It’s been awhile since I last visited with Paul-Henri Soler (see: Profile) so I recently caught up with him at his usual Saturday haunt, the Carouge Farmer’s Market in Geneva. Unlike a lot of wine on offer at such venues, Paul-Henri’s are really attention-grabbing and worth exploring. He’s very engaging and encourages impromptu tasting among shoppers while he patiently explains his philosophy and why the wines taste as they do. He is as stridently natural as anyone in Switzerland but he’s been at it a lot longer than most so there is a higher level of consistency across his range—red and white. His connection to the early days of the natural wine movement in France lends him an air of authority if not the wisdom of a sage.
He works with whole clusters, native yeasts and long, leisurely fermentations. He is not afraid to push his wines to the frontier of squeaky-clean and, maybe because of that, they are often imbued with the vital life-force I call chi—the unmistakable imprint of good natural wine. They are mutable—savory and deeply fruited in alternating waves—and fascinatingly complex with components that are vital and seemingly alive. To be sure there are the occasional clunkers but, with the ability to taste in advance and the modest prices asked, the occasional slip-up is forgiveable.
The wines below were purchased from Paul-Henri at the market and tasted leisurely over the course of a week or so. I really enjoyed drinking these which is as nice a thing as I can say about a wine.
En Attendant . . . 2016, Vin de Pays Suisse (chasselas): A really crunchy chasselas with pure, unadorned fruit (yellow plum?) at its center and—for lack of a better description—a hard water-like minerality suffused throughout. It practically vibrates with electrical charge and freshness. Minimal complexity and seemingly free of alcoholic consequences. In other words, easy to drink and easy to operate machinery after drinking. Lighter than air.
Biceps 2016, Vin de Pays Suisse (chardonnay/pinot gris): Biceps, get it? Bi—two; ceps—vines in French. And, indeed, the bonus pun indicating a muscle-y white wine. A skin contact white, in fact, with a coppery pink hue. Apple peel, black tea and other savory notes anchor a rather foursquare nose. Tinned curry spice, celery seed and unripe strawberry flavors are also solidly in play. Chewy tannins with a bit of lingering, phenolic bitterness to finish. A near perfect expression of the current natural wine zeitgeist.
Dame Peaufine 2015, Vin de Pays Suisse (pinot noir): Lady Fine Skin (as in thin-skinned pinot noir) and the double-entendre, peaufiner, translated as: “attention to detail.” Lovely, natural looking, transparent dark ruby in color. Powerful nose of dark cherries with peach skin, spice and subtle pine forest notes. A fresh but rustic take on pinot noir without any bitter extractions. Lovely, spicy cherry flavors with hints of dried brush and dried tarragon. Firm and chewy while utterly transparent. A very original and successful take on pinot noir.
Rougy 2016, Vin de Pays Suisse (gamay): Straight-up ruby in color. Cranberry jelly nose with some spice and fresh sawdust. A bit one-dimensional in the mouth with some stiff red fruit flavors. Chunky but charming. A thick Oxford cotton to the pinot’s rippling silk.