The Robert Parker/Wine Advocate brand couldn’t have timed it any better. First, stir up the usually dignified Swiss wine community with a rare review of 200 or so of its wines, then time publication of the results to coincide with February’s “Matter of Taste” event in Zürich. Voilà, sold out event. Never mind that Parker himself was nowhere to be seen—or that his brand has morphed into a slick, traveling, interactive wine circus under new ownership—the raw point scores alone are still a big deal in these parts.
There’s an irony in all of this—Swiss wine is still an obscure academic pursuit of interest only to the Swiss and a few wine geeks (I should know, I’m a geek). No one outside of Switzerland is going to sniff these wines and there are currently no plans to develop foreign markets—save for droplets to a few hip restaurants in Germany and Denmark. Swiss vignerons can sell everything they make at home, thank you. Nevertheless, they are anxious to measure themselves against the rest of the world and consider the Wine Advocate, rightly or wrongly, an influential if only occasional judge.
To its credit, the tasting did cover the six main wine regions of Switzerland and highlighted the categories of red, white and sweet. Four wineries dominated the proceedings, garnering thirty of the ninety top spots. The brightest star was Domaine Jean-René Germanier of Vétroz in canton Valais. Wine Advocate staff writer Stephan Reinhardt appears to have tasted a broad portfolio of Germanier products and awarded seventeen of its wines with scores of ninety points or more—easily swamping nearest rivals Christian Zündel with five, Marie Thérèse Chappaz with four and Martin Donatsch with four. Nevertheless, there is a nice cross-section of Swiss wine represented and Reinhardt does a good job of distinguishing the nuances of power and finesse that make our local wines unique.
The review did get me to thinking in another way: How many of the featured wines have I tasted in these pages? And how do my notes compare with Reinhardt’s? As it turns out we’ve tasted 29 wines in common and our assessments are fairly in agreement. Unfortunately the Wine Advocate denied my request to republish the corresponding reviews for comparison. What follows are my reviews and a commentary in red of any differences between Reinhardt’s views and my own.
Part 2 will cover the red wines reviewed in Issue 228 and Part 3 will cover a new group of Swiss wines reviewed in the Interim End of January Issue of the Wine Advocate.
Most of my notes were from Mémoire des Vins Suisses and Mémoire & Friends tastings in May and August of 2016 or during winery visits throughout the year. Virtually all of them appeared in these pages well before publication of the Wine Advocate reviews in December.
Wine Advocate Issue 228—Switzerland: A Short Trip—Whites
(ArtisanSwiss)—Chasselas, “Le Chapitre” Grand Cru 2015, Henri Cruchon, La Côte, Vaud: Straw gold in color. Seamless blend of ripe pear fruit and an umami kick of miso. The palate is a similar blend of apples and pears with sea water as intrigue. Very fresh but richly textured and framed with almost unnoticed acidity. Wears its 2015 alcohol well. This is a very good effort from Cruchon whose chasselas crus keep getting better and better.
Analysis: General accord—2015 was a difficult vintage only in terms of keeping alcohol levels in check. As a stand alone entity chasselas must remain balanced if it is to aspire to greatness. The slightest fault is magnified in this rather neutral variety and Cruchon has done a masterful job of keeping things in check here. That said, while I like the wine quite a bit I believe he overrates it slightly.
(AS)—Chasselas, Petit Clos 2015, Domaine La Colombe, Mont-sur-Rolle, La Côte, Vaud: Straw colored. Piercing nose of honey, lemon and green herbs—fresh tarragon and réglisse. Palate is linear and incisive with a citrus zestiness. Savory flavors with miso and umami salinity. Sleek, medium-bodied and refreshing. An excellent chasselas from this very important biodynamic producer. Consistent excellence here.
Analysis: General accord—I would rank this slightly higher than the Cruchon above. Reinhardt ranks it considerably lower which may be attributable to our taste preferences. I tend to reward balance and finesse especially in chasselas. Raymond Paccot makes some of the best chasselas on the planet and he does it very discretely. His chasselas are never the showiest but they are among the best balanced with nerve, cut and the ability to age. I think this is one of his best.
(AS)—Chasselas, “Fumé”—St.-Saphorin 2015, Domaine Louis Bovard, Lavaux, Vaud: (Oak aged with a malolactic fermentation.) Soft milky, yogurt nose with a bit of mineral. Fruit is buried. Palate also soft and diffuse with a slimy (melted butter?) texture. Flavors more savory than fruity. Clearly needs some time to bring itself together. Judgment reserved
Analysis: To Be Determined—First, I have every confidence in this wine. My tasting occurred in August closer to bottling which most likely accounts for the lactic and slightly unbalanced character of my sample. I am inclined to believe the WA assessment is also accurate given that it was tasted later.
(AS)—Chasselas, “Ilex”—Calamin Grand Cru 2015, Domaine Louis Bovard, Lavaux, Vaud: (Oak aged with a malolactic fermentation.) Straw colored. Green herbs, mostly tarragon, with lemon and grapefruit. Nose is lively and zesty. Palate is vibrant with juicy acids and flavors of grapefruit and musky fruit. There is a nice mineral tension here. Very classy. Very nice.
Analysis: Perfect accord. We agree on the brilliance of this wine.
(AS)—Chasselas, “Medinette”—Dézaley Grand Cru 2015, Domaine Louis Bovard, Lavaux, Vaud: Straw colored. Slightly more restraint in the nose than the Calamin. Tangy, fresh pineapple nose with a thin overlay of green fruit. Palate is sweet and pleasantly bitter with citrus oil, grapefruit pith and a strong mineral core. Very youthful and a bit clumsy as are many of the 2015s with slightly elevated alcohol and corresponding lavish textures. Needs time but “Medinette” is known for aging well.
Analysis: General accord—My only disagreement is that this is rated slightly below Bovard′s Calamin. As I note “Medinette” is one of the great age-worthy chasselas in Switzerland. It is also a late bloomer as is Luc Massy′s “Chemin de Fer.” In the end I believe this will merit a higher score.
(AS)—Heida de Vex, Clos de la Couta 2014, Jean-Rene Germanier, Valais (savagnin): Straw/gold in color. Very rich nose with a slight sherry (sous voile) aspect. Underlying nuttiness. Loads of dry extract and flavor but with an interesting overlay of sweetness. Seems slightly unresolved (read: disjointed) so I will withhold judgment and look forward to another chance to taste it. Worth a mention though.
Analysis: To Be Determined—I find young savagnin (known as Heida or Païen in Switzerland) a very difficult nut to crack. They can be austere and stern or relatively forward but one thing is for sure—stick around, they’re bound to change. Whether for better or for worse is the question. This is the first glimpse of Germanier in this tasting. As I note in the red wine follow-up, I believe Reinhardt overrates these wines—but then so does most of Switzerland. It is unquestionably an iconic winery but I sense they value style over terroir. More to follow.
(AS)—Amigne di Vétroz “Grand Cru”, “Trocken” 2014, Jean-René Germanier, Vetroz, Valais: Straw/gold in color. Very shy nose of nuts and honey. Really had to coax it out of its shell. Palate is dominated by an acetic volatility that is hard to get past. This seems clearly spoiled by the spotted-wing drosophila (vinegar fly) infestation of 2014. Sharp finish.
Analysis: Clear divergence—My sample tasted in May 2015 at the Bio-Suisse tasting in Lausanne was clearly spoiled. The only conclusions to be drawn are that Reinhardt missed it (doubtful) or that there is some serious bottle variation. The spotted-wing drosophila infestation is the most obvious probable cause especially given the very high sugars in this variety as it approaches ripeness. I will attempt to locate another bottle.
(AS)—Completer Malanserrebe 2014, Weingut Donatsch, Malas, Graubünden: 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.
Analysis: Relative divergence—I′ve had the good fortune to taste 15 or so completers with more than 10 years of age and unless they show the corresponding secondary characteristics there isn′t much to see except searing acidity. Completer fell out of favor for two reasons: it is extremely difficult to grow and the typical oxidative style of winemaking necessary to tame the acidity is of limited appeal. Now the trend is to pick extremely late (in November as Reinhardt points out) and let the increased sugar balance the high acidity. These are unique and extremely long-lived wines that need a minimum of 5 years. With this in mind and my experience with older vintages I believe a much higher score is indicated.
(AS)—Chardonnay 2015, Weingut Adank, 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 mineral 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. (See my profile of the Adank winery in these pages.)
Analysis: To Be Determined—Apples and oranges. I tasted an amazing single, new oak-fermented cask sample at the winery. This was before the assemblage which was to include an assortment of cuvées including stainless steel. I′m ready to believe Reinhardt’s assessment at this point but look forward to tasting the assemblage myself.
(AS)—Chardonnay, “Passion” 2015, Weingut Donatsch, Malans, Graubünden: (barrique fermented—1/3 new) This is the flagship chardonnay. Straw colored. Subtle cream, butter and butterscotch on the nose. Creamy lemon and fresh herb flavor with an electric streak of minerality. Very incisive demeanor with loads of life and potential ahead of it. Excellent. (See my profile of Weingut Donatsch in these pages.)
Analysis: Perfect accord. This lovely wine is indeed special in the world of Swiss chardonnay.
Next up: Part 2 which will include all of the reds tasted in common with Wine Advocate Issue 228.