A Wine of Note: Cave Caloz (Miège, Valais)

Syrah, Les Bernunes 2015, Cave Caloz, Valais

If not for a recent Côte-Rôtie tasting and roadshow in Geneva I might have skipped over this little gem from the other “roasted slope” above Sierre in Valais. To be honest, syrah tends to be invisible. It’s usually presented in an off-handed way or as an afterthought when there is no pinot noir around. In fact, it’s a bit in the throes lately for not being pinot noir. But as beleaguered fans of the “heartbreak grape” are scrambling for alternatives due to shortages in Burgundy and stratospheric prices increases, enter syrah, the “heartfelt grape”, and Côte-Rôtie its most pinot-like expression.

As a public service, I leave syrah dilettantes with a word of caution: Do not come to Côte-Rôtie for a casual flirtation. Syrah, in this most terroir-driven form, is a grape that requires fortitude, imagination, patience and tooth enamel to divine delicacy from beneath its straight-jacket of acids, minerals and tannins. Would be peeping-Toms be forewarned.

Swiss versions of the grape, mostly from Valais, can be excellent when not overripe or overly oaked. They are seldom as rigid as Côte-Rôtie when young and can give up all their pretty things with minimal coaxing.

The excellent Les Bernunes climat located between Sierre and Salgesch is a heat-trapping, sun-focusing amphitheater of vines that seems particularly suited to syrah. Sandrine Caloz, the youthful winemaker of this small family estate, seems to have a skillful hand with this variety. Her’s is a nuanced, layered and immediately appealing syrah that wouldn’t suffer from a few years in a cool cellar. That said, it is one of my favorite Swiss syrahs for current consumption.

The Wine: This one boasts a hazy carmine hue with the pulsing glow of a natural wine. It’s lovely cranberry and red currant aroma is in perfect harmony with its signature white pepper (band aid) aroma—not overdone but clean and fresh. My first thought: This would make a great ringer. It features a sophisticated mix of luscious fruit and tingling minerality—in a yin and yang of sweet and sour. It bursts with raspberry-inflected flavors of surprising depth and length. Only a bit chewy with mostly silky and palate coating fruit. Very primary and very bright with the textural give of superbly ripe raspberries.

At 21 CHF from the winery, this is an incredible steal— cavecaloz.ch

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