Part 2 of “Parker Does Switzerland” is devoted to the nineteen red wines reviewed in common with these pages. They range from point noir to merlot with cornalin and syrah thrown in. Wine Advocate staff writer, Stephen Reinhardt, also reviews a rare gamay bio-type, Plant Robert—from there he goes on to incorrectly assert that gamay is only significant in Geneva. That’s big news to devotees in Vaud and Valais where it is the second most planted red variety in each canton.
Also, as mentioned in Part 1, the thirty-five Jean-René Germanier wines tasted were courtesy of Gilles Besse who cherry-picked the best wines from a previous tasting to present to Reinhardt privately.
Historically, I have been a little cool to the Germanier brand, not for any inherent faults, but because they are often vaguely commercial. I liken them to the wines of French commerçant Etienne Guigal—as does Germanier enologist Gilles Besse who cites Guigal as inspiration for his syrah Cayas. In my opinion Germanier’s wines are competently made but almost never thrilling. The size of the winery, approaching 70,000 cases, may be one reason for the quality ceiling and one reason why they are a supermarket staple in Switzerland. I sometimes make them my default pick from among a selection of unknown wines but they are rarely my first choice when I have a choice at all.
That said, I have been more impressed by two other members of the Germanier “Réserve” family— Humagne rouge (raised 12 months in barrique—30% new) and Cornalin de Champmarais (raised in 400 liter used oak barrels). Interestingly, Cayas, recipient of nine mentions by Reinhardt, employs the hallmark new oak signature that Guigal’s Côte-Rôties are often criticized for—the very profile the Parker team seems to relish and has championed from the early days.
When I found the 2014 Cayas floor-stacked at my local grocery store I was button-holed by the in-house sommelière eager to tell me that it was recently awarded 92 Parker points. Shades of 1990’s wine retail in America. She didn’t mention anything about it being transcendent (of course) or that it represented good value (not so much at 44 CHF) only that it was parkerisé. Yes, Parker points are still a potent sales tool in Switzerland.
What follows are my reviews and a commentary in red explaining any differences between Reinhardt’s views and my own. Unfortunately the Wine Advocate denied my request to republish the corresponding reviews for comparison.
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.
(ArtisanSwiss)—Plant Robert, Le Chant de la Terre 2015, Domaine Mermetus, Lavaux, Vaud: Transparent garnet in color. Spicy wild cherry and herbs on the nose. Some cellar funk. Full and round palate of ripe cherry with a green, bosky freshness. Plums too. Big, silky texture, robust flavors and a tingling finish. Fine balance and really delicious. Very good.
Analysis: I believe Reinhardt slightly underrates this wine. It was one of my favorites at the Cully Bazar tasting of Plant Robert in October. This is a local specialty that is singled out by the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity as a regional agricultural treasure worthy of preservation and acclaim.
(AS)—Pinot Noir, Champanel 2014, Henri Cruchon, La Côte, Vaud: Solid ruby color. Very primary, rustic nose of stiff red fruit, pine forest and earth. Big-boned but not in a terribly ripe way. The palate offers saturation of fruit but also somewhat green tannins and an slight dry astringency. Paradoxically, quite a lot of fruit and extract but not a lot of generosity. This clearly needs time to soften but it has plenty of stuffing to see it through. Judgment reserved.
Analysis: Moderate divergence—No argument with the score. I found the wine rather stern rather than noble and refined. I agree with the freshness he cites but find it more associated with green tannins than anything else. In any case I believe it needs time to come together but should be delicious in four to five years.
(AS)—Pinot Noir, “Passion” 2014, Weingut Donatsch, Malans, Graubünden: Dark garnet with ruby highlights. Slightly somber nose of earth and dark fruit. A deep and concentrated palate of fresh fruit with tannic grip. Black cherry flavors with a fresh, slightly stemmy greenness. Earthy with a mushroom edge. Very savory. This one needs time. Excellent potential.
Analysis: Perfect accord, although I find a touch of rusticity rather than pure finesse.
(AS)—Pinot Noir, “Unique” 2014, Weingut Donatsch, Malans, Graubünden: Dark garnet color. Brooding nose of green herbs, forest scents and dark berries. Fresh palate of green herbs, leaves and dark red fruit. Deeply profound, chewy fruit is latent just beneath the surface. Somewhat backward and dominated by fresh green aromatics right now. As this beauty unfolds it should prove profound.
Analysis: Perfect accord. No argument from me.
(AS)—Pinot Noir, “Unique” 2013, Weingut Donatsch, Malans, Graubünden: Dark ruby in color. Nose is fresh and intense with black cherry brightness and concentration. Undifferentiated but concentrated red fruit flavors with herbs and bark. Very structured and unyielding with a slight bitter finish. This seems a touch backward at the moment. Still very impressive in its concentration.
Analysis: Perfect accord, although I did not find any oxidative notes only a slight greenness which is typical of pinot noir from this area.
(AS)—Pinot Noir, “Barrique” 2014, Weingut Adank, 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 green bitterness. On the palate lovely candied fruit with notes of vanilla and cocoa powder. More layered than the “Alte Reben” and more balanced.
Analysis: Perfect accord. No argument from me.
(AS)—Pinot Noir, Spondis 2014, Weingut Adank, 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.
Analysis: Perfect accord. No argument from me.
(AS)—Pinot Noir, Eichholz 2015, Annatina Pelizzatti, Jenins, Graubünden: Bright ruby
in color. Lovely, bright nose of cherry, raspberry and strawberry. Sweet stone fruit flavors with a hint of herby amaro. Medium-bodied and saturated with a soft tannic bite. Perfect balance and utter freshness. This is pure.
Analysis: Slight divergence—I would rate this higher than some other 90 point pinot noirs. This has a rare delicacy and silky fruit quality with none of the greenness typical of pinots from this region. Tasted blind I might have guessed this was from Neuchâtel.
(AS)—Pinot Noir, Barrique 2013, Annatina Pelizzatti, Jenins, Graubünden: More serious stuff here. Obvious barrique influence. Round aromas of red and black fruit, herbs, vanilla and peach skin. Middle-weight palate with round, stone-fruit concentration. Cherries, plums and apricot. Chamois texture.
Analysis: Perfect accord. No argument from me.
(AS)—Pinot Noir, Chalofe-Thalheim 2014, Tom Litwan, Aargau: Transparent ruby in color. Quite reductive nose (peanuts?) with cherry and notes of roasted coffee. There are lovely flavors of sweet cherry but almost everything else is blanketed by heavy reductive elements (mercaptans?) and not much else. There is lovely weight here but all delicacy is left to do battle with reduction. Judgment very much reserved.
Analysis: Large divergence here—I’m not sure how you can evaluate this wine right now. I’ve tried it twice: once in August 2016 at the Mémoire & Friends tasting in Zürich where it was virtually undrinkable and then in January 2017 from a purchased bottle where it showed as above. Definitely improved the second time but still a work-in-progress. I think Tom Litwan is a very talented winemaker so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I recommend holding this wine if it is in your cellar. In the meantime I think Reinhardt’s score is too high and at least deserves a question mark.
(AS)—Syrah, Cayas 2014, Jean-René Germanier, Valais (Syrah): Garnet colored. Herbal, rooty nose with barrel influences: raw wood, vanilla, new suede. Some tell-tale rubbery reduction. Palate is silky and slightly filmy with bright red and black fruit flavors. Somewhat herbal and savory as well. 24 months in barrique, 50% new. Not a blockbuster but good.
Analysis: With my introductory notes above as context I believe Reinhardt slightly overrates this wine. Cayas is a wine of creation rather than a wine of terroir. Nothing wrong with that except it’s slightly anachronistic to think of wine in these terms today. The Guigal connection is unavoidable. In my humble opinion new oak and syrah do not mix. As proof, many of the avant garde new oak practitioners in Côte-Rôtie at the beginning of the millennium have abandoned the experiment. Guigal remains a hold-out. Today, the pure expression of place is preferable to almost any other characteristic a wine might otherwise possess.
(AS)—Syrah, Cayas 2013, Jean-René Germanier, Valais (Syrah): Dark garnet nearly opaque. Cellar and barrique aromas predominate with roasted fruit and the reductive scent of rubber. Warm nose. Palate is oaky and a little slimy with admittedly lush and ripe fruit. Rich, warm texture but again too oaky for my taste. Where is the Valais imprint?
Analysis: Again, slightly overrated. I find none of the freshness Reinhardt highlights and certainly none like the 2014. There is intensity and richness but too much new oak character to see it through. In a sense I prefer the 2014 exactly for whatever freshness it musters in the face of the oak.
(AS)—Syrah, Cayas 2012, Jean-René Germanier, Valais (Syrah): Dark purple almost black in color. Nose of smoke and rubber with red and black fruits. Slightly gamey (gibiers). Dense, unyielding palate but not unduly heavy. A little stern and tannic but with more than enough fruit to age a decade or more. Would like to revisit in future. Impressive but perhaps not showing its best.
(Oddly, the 2012 is one of the few vintages not reviewed. Apparently it was not offered by Gilles Besse—meaning, perhaps, it was not a favorite at the Cayas retrospective held earlier in the year. I include it here because it’s the last vintage under the old élévage regime—just before the two-years in 50% new oak experiment. My notes do not include any reference to new oak but instead to characteristics I appreciate in syrah: namely, meat (gibbers), smoke, red and black fruits with the reductive element of rubber.
(AS)—Cornalin 2014, Anne-Catherine & Denis Mercier, Valais: Garnet colored with hints of purple and blue. Luscious sweet and savory nose with raspberry jam, dried figs, green tobacco, herbs and tar. This is really distinctive. Very exciting, seamless palate of creamy mulberry and powdered stone. Medium-weight but saturated with delicious fresh fruit and waves of cream and satin. Very polished and delicious.
Analysis: Perfect accord, but I would rate it slightly higher.
(AS)—”Graves Rouge” 2015, Didier Joris, Chamoson, Valais (merlot): This is dense with an opaque garnet color. Mild aromas of black fruit and earth (Graves?). Much more prune and dried fruit on the palate with a roasted meat component. Very hot. Maybe a bit out of balance but clearly too early to show and judge. I prefer the cabernet franc.
Analysis: Some divergence—for me a difficult wine to rate. It is totally primary and seems a lot like a barrel sample. Unusual wine for Switzerland in its ripeness and extract but perhaps not so much in Valais in 2015. It is unremittingly youthful and undeveloped, very grapey, tannic and alcoholic. There is no balance as of yet but I have to confess it is impressive in its sheer opulence. It reminds me somewhat of the very early vintages of Mas de Daumas Gassac from the Herault in France.
(AS)—Merlot, Ronco dei Ciliegi Riserva 2013, Azienda Mondò, Rosso del Ticino (20% cabernet sauvignon): (fermented in INOX, 18 months new and used barriques) Dark garnet in color. Broad nose of roasted fruit, chocolate and rubber. Flavors are sapid with root spices, chocolate and dried cherries. Fat, velvety and without angles. Good but lacks a bit of definition.
Analysis: General accord—I don’t find the freshness here that Reinhardt does. Other than that I think we can agree that this is a nice wine but not a blockbuster or terribly fine example of a Ticino assemblage.
(AS)—Mondò 2011, Azienda Mondò, Rosso del Ticino (50% merlot/50% cabernet sauvignon): (appassimento, fermented in INOX, 24 months in new and used barriques) Garnet with brick beginnings. Slight reduction with parsnip, leather, roots and herbs. Very savory. Palate is sweet with luscious chocolate, cherry, roasted roots and wood. Very interesting in an odd way with a palate/nose disconnect. Judgment reserved.
Analysis: Relative divergence—Reinhardt liked this better than I did. Again I didn’t find the freshness he did and I found the nose and palate worked against each other. It’s a pretty enough wine but not as satisfying as many other Ticino merlots and blends that I can think of.
(AS)—Merlot, Arco Tondo 2014, Tenuta San Giorgio, DOC Ticino (merlot, cabernet franc and—depending on vintage—cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot): (fermented in oak cuves, 18 months in new and used barriques) Garnet colored. Fascinating nose of nocino (green walnut liqueur) and earthy flowers. Velvety, sweet fruit and waves of brandied cherries and tobacco. Lovely, detailed, delicate and refined. Pristine. Delicious.
Analysis: Substantial divergence—Reinhardt scores this one lower than the previous two Ticino rossos despite liking it. I would rate it higher as I found more freshness, more complexity, better balance and an overall deliciousness the others lacked. In fact this was one of the better wines I tasted from among sixty or so at the Ticino Wine Festival tasting in November 2016. Very underrated by Reinhardt.
(AS)—Merlot, Crescendo 2014, Tenuta San Giorgio, DOC Ticino: (fermented in oak cuves, 12 months in new and used barriques) Garnet colored. Slightly reduced and rubbery nose. Still very primary. Brandied cherry and candied fruit flavors. A touch simple and a bit awkward at the moment. I prefer the above.
Analysis: Same score from Reinhardt as its stablemate above. To me there is no comparison. The Crescendo is suffering from an awkward stage at the moment although I think it will settle in. It’s just a simpler wine without the depth of fruit of the Arco Tondo. Reinhardt properly scores this one but underrates the stablemate.
(AS)—Cabernet Franc & Sauvignon “Grand’Cour” 2012, Jean-Pierre Pellegrin, Geneva: Solid ruby/garnet color to the rim. Dark berry nose with new oak vanilla. Mulberry and oak flavor that is a touch lean with slightly too much fuzzy tannin. Time may heal the minor shortcomings on this day.
Analysis: Relative divergence—Reinhardt believes this is ready to drink while I believe it can benefit from further aging. It seems in an awkward, in-between stage right now that will resolve with further cellar time. His score is about right. This is not one of Pellegrin’s best Cabernets which tells you how good they can be.