubünden: (30% new oak) Bright garnet color. Explosive nose of ripe red fruit and raspberry clafoutis. Palate is silky and reminiscent of a freshly baked fruit pie. Juicy acids and fresh tannins take the flavors all the way through to a long finish. This is excellent.
Syrah 2014, Fläsch, Graubünden: Transparent ruby color. Very fresh nose of blueberry and some mild meatiness. Cool climate, cool aromatics. Palate is taut and a touch on the meager side but very fresh and pleasant. Seems very pinot-like with a slightly different palette of flavors. None of the earlier greenness seen on some of the pinots. Interesting but a touch more ripeness and stuffing would go a long way. 2014 was a difficult vintage.