I’m always in awe of a commentator with enough grace and confidence to fairly describe a wine even when it’s not to their taste. It’s tough to do but rewarding when it happens. This inherently generous act alerts others who may find excitement in the eccentricities and beauty in the perceived shortcomings I might find.
Consider this to be my stab at fairness.
When I was last in Zürich for the Mémoire & Friends tasting in August, one of the invited friends, Patrick Thalmann, was there to present the wines from his Winzerei Zur Metzg. This micro-winery — named for the abandoned butcher shop it occupies on Giesshuebelstrasse 106 in Zürich — was new to me and not part of my agenda. Like most professional tastings, this one requires a severe triage — there are simply too many wines for one afternoon’s work. In the end I am more likely to cut from my schedule than to add to it, but like a dentist with a patient in need of an emergency root canal, I made time for this slightly odd but intriguing table.
The first thing one notices about the Zur Metzg wines are the distinctive labels: one —a pig’s outline with its primal cuts mapped out — clearly refers to the others which bear a logo of ominously crossed meat cleavers. An obvious reference to butchery with an unselfconscious nod to würste, pork chops, and large cuts of beef.
The second thing one notices is Herr Thalmann himself. His appearance is joyful and child-like in a way that belies his obvious love of wine and a hearty metzgete — a kind of Swiss pork orgy. The two go together, of course.
I was beginning to sense a story.
At his invitation, I sampled a 2015 sauvignon blanc with the noncommittal Schweizer Landwein designation. When I asked him what inspiration he had for the wine’s style I expected to hear the usual Sancerre — or perhaps New Zealand, or even Bordeaux — but when he enthusiastically chirped, “California is my muse,” he startled me. This is the first Swiss winemaker I know of to credit California for inspiration. And while its ample and slightly exotic fruit does recall examples from Napa, its lavish and unrestrained use of oak is straight “outta” Bordeaux. Californians tend not to oak their sauvignon blancs — too expensive and totally unnecessary goes the refrain.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good Domaine de Chevalier blanc, or a Ch. Fieuzal blanc or even a new-fangled Ch. Lynch-Bages blanc but this is not those. It is barrel fermented, yes, but with obvious, creamy vanilla notes and muted citrus, mango and pineapple. It even finishes with some solid grapefruit but, as with a nicely rendered Bordeaux blanc, oak can be — and usually is — a point of discussion. Just a bit too much is, well, too much. Safe to say there is a bit too much of it here. In his defense, I do like the stand Herr Thalmann takes — no wimpy wines from Giesshuebelstrasse.
In an attempt to test my limits, he suggested I try the 2015 chardonnay Schweitzer Landwein next. Its distinctly Californian nose is circa 1995-2000 — ripe green apple fruit boosted by huge, toasty coconut notes. The somewhat skinny palate is overwhelmed by unapologetic lashings of said oak and quite bitter for it. The In Pursuit of Balance darlings are trembling in fear.
More to my liking, but still too oaky, is the 2015 pinot gris Schweitzer Landwein. This reminds me of some old pinot beurot (gris) bottlings from the Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes-de-Nuits drunk many years ago. In the spirit of rustic weirdness this is at least interesting with some smokey, burnt toast aromas and mealy pears as textural counterpoint. To its credit, there is enough flesh and bone for an awkward adolescence to sprout. No wimpy pinot grigio look-a-like on offer here and another line in the sand from Herr Thalmann.
As far as I know the three whites above are somewhat experimental. They do not appear on the winery website for sale and are not mentioned. If they are one-offs, then I say keep trying because there is enough here to convince me that Zur Metzg needs only to rein in the oaky excesses. The quality of the fruit and the winemaker’s passion are undeniable.
The red wines present a different set of challenges. They are uniformly decent but with a caveat: they all seem rather high pH and a tad too extracted for their own good. The color on each is uniformly dark with aromas of cola spices, root vegetables, roasted mulberry and, yes, sweet oak with a flat, filmy texture that I relate to the high pH levels usually found on warm climate reds.
The best is the 2013 Borstig’ Kerl ( the Bristly One) Schweitzer Landwein made from pinot noir. It is from a single vineyard and allowed a spontaneous fermentation. The nose is oaky and full of roasted mulberry and fresh herbs but, like the other reds, the palate is flat with a creamy, slightly greasy texture. Three other pinot noirs round out the lineup: the 2014 Junior—der Kleine vom Grossen and two vintages of the “R” Pinot Noir 2014 and 2013. Each is true to the house-style that features unintegrated new oak layered upon excessively ripe fruit.
Sounds like California to me.