Four From La Cinquième Glorieuse: Martigny 2017

This annual event grew out of frustration and two canny wine lovers’ need for organization. Old friends and fellow amateurs, Nicolas Reuse and Christophe Roch, grew frustrated with the time they spent wandering the vineyards of Valais just to keep up with old contacts and new releases. Things became untenable—there were simply too many important visits and too many weekends lost. It wasn’t long before they discovered that their restaurant friends shared the same frustration. How best to keep up with the demands of a busy restaurant and still find time to stock a proper wine cellar.

After some deliberation the friends imagined Les Quatre Glorieueses—a wine salon, of sorts, to take place on slow Monday mornings and afternoons in May. A day when many restaurants are closed. La crème du Valais was to be invited, forty-four strong, with their newest releases in tow.  2001 was to mark the first edition limited to professionals only.

As one would expect the event evolved from business formal to business casual. So much so, that in 2013 the event was rechristened La Cinquème Glorieuse and was expanded to include a Friday and Saturday night with tickets offered to the public. Some of the same restaurants that clamored for the original event now offered small plates and goodies for sale.

From my observation the event is a great success. On my Friday night visit I noticed a lot of young people—both attached and freely trolling about—serious weekend tasters, tipsy party animals and, yes, even some wine bloggers. I even spotted some winemakers from other parts of Switzerland—cross-pollination is increasingly common and very welcome. And it does exactly what it set out to do: It offers the opportunity to taste through a number of portfolios and to do it in one place. It helps that the participants are curated and first-class. A really fun event that I can recommend to everyone. Even if you’re just looking for a date.

My visit was limited to six participants. I will feature four of them.

 

The Wines

Domaine Cornulus, Savièse, Valais—This visionary estate began life as a garage operation on rented land but with luck and good timing slowly began to cobble together a patchwork of notable vineyards. First Clos de Mangold, then Clos des Corbassières, and most recently the Clos des Monzuettes. Each represents a different slice of the Valais terroir near the city of Sion.

Uvrier, Ville de Sion 2016, Valais (chasselas): Very pale straw. Nose is lively and herbal. Palate has simple green apple fruit and juiciness. Very mineral and mouthwatering. Clean and fresh. This is an excellent entry-level chasselas that gives everything essential in the grape without any great complexities.

Empreinte Calcaire, Clos des Monzuettes 2015, Valais (petite arvine/humagne blanche): Straw gold in color. Serious nose of creamed herbs and butter. Lush entry and lavish texture. Wonderful dairy flavors with ripe pear and crystalized honey. There is something jewel-like and faceted in this wine. Extraordinary depth and complexity with that creamy texture. One of the most interesting white assemblages I’ve had in a long time. Excellent.

Vieille Vignes 2016, Clos de Mangold, Valais (chasselas): Straw colored. This is tight with lime and herbs on the nose. Palate is also tight and invites a bit of chewing. Flavors of lime and fennel build and are beautifully situated against juicy acids.  It’s all wrapped up in a tight little ball to open later. This is one to keep a bit.

Petite Arvine 2016, Clos de Mangold, Valais: Straw colored. Fresh lemon peel and witch hazel nose. Opens bittersweet, like a Lemondrop cocktail, then evolves into jellied fruit sweetness. Candied citrus peel with brisk acidity. Lovely, clean and bright. Delicious.

Chenin Blanc 2016, Clos de Mangold, Valais: Very pale straw in color. Interesting fennel and spearmint notes with a mineral edge. Entry is lean and bracing. The flavors expand on the palate giving up mint, honey and chamomile tea. Always with a mineral streak through and through. Would never identify this as chenin blanc if tasted blind. I’d like to see this in a few years.

Paiën, Clos des Corbassières, Cœur du Clos 2015, Valais (savagnin): Strikingly gold in color. Fabulous nose of fresh cream, butterscotch and chestnut honey. Everything this warm vintage can offer is here in spades: extract, weight, saturation of flavor and ripeness—in short, gravitas. Weighty but not heavy flavors of cashew, honey and fresh fig. Luxurious and seamless. This is from old vines rooted in the Cœur du Clos—the very heart of this steeply terraced vineyard. A terrific wine.

Pinot Noir, Clos des Corbassières, Cœur du Clos 2015, Valais: Medium garnet in color. Slightly reductive nose with notes of jalapeño pepper and toasted spice. Meaty and savory flavors that are somewhat baked and overdone. Palate is sweet and rich with cola spice notes to finish. Even though this is from ninety-year-old vines its almost too much. This site may be too hot for fresh, nuanced pinot noir. Impressive, but not my style.

Humagne Rouge, Antica 2016, Valais: Transparent garnet color. This has a feral, wild aroma of brush and ripe berries. This variety is often described as rustic but I find it finer than that. Yes, it can have an untamed edge but it also has a pinot-like capacity for finesse. This is full of wild red fruit and is soft, creamy (as in crème liqueur) and sexy. We need more of this variety in Valais which, along with rouge du pays (cornalin) and syrah, are the leading candidates for signature red wine status.

Cornalin, Antica 2016, Valais: Ruby with purple depth. Broodingly reductive with intense black fruit aromas. Characteristic charred notes of tar and creosote. Rich, mulberry-like fruit with a roasted edge. Fundamentally different from humagne rouge but equally exciting. The Antica line is among Switzerland’s true Grand Crus.

 

Simon Maye & Fils, St.-Pierre-de-Clages, Valais—This house is really known for its red wines—syrah in particular—but the white wines are what stood out to me on this evening. The chasselas range is, as always, a tidy lesson in terroir. The chardonnays make the case for Swiss understatement in this often blowsy variety. The petite arvine and Johannisberg are quality reference points and do the locals proud. The reds all seem to be reductive in style which indicates lots of air or long aging may be necessary.

Chasselas, Fauconnier 2016, Valais: From the Prés des Pierres lieu dit in Chamoson. Pale straw in color. Entry-level chasselas is clean and bright with simple aromas of fresh herb and banana. Crisp and slightly salty on entry. Palate is a bit unfocused but tangy and full of greengage and yellow fruit. Very nice.

Chasselas, Trémazières 2016, Valais: Again from Chamoson. This is tighter with notes of pierre à fusil and lemon zest. Compact and structured with a vibrant mineral spine, yellow fruit and white flowers. Barest hint of reduction (mineral?). This needs some time to open up and will age well.

Chasselas, Moette 2016, Valais: From the steeply terraced, sun-drenched slopes of Moette in the commune of Ardon. This parcel is one of the great climats for chasselas. Pale straw in color. Again mineral but not reductive. Fresh citrus notes with réglisse and other fresh herbs. Very savory with umami notes. Sleek and well delineated, medium-bodied and long. Excellent.

Johannisberg 2016, Valais (sylvaner): From the rocky limestone lieu dit of Ravanay in Chamoson. Opens with the unmistakable scent of orange children’s aspirin. Later turns spicy and floral. Highly distinctive. Lots of extract (98° oeschle) and fermented cool. Delicious floral fruit with lots of lingering perfume. Johannisberg is an underrated treasure from Valais. Very good.

Chardonnay 2016, Valais: Also from Ravanay. Cuve fermented. Straw colored. Fresh and clean scents of pineapple and lime. Medium-weight with fresh pineapple flavors, zingy acids and a balanced, rounded structure. Moderately textured with lingering freshness.

Petite Arvine 2016, Valais: From the lieu dit Illiarisses: a dramatic vineyard at the foot of the rock wall face known as the Haut de Cry. This is polished minerals and lemon curd. Very clean and vibrant with a limoncello flavor, mineral streak and juicy acids. Vibrant, detailed and incisive. Very good.

Chardonnay, Vieille Vignes 2015, Valais: From 60 yr old vines rooted in the gravel, sand and clay soils of Chamoson. Perfectly integrated butter cream and pineapple aroma. Flavors of fresh cream, baked apple and pear. Suede-like in texture but still light and fresh. 2 years in barrique with occasional batonnage. I would be delighted if this was the default style for Swiss chardonnay. Excellent.

Humagne Rouge 2016, Valais: From the lieu dit Tzouma: a rocky, heat-retentive site near the Haut de Cry face in Chamoson. Transparent garnet in color. Loads of wild cherry aroma with a bit of reduction. Very fresh, youthful and wild. Palate is sweet, rounded and bursting with red fruit, fresh herbs and gibiers. Warm but not baked. A really promising wine.

Syrah, Vieilles Vignes 2015, Valais: From Prés des Pierres in Chamoson. Dark blue/black/garnet in color. Herby, vegetative nose with creosote and reduction. Very undeveloped flavors that are mostly dark and brooding. Plum, smoked meat and struck match aromas poke through. Not exactly Cornas but along those lines. This is the wine for which Famille Maye is justifiably famous but it is seldom my favorite. À chacun son goût!

Cornalin 2015, Valais: From Prés des Pierres and Chauffisses in Chamoson. Dark garnet in color. Reductive, slightly sour scents of red and black fruit. Palate is a bit disjointed with backwards fruit marked by structural elements. Seems awkward at this point. Judgment reserved.

 

Denis & Anne-Catherine Mercier, Sierre, Valais—This small family estate has one of the most consistent portfolios in Valais. Its range of wines is consistently excellent with near legendary status afforded the cornalin, syrah and marsanne. Its “lesser” wines routinely outperform others in the class. Its future is assured with one of Switzerland’s most dynamic young winemakers at the helm—daughter, Madeleine.

Fendant 2016, Valais (chasselas): Medium straw in color. Vividly herbal, even musky, nose. Intense spring-like flavors of snap pea, fresh asparagus and bee pollen. Very rich and spicy with lingering perfumed flavors. Lacks the minerality of some others but is undeniably delicious.

Pinot Blanc 2016, Valais: Pale straw in color. Pretty nose of white flowers, marshmallow and fresh sawdust. A lovely chard look-a-like that is creamy but on a modest scale. Compact but not tightly wound. Very pretty, delicate and refined. No oak. Mercier is one of this variety’s best practitioners.

Johannisberg 2016, Valais (sylvaner): Straw colored with green flashes. Mild, delicately spiced and somewhat floral. Palate is medium-weight and soft with lovely, spiced greengage flavors. Low-acid but not dull. Kind of curls up on the palate and lingers there. Nicely perfumed finish.

Petite Arvine 2016, Valais: Things get a bit zesty here. Rich, lemon oil aroma verging on grapefruit. Layered palate that moves from juicy lemon, to zest, to curd and then to candied peel. Sweet and fresh simultaneously. Madeleine recommends drinking her arvines on the early side and this is a great example why that’s good advice.

Paiën 2016, Valais (savagnin)8 g/l residual sugar. Spicy, verdant aroma. Alsatian-like sweetness offset by high acidity. Hard to pin down flavors that are very undeveloped. At the moment this is showing all its parts and little of its promise. Clearly needing time to integrate and find its balance. Madeline is confident that this will be a terrific savagnin given some patience. Has all the elements to prove her right.

Marsanne 2015, Valais: Medium straw color. Beautiful fresh, milky, grassy, nut butter aroma. Enters rich and sweet with cream, fresh figs and honey. Warm and waxy textured with liqueur-like intensity. Not as structured as an Hermitage from Chave but every bit as fun. This is a Mercier specialty.

Dôle 2016, Valais (pinot noir/gamay): Beautiful dark ruby color. Vivid berry bush in summer aroma. Some surmaturité scents and flavors. Red berries and dark fruits together. Sweet with lovely, balancing acidity. This is actually amazing in a wine so ostensibly modest. If one can call a Dôle fine, then this is the one. Just delicious. (N.B. Mercier adds bits of galotta and ancellotta to the blend.)

Pinot Noir 2016, Valais: Pale, transparent ruby in color. Fine, delicate nose of red fruit, toast and some fermentation notes. Lovely confit of red fruit flavors (cherry and raspberry). Creamy textured but very bright and fresh. Tangy, smashable fruit that with time will turn sweet and soft. Another brilliant, highly affordable pinot noir that’s in a price class by itself.

 

Marie-Thérèse Chappaz, Fully, Valais—An important early player in the biodynamic movement in Switzerland, this estate ranks as one of the best and most respected with a world-wide following. Marie-Thérèse is a tireless innovator with old vines in the classic granite soils of Fully at her disposal. I am continually delighted with the range of her wines and the boundaries they push.

Fendant, La Liaudisaz 2016, Valais (chasselas): This is an assemblage from a variety of chasselas sites. Interesting malty, almost beer-like notes. Spicy, roasted notes that are a bit one-dimensional. Very savory with an umami quality. Lacks complexity and depth at the moment. Judgment reserved.

Fendant, Coteaux de Plamont 2016, Valais (chasselas): Straw colored. Feral, musky notes that turn to fresh herbs and miso on the nose. Lots of substance, although lean and coiled. Savory, herbal flavors that turn mineral in the finish. This one has excellent potential but needs some time in bottle.

Fendant, Président Troillet 2016, Valais (chasselas): Straw colored. Very mineral with striking pierre à fusil notes and a brilliant citrus core. Serious depth of flavor: tarragon, fennel and yellow fruit. A powerful impression of minerality. This is a thoroughbred that just needs to stretch its legs. Excellent.

Grain Ermitage, Président Troillet 2015, Valais (marsanne): Very 2015. Loads of cereal grain, butterscotch and honey. Richly emollient AND structured. Delicate flavors of licorice, wheat crisps and creamy vanilla yogurt. Fine acids give lift and definition. Very rich and very fine. Mon coup de cœur.

Rosé, La Liaudisaz 2016, Valais (gamay/pinot noir): Pink with a bit of orange in color. A very savory rosé nose. Fruit emerges on entry with strawberry and red currant. Actually ends up very fruity but admirably dry and long. Lovely, perfumed strawberry lingers. I like this quite a bit.

Dôle, La Liaudisaz 2016, Valais (gamay/pinot noir): Dark garnet in color. Compact aroma of red fruit and dry, bushy undergrowth. Dark cherry and red currant fruit that is coiled but ripe and sweet-edged. Finishes dry and spicy. Another excellent Dôle.

La Petite Grange 2016, Valais (pinot noir/gamaret/galotta/diolinoir): Dark garnet with blue flashes. Murky aroma of red and black fruit. Flavors are also a bit muddy and unfinished. Fermentation notes detract rather than please. This seems very awkward right now and not ready to show. An oddity. Judgment reserved.

Grain Pinot, Chamoson 2016, Valais (pinot noir): Transparent, medium ruby in color. Interesting, if atypical, nose of candied violets, petrichor and damp earth. Really quite appealing. Lots of finesse on the palate with light floral and subtle earthy flavors. Don’t know that I would pick this out as pinot in a blind tasting. Nevertheless, an interesting drink.

Grain Pinot, Charrat 2016, Valais (pinot noir): Dark ruby in color. Seriously extracted and blocky nose. Foursquare. Dark fruits without much lift. This seems weighed down by over-extraction and is quite clumsy at the moment. Again, not especially pinot-like. Judgment reserved.

Grain Noir, La Liaudisaz 2015, Valais (cabernet sauvignon/cabernet franc/merlot): Dark garnet in color. Soft, oaky, mulberry nose. BDX style, but right bank. Warm, slightly roasted fruit with loose-knit, somewhat furry tannins. Medium- to full-bodied, broad, easy drinking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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