This year’s Mémoire & Friends tasting relocated to the slightly outré District 5 neighborhood of Zürich—and the Schiffbau event center—from its usual home in the staid lakefront area. The event even adopted the aura of an alternative wine fair because of it. I quite enjoyed it, except for the hot weather and cramped quarters. But “roughing it” was better than nothing at all. Last year the specter of cancellation loomed when its longtime home, the Kongresshaus, closed for refurbishing.
My goal this year was to taste as many unfamiliar wines as possible. I was only partially successful. It’s hard to avoid some of my old favorites, they just seem to go from strength to strength, and not everything new is worth mentioning here. I was particularly pleased to finally taste the pinot noirs from Irene Grünenfelder and Matthias and Sina Gubler-Möhr, as well as the fabulous cornalin from Maurice Zufferey. They were all among the highlights of the afternoon.
What follows are my notes selected from among an equal number left without comment.
Domaine de la Maison Carrée, Auvernier, Neuchâtel—This was my chance to revisit some wines I first tasted in August 2016 at the winery before bottling. I’m not surprised how well they’ve developed. Jean-Denis Perrochet succeeded across the board in 2015 with wines that exhibit both intensity and finesse. A rare combination in this world of more is better. I should mention that this tasting did not include the fantastic 2015 Le Lerin cuvée of pinot noir which I predict will be one of the best pinots in all of Switzerland from this great vintage.
Chasselas, Élevé sur Lie 2016, Auvernier: Pale with a slightly hazy, milky tint. Vivid aroma of lime, fennel and yeast. Rich and fruity with a delicious apple juiciness. Bone dry chasselas with yeasty freshness. Lovely.
Chardonnay 2015, Auvernier: Straw/gold in color. Opens toasty with lemon peel notes and a bit of yeasty reduction. Rich but structured with sweet lemon curd and toasted grain. Still firm but promises a relaxed evolution. Just the beginnings of creaminess in its texture profile. Terrific potential.
Pinot Gris 2015, Auvernier: Pale gold in color. Peach and peach leaf aromas abound. Also some toasted hazelnut (noisette) notes. Saturated flavors, as in Alsace, without the overbearing sweetness and lumpiness. Thé verte grassiness, raw nuts and creamy pears seem to dynamize this delicious wine. Perfectly integrated now and ready to go but a bit more time will yield gains in texture and aroma. A must buy.
Pinot Noir 2015, Auvernier: The usual transparent ruby but slightly darker in this iteration. Very precise cherry/raspberry nose with a bit of spice and some herby freshness. Concentrated cherry ripeness (more than the color suggests) is silky, finely textured and long. A complete package. Very pretty and utterly delicious.
Pinot Noir 2015, Hauterive: Ruby colored as above but with a bit more green freshness to the nose. More bramble bush and dried twigs. The cherry fruit is slightly more angular and grippy as well. Clearly more structured at this early stage but just as elegant and perfectly proportioned. This will benefit from time spent in a cool cellar.
Domaine Grand’Cour (Jean-Pierre Pellegrin), Satigny, Geneva—I don’t think you’d get any argument that Domaine Grand’Cour is atop everyone’s list of Geneva wineries. The Bordeaux varieties in particular are reference points in Switzerland and proof that elegant, claret-styled wines have a home outside Ticino.
Gamay Noir 2015, Geneva: Dark garnet with violet flashes. Not very nosy but loaded with intense flavors. Medium to full-bodied with vivid strawberry fruit and pillow-soft tannins. Very primary and a bit more textured than most gamays from Switzerland but not as structured as cru Beaujolais. A very nice effort that should evolve in the short term and maybe longer.
Pinot Noir, P 2014, Geneva: Transparent ruby with some development on the edges. An interesting effort that seems to be evolving quickly. A spicy pinot nose is augmented by cherries, dried rosehips and mild green notes. Palate is sweet and cherry filled with a bit of stewed raspberry. Mild earthy notes add gravitas. You won’t find many better pinots from Geneva.
Grand’Cour 2014, Geneva (cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc): Medium crimson/garnet in color. Lovely, oaked mulberry nose with some earthy, loamy notes. Fresh and youthful with real gloss and polish. Warm, saturated flavors of blackcurrant and mulberry with a pleasant vegetative freshness. Chamois textured and elegantly framed. Beautifully presented year after year and one of the great wines of Switzerland.
Domaine La Colombe, Féchy, La Côte, Vaud—Raymond Paccot is very excited with these wines and I don’t blame him. He’s also thrilled with the co-plantation experiment in Curzilles. He’s noticed that the mix of vines seems to fortify the vineyard against disease better than in those planted to a single variety. In my opinion it also makes for a striking wine with a unique flavor profile and unmatched texture.
Brez 2016, Féchy, La Côte (chasselas): Pale straw in color and quite lustrous. Delicate white flowers on the nose with floral honey and a bit of musk. This is very youthful and coiled. There are perfumed, citrusy flavors that are vibrant, even steely, with a great mineral streak. Electric. Fragrant white flowers and lemon to finish. This has a lot of material to sustain it but also impresses with its delicacy. Very fine.
Pinot Gris 2016, La Côte: Pale gold in color. More citrus than usual for this variety but also floral with a bit of aromatic musk. This is a dynamic, mineral-streaked pinot gris that channels Friuli more than Alsace. Linear, laser-like and coiled. At the moment a high-wire act but with the material to evolve into a vibrant adolescence.
Amédée 2015, Vaud (savagnin): Pale gold in color. Smells of sweet butter on toast with a citrusy marmalade. Fat, textured and pithy. Despite its weight and bass notes it’s also coiled and structured with a lemony core and uncommitted extract. Awkward at the moment, as this variety often is in youth, but with so much potential.
Curzilles 2015, Vaud (chasselas, pinot gris, riesling, doral): Pale gold in color. Warm, textured nose of creamy fruit and pastry dough. A thick and layered entry belies its youthful exuberance. Baked chestnut cake flavor with honey and cream. Utterly delicious and seductively textured. This cuvée is emerging as one of the top wines produced at this excellent property.
Domaine Blaise Duboux, Epesses, Lavaux, Vaud—Blaise Duboux is always a reference point for any discussion involving chasselas. And now that he is certified biodynamic he has a lot to add to any discussion involving the farming of grapes. He is a leading spokesperson for the Lavaux terroir and passionate about bringing it to full expression in his wines. It’s always a treat to visit with him.
Epesses 2016, Lavaux (chasselas): Fermented in concrete “amphora”. Pale straw in color. Typical lemon and savory herbs aroma. Vibrant and youthful but with that grainy, textural component from concrete. Delicious lemony fruit with just enough structure to keep things crisp and on track. Very good entry-level chasselas.
Villette, Les Murets 2016, Lavaux (chasselas): Pale straw in color. A somewhat subdued savory nose with hints of lemon. Shy lemony flavors with a distinct mineral streak. More linear and without the extra level of texture of the above. Still nice but a bit subdued at the moment.
Calamin Grand Cru, Cuvée Vincent 2016, Lavaux (chasselas): Pale straw in color. A very lemony nose with white flowers and a bit of butter on the edges. Acid-streaked and crisp with a bit of Calamin minerality. Lean and crisp with an already expansive and ever-expanding finish. This is one to wait on.
Dézaley Grand Cru, Haut-de-Pierre 2016, Lavaux (chasselas): Straw/gold in color. Herbs and salted butter on the nose. Palate is mineral-streaked and very rich with butter, apple and lemon. Electric but with substantial material, real corpulence and intense mineral vitality. A Dézaley worthy of the name.
Domaine Bovy, Chexbres, Lavaux, Vaud—Eleven hectares in Epesses, St.-Saphorin, Dézaley and Chardonne. My first experience with this producer has led me to some very good chasselas. An old-vines St.-Saphorin impressed with its savory core and a typically mineral Dézaley did not disappoint. A winery to become familiar with.
St.-Saphorin, Vieilles Vignes 2016, Lavaux (chasselas): Pale straw in color. Savory, herby nose that includes a bit of floral musk. Medium-bodied and salty with some miso-like savoriness (umami). Dry and crisp with some finishing salt.
Dézaley Grand Cru 2016, Lavaux (chasselas): Pale gold in color. Interesting nose of coriander and yellow plums. Flavors of Reine Claude and herbs with a slightly reductive burn. Mineral and saline. An interesting wine that can use a bit of time to bring it all together.
Viognier, St.-Saphorin 2014, Lavaux: Pale gold in color. Lacks real viognier perfume. It is rather neutral in fact. Barely perceptible flavors of salted butter and vanilla bean lack punch. Rather plain and uninteresting. Not sure of this variety in Switzerland and why people bother with it. Most examples I’ve had are not much better.
Marie-Thérèse Chappaz, Fully, Valais—It’s always a treat when Marie-Thérèse herself is at the table pouring her wine for the crowd. When that happens there’s one thing you can count on: she will ask you what you think of each wine and always thoughtfully consider what it is you have to say. For me, it’s usually effusive praise for what I consider the work of a great artist.
Grain Ermitage, Président Troillet 2015, Valais (marsanne): Pale gold in color. Like the great marsannes of the Lower Rhone Valley this has an unctuous nose that suggests a multitude of disparate elements: floral, mineral, spice, grain, even petrol, but barely of fruit. Not for amateurs. The reward comes with patience and age. This is serious old-vines stuff. I am drawn in particular to the obvious extract and sheer weight of the palate. Undeveloped and at times austere. Then cereal grain and white tea with delicate floral elements. Some peach leaf too. Saline elements and stony fruit. One can only imagine how beautifully this will develop.
Histoire d’Enfer, Sierre, Valais—This is one of the most interesting and high-profile projects in Switzerland. It was founded by three amateurs from the worlds of finance and medicine—James Paget, Alexandre Challand and Dr. Patrick Regamey. Their collaboration aimed for nothing less than Burgundian-style wine from the limestone soils of Valais.
Humagne Blanche, Réserve 2016, Valais: Clear, nearly uncolored. Austere nose of wild yellow fruit. Very stony with alpine flowers and creeping gentian. Über– mineral palate is nearly electric. Completer-like (does that really help) in its austerity but somehow beguiling and attention grabbing. Haunting. Needs time.
Païen 2015, Valais (savagnin): Straw/gold in color. Wheat thins and whey. Fat, rich and luxurious on the palate with a bit of sweetened cream. A bit salty too. Cracked apricot kernel (noyau) and orgeat notes. The thick texture is seductive. Finishes whistle clean. Excellent.
Petite Arvine, Réserve 2016, Valais: Medium straw colored. Lemon extract nose with mixed citrus notes. Mostly fresh and lively. Lemon vodka and lemondrop cocktail flavors with a stony, mineral endgame. Mild, sweetened rhubarb to finish. Very fresh and crisp.
Pinot Noir, Enfer du Calcaire 2015, Valais: Medium ruby in color. Spicy pinot aromatics with deep, sweet cherry concentration. Fine grained and lacy on the palate with supple, perfumed pinot-ness. Ça pinot! Pretty like Vosne. Poised and balanced with lively acids and grip. Seems complete and ready to go right now but I’m sure it will evolve for the better.
Syrah, Enfer de la Patience 2015, Valais: Very dark almost opaque garnet. Both intensely spicy and cooling with candied violets. Palate is deep, dark and brooding with a meaty, chewy heft. Rustically elegant (a Ralph Lauren kind of wine) with a tannic, slightly tarry finish. A wine of contemplation. Long.
Cornalin, Enfer du Calcaire 2015, Valais: Dark garnet in color. Intense wild berry aromas predominate. Some cassis and balsam but mostly dark fruit and smokey fires. Primary flavors of blackcurrant and mulberry. Really chewy and textured. Lots of promise. I just love cornalin!
Anne-Catherine & Denis Mercier, Sierre, Valais—I had the opportunity to taste the 2016 portfolio at La Cinquième Glorieuse in May but since the syrah is always a later release this was the first public appearance for this wine.
Syrah 2015, Valais: Very dark nearly blue/black and opaque. Nose is dense, meaty and smokey with some roasted black fruit. Saturated, staining palate with more savory dark fruit. At once wild, vivid, compact and deeply flavored. Very long and persistent. Always one of the best syrahs anywhere.
Domaine des Muses, Sierre, Valais—I have to confess that I am a bit late to this very well known and respected label. I have tasted a number of their wines but never comprehensively. What I have tasted has been solid if a bit foursquare. I was very impressed by the humagne rouge here and a little less by the cornalin.
Humagne Rouge, Tradition 2015, Valais: Somewhat transparent ruby/garnet in color. This has lovely wild aromas of high-toned red fruit. Scented fraises des bois with warm, bushy notes. Lilac and lavender add to the mix. Flavors are also wild but not rustic. Strawberry preserves with a bit of leather feature on the palate. Not a heavyweight but weighty. This is an excellent interpretation of this very interesting native.
Cornalin, Tradition 2015, Valais: The medium ruby is a bit lighter than I typically see in cornalin. The nose is most obviously of raisins but also of cooked fruit. The flavors also tip toward raisins but with some freshness too. Can’t help but speculate that the uneven ripening of this notorious variety may have been at play here. Finishes slightly acidic.
Domaines Rouvinez, Sierre, Valais—Largish winery with a number of interesting terroirs. Rouvinez is a real innovator of high end blends, both red and white. They have collaborated with Two-Star chef Didier de Courten for a small range of selected wine of which this is one.
Cornalin, Didier de Courten, Leytron 2015, Valais: Medium ruby/garnet in color. Attractive wild cherry aroma highlighted by an assertive spiciness. Not as dense as some, but saturated and somewhat attenuated in a warm climate, pinot noir kind of way. Wild cherry on the palate with some herbal brushiness. Not a blockbuster but pretty good.
Maurice Zufferey, Sierre, Valais—This man is a major reason why the cornalin du Valais continues to exist today. His early commitment to expand its place in his vineyards was the impetus needed to hasten its current vogue. It’s no accident that his is one of the best young cornalins I’ve tasted.
Cornalin 2016, Valais: Dark garnet with blue/black highlights. Dark and dense. Thick blackberry nose with lavender and licorice. Warm and inviting. Thick and rich with an explosive palate of ripe blackberries, black raspberries and licorice. Beautifully textured, like chamois. A shining example of this variety.
Möhr-Niggli Weine, Maienfeld, Graubünden—Matthias and Sina Gubler-Möhr have worked around the world—Italy, France, Chile and California—and bring what they have learned back to Sina’s family holdings in Maienfeld. I am impressed with their portfolio which, interestingly, includes a pinot noir sourced from Basel-Landschaft. One of the few small family wineries to be truly bi-cantonal.
Viognier 2016, Graubünden: Pale straw with some green highlights. Fairly neutral nose without much to recommend it. It’s clean at least. Palate is a bit fatter than suggested by the nose but still lean. Finishes with some delicate florals. Nothing here that would make me rush out and plant viognier in Bündner Herrschaft. Meh.
Chardonnay 2016, Graubünden: Medium straw in color. This opens with a fresh, autolytic lift and a hint of volatility. Otherwise, very lemony and vibrant. Medium-bodied with a bright citrus core and underlying toast. Mild balsamic and miso notes add some complexity. Firmly structured with the beginnings of a creamy texture. Quite nice.
Pinot Noir 2016, Granbünden: Pale ruby in color. Herbal and black tea nose is fresh and inviting. Tangy cherry and earthy flavors with herb garden notes. Really solid, basic pinot noir that is more than just a fruit bomb.
Pinot Noir, Pilgrim 2015, Graubünden: Pale ruby in color. Interesting cola spice and mustard seed nose. Palate offers a peppery piquancy with mustard seed and cherry cola notes. This is rather large-framed and structured with noticeable acids and grippy tannins. I wouldn’t quite call it fine, dramatic is more like it. Should develop.
Pinot Noir, Clos Martha 2015, Basel-Landschaft: Dark ruby in color. Deeper, more serious nose than above with more green bass notes. Opens fat with sweet cherry, earth and stem-y green elements. Lots of depth and chewy, fleshy fruit. A brooding pinot noir with all of the structural material to evolve for a decade or more. Nice.
Weingut Donatsch, Malans, Graubünden—The Donatsch pinot noir and completer are already justifiably famous but it is the pinot blanc that leaves me shaking my head. There aren’t many others—anywhere—who treat it with such respect. That said, Graubünden is a hot bed of interest for this forgotten stepchild of grapes. Thanks.
Pinot Blanc 2016, Graubünden: Pale straw in color and wonderfully lustrous. Lovely elderflower and honey perfume fills the glass. Some fermentation notes linger. This has amazing depth and length for this often dismissed variety. Fat, complex and serious. This would give many chardonnays an inferiority complex. Graceful and balanced.
Completer, Malanserrebe 2016, Graubünden: Pale straw in color with green highlights. Mild lactic nose with subtle yellow fruit, dried hay, green herbs and vanilla bean. So precise, so focused. Structured palate (acidity) gives up intriguing flavors of grain, vanilla and quince. The barest suggestion of cream in the finish is a bonus. Give this one at least ten years.
Weingut Eichholz (Irene Grünenfelder), Jenins, Graubünden—My first experience with these wines—after hearing many good things—was a revelation. They are as elegant as the lady who makes them. In May a twenty year retrospective of her top cuvée, Eichholz, was held and the results affirmed the near mythic reputation of these wines.
Pinot Noir 2015, Graubünden: Dark ruby in color. Wow, what an introduction! Intense black cherry, spice and fresh green herbs to open. There’s an element of fullness and roundness to the nose while remaining cool and fresh. Intense black cherry aromas meet the palate on equal footing. Deeply textured, like cherry meat, with the saturated flavors of sweet stone-fruit. Deep, concentrated and textured. Such a simple wine so vividly expressed.
Pinot Noir, Alte Reben 2015, Graubünden: Dark ruby in color. Initial stem-y freshness gives way to cola spice, dark cherries and cassis. Very intense and fleshy cherry flavors are saturated, textured and grippy. Cassis flavors add a welcome crunchiness. I am seduced as much by the rippling texture as by the absolutely seductive aromas and flavors. The ripened flavors of dark cherries and cassis are perfectly translated. Stunning.
Pinot Noir, Eichholz 2015, Graubünden: More of the same but even grander if that’s possible. Dark garnet/magenta with aromas of sweet cherry, cola spice, candied violets and cassis. Lovely spicy, black cherry meatiness with a supple, caressing texture. Again the cassis is both a crunchy textural element and a cool, grounding element. Deeply resonating, utterly fresh and nascently complex. Simply glorious.
Weinbau Annatina Pelizzatti, Jenins, Graubünden—Ms. Pelizzatti in her very quiet way continues to turn out noteworthy wines without the fanfare and media coverage of others. Her pinots are stylish if sometimes a bit oaky. I am especially enamored of her pinot blancs which, like Martin Donatsch’s, often surpass a lot of chardonnays. This is a thoughtful winemaker at work.
Pinot Noir, Classic, Jenins 2015, Graubünden: Medium ruby in color. Cherry and spice with green bass notes. Solid cherry and cranberry fruit. Tangy, acid-streaked and grippy to finish. Simple, village-level pinot with the stuffing to evolve mid-term.
Pinot Noir, Barrique, Jenins 2015, Graubünden: Solid ruby to the rim. Lots of stemmy green freshness with sweet spices, gingerbread and candied ginger. Dark cherry fruit suits the somewhat brooding disposition. Structured and somewhat woody at the moment, this cuvée has demonstrated the wherewithal to assimilate the oak regimen given the chance.
Weingut Sprecher von Bernegg, Jenins, Graubünden—Tiny four hectare estate under the guidance of Jan Domenic Luzi. Pinot noir is a specialty but small amounts of pinot blanc and completer are made. I’m not really familiar with this property but I will definitely keep an eye out based on these offerings.
Pinot Noir, vom Lindenwingert 2015, Graubünden: Pale ruby in color. Simple nose of balsamic-doused cherries and dried herbs. Some sweet cherry fruit on entry with a bit of raspberry depth and tanginess. Very delicate and fresh with some spice and twiggy earth. Lively acids to finish.
Pinot Noir, vom Pfaffen Calander 2015, Graubünden: Solid ruby in color. Toasted barrels nose with Amarena cherries and fresh herbs. Nice sweetness and saturation. The barrels and cherries somehow remind me of a Manhattan cocktail, so perhaps there’s some heat as well. Overall, a nice, sweet, not quite cloying, pinot noir that’s a bit exaggerated in style.
LitwanWein, Schinznach Dorf, Aargau—Tom Litwan is emerging as one of the most Burgundian of the Swiss school of pinot noir. And his impulses are to the natural side of things. These are literally wines that change before your eyes, a common feature of wines made in the natural style. As Mark Twain once said: “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.” The same could be said for these wines. They are unique and well worth the effort to seek out.
Pinot Noir, Herznach Chraibel 2015, Aargau: Pale ruby and utterly transparent. Still a bit reductive but blows off with air and seems to darken. A green, spicy herbaceousness surrounds a tight cherry core. A lace-like caress of the palate is soft but sweet with concentrated, spicy fruit. Finishes savory and spicy with a sweet expansive finish. Very impressive in its sheer delicacy.
Pinot Noir, Elfingen Rüeget 2015, Aargau: Pale ruby with a little orange at the rim. Slightly volatile (blows off) then a bit of stewed greens, sweet cherry fruit and spice. Super, almost homeopathic, concentration and very rich. Finishes grippy and a bit austere but with a whiff of intense floral perfume. A wine with chi.
Pinot Noir, Oberflachs auf der Mauer 2015, Aargau: Pale ruby in color. Some reduction but with mitigating stemmy freshness. Elongated palate that is sweet, long and peppery. Cherry coulis flavors with a spicy jalapeño-like bite. Fresh green notes abound. Ethereal weight and perfect balance. My favorite at the moment.
Pinot Noir, Thalheim Chalofe 2015, Aargau: Darker ruby than above. Very spicy nose if not slightly austere. A bit bound up. Palate opens lean but with a lot of matter and weight. No fat, all muscle. Sour cherry fruit with some chewiness and structural texture. Clearly has potential but needs to loosen up a bit.
Steiner Schernelz Village, Ligerz, Bielersee, Bern—This tasting confirmed my belief that SSV chardonnays are among the very best in Switzerland. The chasselas is not bad either. The chardonnays in particular (see earlier notes) are seamless with lots of extract and mineral creaminess. When oak is used it is always integrated and never a distraction. I am planning a visit to this winery to become more familiar with their entire portfolio.
Chasselas 2016, Bielersee: Pale straw in color. Quite complex nose of fresh cream and white flowers with savory background notes. Some lemony cream on entry with tangy streaks of acid. Broad finish with delicate floral notes and some crisp apple juiciness.
Clos à l’Abbé 2016, Bielersee (chasselas): Pale gold in color. This is a bit more serious with candied nuts, quince and butter. Attractively round and full-bodied with grain, nuts and lemony fruit on offer. Finishes clean and crisp. A significant step up from an already high level.
Chardonnay 2016, Bielersee: Stainless steel fermented and aged. Pale straw in color. Fragrant apricot and peach skin scents. Very delicate with a hint of fresh sawdust. Peachy palate is round with nothing heavy or out of balance. Very crisp and lively. Delicious.
Chardonnay, Clos au Comte 2015, Bielersee: Barrique fermented and aged. Pale gold in color. Creamy and oak-scented with vanilla, butterscotch, herbs and sawdust. Mild flavors of pears, cream and coriander within a softened mineral core. Pastry cream finish that is nonetheless crisp and fresh. Lovely.