When the Three Bears of porridge fame attend a wine tasting their scribbled notes might read something like this: Chasselas number one is too light; Chasselas number two is too heavy; but Chasselas number three—ahhh, that one’s just right. After my recent trip to the Vinumrarum event in Bern, I can relate.
Among the numerous family wineries in attendance, three from Geneva caught my eye— two from Dardagny and one from Satigny. Each apparently got the same memo as they all offered a nearly overlapping portfolio of wines that practically begged me to compare. In an effort to accommodate I strolled from table to table and in the process noticed a slight but persistent tug to one in particular. I think I may have been exhibiting a preference.
These days a preference is often seen as a snub of everything else—an implicit criticism of someone else’s palate and evidence of a self-ordained superiority. Feelings get hurt and accusations ensue. The “elitist” epithet gets tossed around like a rising fastball to the head. A Twitter spat or Facebook row usually follows.
The current pariah of the wine elite, my humble self included, is residual sugar. Unless it’s purposely and thoughtfully balanced against something else, usually acid, I find its presence annoying and indicative of lazy winemaking. I do concede that others who can’t abide a dry or structured wine without the numbing effect of sweetness deserve some solace, and some cheap tipple, but my condescending and unasked for advice is this: “Get over it”.
Let’s face it, most people either wealthy enough or lucky enough by birth to get into the winery game do not have supermarket chardonnay in mind as part of their business model. Chateau Orthodontics aspires to other things—to mingle with the Romanée-Contis and Screaming Eagles of the world and not to carouse among the bin-ends. They may end up making loss-leader wine to survive but they probably won’t be drinking it. And even if they are successful it’s basically a commodity game they’re playing and nothing more. In my opinion, those wines exist just to prove that the common denominators among us want a pleasant and affordable alcoholic beverage that isn’t beer.
All of the above serves as preamble and context. What follows is an attempt to explain my own taste from among the offerings of three neighboring wineries—Three Bears style.
Domaine les Hutins, Dardagny, Geneva: The wines from this nineteen hectare property enjoy a considerable reputation under the direction of Emilienne Hutin Zumbach. The vineyards are gradually moving toward biodynamics—one-fourth of the vines are already converted, including the Bertholier parcel, with more on the way. The wines have a distinctly modern feel, meaning they are clean, bright and made with stainless-steel precision. Their recent foray into the “experimental” realm, which includes whole berry fermentation in three-hundred liter barrels, has resulted in a line of red wines with more amplitude. Their L’Intégrale series is, indeed, a dive into deeper waters.
To my taste the house-style remains skewed to the discreet side of things. The wines are flawless but lack real excitement. They appear to possess all of the raw material (and kudos to the family for investing in sustainable farming) but the results are a bit too technical. I’d like to see more intensity and flavor in these otherwise well-made wines.
Three Bears Judgment: These are too light.
Chasselas, Bertholier 2016, Geneva: Straw colored. Very simple, straightforward aromas of herbs and citrus with a touch of muscat-y exoticism. Palate is crunchy and juicy but simple and rather light. Not much complexity here but clean, fresh and correct.
Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Dardagny: Pale straw in color. Verdant, blackcurrant leaf aroma with a bit of lemon oil. Not especially varietal beyond that. Palate is light (a theme here) with some herbal and lemon fruit. Clean, bright and well made but not particularly compelling.
Pinot Gris 2016, Dardagny: Straw colored. Interesting cream and tomato leaf aroma with some honey and pear. Palate is textured with honey and pear flavors and a lemony firmness. Finishes clean, bright and dry. Once again lightness and airiness is the theme.
Gentil Blanc (Savagnin) 2014, Geneva: Straw gold in color. A bit more complexity with butter, cream, pears and toast. Lemony fruit with oaky, textured edges that assuage the high acid finish. Still very youthful and firm. The most interesting of the whites with medium-term potential.
Domaine des Charmes, Satigny, Geneva: This producer is best known for an odd specialty: the very rare Findling—thought to be a spontaneous mutation of Muller-Thurgau characterized by higher must weights. I am impressed with the clean winemaking here but the entire line seems to be missing a spark. I find the whites weighed down with either too much sugar or too little acid. They seem to lay flat on the palate and fail to differentiate themselves from one another.
The reds suffer from the same mushiness. I use the word formless to describe two of the reds but it could apply to all three. The merlot’s tannic structure seems oddly disassociated from its architecture. The substantial tannins neither frame nor support the rather loose-knit fruit. High pH seems to be an issue as well.
The overall impression is a mixed bag. The wines are tasty enough but offer very little in terms of impact and drama. They’re not something I’ll rush back to try again—save for that Findling.
Three Bears Judgment: These are too heavy.
Aligoté 2016, Geneva: Medium-straw in color. Very pretty nose of mixed citrus and spice. Enters soft and thick like pear juice. A touch too much sweetness works against the natural vibrancy of this high acid variety. This seems cut off at the knees for my taste. A bit bland.
Chardonnay 2016, Geneva: Pale straw in color. Pretty apple freshness on the nose. Drier than above with crispy edges. Palate is soft and perfumed. Nice apple flavors but finishes a little sweet. Good, but finishes on a low.
Griset Blanc (Findling) 2016, Geneva: Medium-straw in color. Lovely but low-key oranges, herbs and roses to open. Palate is more forceful with a perfumed presence and a pleasant, welcome (because it’s anticipated) sweetness. Nice weight with orange and flowers to finish. Actually fairly dry in the end with nice balance. I liked this quite a bit.
Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Geneva: Straw colored. A bit of a grassy/grapefruity caricature. The palate opens sweet and a bit syrupy. Loads of herbal and grapefruit flavors but lacking acid and definition. To those who like sweetness in their wine this may offer some comfort.
Pinot Noir 2016, Geneva: Slightly hazy ruby in color. Very soft and almost formless in nose and body. Cough syrup notes. Sweet, slightly syrupy cherry flavor. Low acid, low vigor. Decent flavor with finishing sweetness.
Gamaret 2016, Geneva: Darker garnet with hints of blue. Soft, big and sweet. Formless again with sweet, stewed fruit. Not my thing.
Merlot 2016, Geneva: Medium-ruby/garnet in color. Soft, sweet, big and low acid. Red fruit compote with bothersome tannins. No threat to Ticino merlot dominance.
Domaine les Faunes, Dardagny, Geneva: Here is an admirable middle-style that satisfies my need for flavor and substance. The Chasselas, Aligoté, Pinot Gris and Scheurebe are right up my alley with well defined varietal character, extract, weight and structure—and all of it in balance. The other whites, for one reason or another, don’t work as well for me. Oak and Viognier, especially in an unexpressive one like this, are not a good mix. Chardonnay, in general, needs more punch than is found here. And Sauvignon Blanc, well, someone needs to explain to me why it even exists here.
The Merlot and Syrah are more than correct. They both offer an interesting take on their respective varieties with the Syrah going above and beyond what you usually find in Geneva. The Gamaret is in a style that I can’t abide. Its raisiny sweetness is too much for me. But that’s me, others might like it. The Pinot Noir needs work as many from Geneva do.
Overall, this is a very interesting winery with a lot of good wine and the stylistic direction to take it even further into the upper echelon of local wineries.
Three Bears Judgment: These are just right.
Chasselas 2016, Geneva: Medium straw in color. Lavish nose of cream and brown butter with green herb accents. Palate opens with rich, creamy fruit and a pleasing sweetness. Finishes long and dry. This is really very good but hard to place with its umami whisperings. Perhaps it would be a good ringer in a tasting of St.-Saphorins.
Aligoté 2016, Geneva: Pale straw in color. Slight petrol notes with some butter. Fresh and vivid lemony flavors. Some roundness but structurally intact. Dry with a bit of cream to finish. Not particularly Burgundian but an honest, simple approach to the grape.
Chardonnay 2016, Geneva: Straw colored. Modest green apple and white flower aromas. No wood here. Simple sour green plum and nectarine flavors. Clean, bright but not so interesting. Finishes a bit acidic. Lacks real depth.
Pinot Gris 2016, Geneva: Medium-straw in color. Very pretty pears and honey aroma. Bright mandarin flavors and perfume with an expansive palate. Really very pretty with a lingering perfume. Quite good.
Scheurebe 2016, Geneva: Silvery straw in color. Earthy geranium nose with lifted lilac and rose petal notes. Soft flower petal flavors with savory notes of celery seed and fresh coriander. Very rich but not at all heavy or flat. Finishes admirably dry and persistent. Excellent for this variety.
Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Geneva: Straw colored. Not very sauvignon. Oranges with a little grapefruit. Some grassiness but not assertive. Rich with some citrus and herbal flavors but stays on the dry and slightly bitter side of things. Tame but not bad.
Viognier 2016, Geneva: Medium-straw in color. More fermentative and oaky on the nose than anything else. Pretty cream and vanilla notes only. Overall mild. No viognier character. Six months in barrique.
Pinot Noir 2016, Geneva: Very light rose with some browning at the rim. Nearly transparent. Flavors begin a bit stem-y with some soft core fruit. Elegant if a bit earthy and dare I say muddy. This seems a bit formless with high pH. Not bad but nothing I would keep for long.
Merlot 2016, Geneva: Medium-ruby in color. Cherries and red fruit aroma. Tasty chocolate and cherry flavors with a bit of earth and herbs. Balanced with a bit of acid dryness to finish.
Syrah 2015, Geneva: Dark garnet that is nearly black at the center. Opening reductive notes then dark, dusty cherries and black fruit with some leather. Palate is big and sweet with stewed fruit notes and leather. Nice extract with slightly bitter tannins. This is really pretty compelling syrah and one of the most interesting I’ve had from Geneva.
Gamaret 2015, Geneva: Dark black center. Unabashed raisins, dried plums and oak. One dimensional. Dried fruit and a stew of herbs on the palate. Overly sweet and oaky to me. New-age Amarone-style.