Les Trésors du Vin Suisse — Basel 2019

The Trésors tasting and its sister — the more inclusive Mémoire & Friends tasting — are my favorite events on the Swiss wine calendar. Both events reside under the Mémoire des Vins Suisses (MDVS) umbrella — a marketing-related non-profit founded and nurtured by a group of wine-loving journalists, producers and enthusiasts. Both tasting events, and the parties that ensue, offer a curated look at the best Swiss wine has to offer. There are representatives from all over the country and many rare wines from native grapes that you’re unlikely to see anywhere else.

The fifty-seven member wineries are required to donate five cases (sixty bottles) of the nominated wine each year which are then stored by the organization for future use. This can be a staggering sacrifice for some with tiny production volumes. The Trésors tasting features the current release of each of the nominated wines and two corresponding older examples sourced from the MDVS treasure trove. Monitoring the development of each wine is at the core of the MDVS mandate with the ultimate goal to prove that Swiss wine can age with the best from other countries.

Since its inception in 2002 MDVS activities have been partially funded by Swiss Wine Promotion (SWP) a quasi-government trade organization founded to promote Swiss wine at home and abroad. The two organizations collaborate for marketing related road shows in Vienna and Düsseldorf but are otherwise distinct. Unfortunately, because of structural changes at SWP and an ominous sounding “change in strategy”, future funding for MDVS may be at risk.

Current SWP director Jean-Marc Amez-Droz is set to retire in July at the conclusion of the once-in-a-generation celebration of Swiss wine, the Fête des Vignerons. Soon after, new director Nicolas Joss is charged with implementing the aforementioned change in strategy. What that strategy is and whether it includes MDVS is anyone’s guess, but there is enough concern among members to provoke some muttering.

Now for my two cents.

I can’t think of a more important initiative for the promotion of Swiss wine than MDVS activities. I would go even further to suggest that current SWP support does not go far enough. In an ideal world its iconic tastings would be expanded to encourage, if not subsidize, the appearance of more foreign wine writers and professionals at its events. Even among the most well-traveled and knowledgeable wine professionals, Swiss wine remains a mystery. This is a state of affairs that both organizations should address and correct. The current SWP roadshow, with forays into London and New York, has grown stale and does not reflect significant changes in the Swiss wine industry.

Nowhere to be seen are the young mavericks devoted to biodynamics, heritage varieties and minimum intervention practices. Instead we find the same (read:large) wineries that are common fare at such events and at various international competitions. Speaking for myself, I might attend once, but only once. In my estimation, there should be a bit of mystery and surprise at each event, at least enough to encourage and reward regular attendance. As it stands now, the same show year-after-year won’t cut it in this competitive market.

The recent (2016) Masters of Wine tour organized by Robin Kick MW and supported by SWP is a step in the right direction. It’s an example of the kind of initiative that expands the base of Swiss wine knowledge among a key professional cohort. (A recap of the events can be found here.) There is no substitute for visiting the wine regions in question and learning directly from the producers. 

From my view, a “change in strategy” is in order, but if it includes a cut in funding to MDVS then it’s back to the drawing board in a big way.

As for this year’s event, among the 175 or so wines available for tasting those noted below were among the standouts. You can find a previously published profile of each of the highlighted names by clicking on them.

White Wines

Château Maison Blanche, Yvorne, Vaud —

2017 Yvorne, “Grand Cru”, Chablais (Chasselas): Straw colored. The nose is a greengrocer’s basket of fresh asparagus, coriander and citrus peel. Lurking beneath is the characteristic Yvorne minerality with a bit of spent match reduction. Very lively palate with more fresh green herbs, lemon and a wet stone finish. Kept lively with some barely perceptible CO2. Delicious.

2014: Medium-straw colored. Fascinating nose of alfalfa, dried hay and preserved lemon. Rich and seamless with a bit of lemon pâte de fruits, dried grass and herbs. Smooth and seamless. À point. This is one of the best Chasselas I’ve tasted from the sometimes difficult 2014 vintage.

2011: Clear straw in color. Atypical notes of sawdust and spiced quince with a feral (cat-pee) assertiveness. Opens sweet with well integrated flavors of baked apple and a mineral, wet stone complexity. Seems low acid and ready to drink. Very good.

 

Domaine Monachon, Rivaz, Vaud —

2017 St.-Saphorin, “Les Manchettes”, Lavaux (Chasselas): Silvery straw in color. Nose-clearing rush of greenery with lemongrass, tea and savory beef bouillon. Palate is rich with lemon and dried herbs. Finishes with an electric mineral streak and a salty, savory aftertaste. St.-Saphorin Chasselas always seems to have a bit of umami.

2014: Medium-straw in color. I love the mild lactic nose with fresh coriander and roasted grain. The flavors are equally attractive with more roasted grain, herbs and a creamy richness. Nice seamless structure with perfect balance. This is à point and really good.

2011: Straw gold with green streaks. Super-interesting nose of violets and butterscotch with some fresh tarragon. This has hardly advanced and still displays a youthful acid and mineral edge. Buttered apples and pears with a creamy mid-palate. Amazingly youthful, yet rich and round. Really good.

 

Domaine Blaise Duboux, Epesses, Vaud — 

2017 Calamin, “Grand Cru – Cuvée Vincent”, Lavaux (Chasselas): Light straw in color. Lovely aroma of lemon blossom, honey, pollen and wet stone. Laser-like lines with vibrant acidity. Lemons and minerals on the palate with a sneakily rich and textured mid-palate. More honey with a long, slightly musky finish. A young Chasselas worthy of the Grand Cru moniker.

2014: Medium-straw in color. Closed and awkward at the moment with a bit of reduction. Very undeveloped and structural. Green apple fruit provides a linear base with some pear fruit texture. Really nothing that sticks out except for its awkwardness. Maybe it needs some time.

2011: Straw colored. Citrus blossoms, green apples and lime zest are sharply defined and crystal clear. More apple fruit on the palate with crisp but slightly rounded acids. Shows more mineral depth and texture than village Chasselas which means the Grand Cru is speaking. Very precise with great depth and nice length. Still youthful and full of promise.

 

Domaine La Colombe, Féchy, Vaud —

2017 Féchy, “Brez”, La Côte (Chasselas): The color of tears or polished silver. Aroma of cut hay, coriander and lemon. Very polished and vibrant with lemon oil, apple and a lovely floral perfume to finish. Crisp, lively and pristine Chasselas. Always a treat.

2014: More tears and polished silver. Still youthful looking with little development. This is clearly higher acid with less ripe fruit character and a greater mineral presence. Lemony and herbal. Palate is also a bit lean at the moment with bright lemon fruit and some white flowers. High acid finish. Needs time.

2011: Pale straw in color. Some development but still youthful. The beginnings of a butterscotch edge with plenty of lemon zest and subtle fresh herbs. The palate is crisp and fresh with more lemon and a pleasant streak of freshening acidity. On track for further positive development. Refreshing.

 

Domaine Les Hutins, Dardagny, Geneva —

2017 Sauvignon Blanc, “Élevé en Barrique”, Coteaux de Dardagny, Geneva: Pale straw in color. Very musqué with melon and peach. Medium-bodied with more melon, some grass and herbs. Very appetizing. Restrained and nicely balanced. Finishes crisp with perfume.

2014: Pale straw in color. Hugely floral with sweet pea, freesia and ripe melon. The flavors of melon and grapefruit are more restrained. Peachy texture is crisp and well balanced. Finish is perfumed and lingering. I like this.

 

Cru de l’Hôpital, Môtier-Vully, Fribourg —

2017 Traminer, Vully: Straw colored. Exotically but delicately scented with green tobacco, orange rind, musk and spice. Lovely palate is also full of spice, floral fruit and mandarin. The finish is perfumed and delicious. This is throttled-back gewurztraminer that is more about delicacy and transparency than are its Alsatian brethren.

2014: Straw colored. Aroma of bruised apples and lemons. Some oxidation renders the initial palate flat. Baked apple flavors but not much else. Finishes with alarmingly high acids. Not particularly Gewürztraminer-like either.

2011: Light gold in color. Opens with orange-like fruit and some mossy earthiness. The palate is rich, soft and impressively dry and fragrant. Once again, not particularly Gewürztraminer-like but pleasant and floral with some orange oil to finish.

 

Steiner Schernelz Village, Ligerz, Bern —

2017 Chardonnay, “Réserve”, Bielersee: Straw gold in color. Very pretty aroma of light cream, raw nuts and tropical fruit. Palate is medium-weight with lemony fruit, butter and oatmeal. Lovely saltiness and minerality. A beautifully dry, sculpted chardonnay that has everything in balance. Very good.

2014: Old gold in color. Relaxed nose of slightly rancid butter, shortbread and salt. Palate is creamy and rich with salted caramel and roasted grain. The oak is completely integrated adding both heft and texture. This is a ripe and exotic chardonnay that is drinking perfectly now. Reminds me a bit of a drier California-style Chardonnay. Very impressive.

2011: Light gold in color. White chocolate and sweet spices on the nose. Not as rich as above but with more potential for development. Lean without excess weight or fat but with notable flavors of apple, lemon and oatmeal. Crisp and almost weightless. The gorgeous beginning gives way to a clipped finish with some excess acid. Very good nonetheless.

 

Schwarzenbach Weinbau, Meilen, Zürich —

2017 Räuschling, “Meilener – Seehalden”, Zürichsee: Pale straw colored. Fresh herbs, white flowers and quince. Palate is restrained and almost constricted by high acids. Requires lots of aeration to peek through to the fruit which is mostly green apple with a delicate floral lilt. Hard to judge. Very linear without much flesh.

2014: Straw colored. Haunting lime and lime blossom aroma. Fragrant palate is all white flowers and more lime but with slightly rounded acids. Finishes crisp and refreshing if a bit a short. This has a bit more saturation and is beginning to soften but still a work in progress.

2011: Medium-straw in color. Slightly feral in a Sauvignon Blanc kind of way. More white flowers with Golden Delicious apple. Good depth with structure and length. Just beginning to show some charm. After eight years this is beginning to soften and fill out. This is a variety that requires patience.

 

Weingut Hermann, Fläsch, Graubünden —

2017 Completer, “Fläscher”, Graubünden: Straw colored with green highlights. Aromatic herbs, grass and a bit of muskiness to start. Rich with lots of musky herbs and fresh greenery. Very fresh and structured but seemingly with lower acids than is typical.

2014: Straw colored with green highlights. Bakeshop aromas with white chocolate, vanilla and herbs. Rich lemony fruit that turns to lemon oil with aeration. Nicely balanced with acids and sweet fruit. Very good.

2011: Straw colored with green highlights. Butterscotch, caramel and brioche on the nose. Palate begins pleasantly lactic then moves through buttery shortbread and light tropical fruit. Assertively brisk and clean finish. Excellent.

 

Weingut Donatsch, Malans, Graubünden —

2017 Completer “Malanserrebe”, Graubünden: Straw colored with green highlights. Lovely Indian tonic nose. Delicate palate that is lacy and lemony. Discernible oak needs integration but is fine grained. Rich with aeration but also with searing acids. A giant wine in the making.

2014: Straw colored. Quite a bit of evolution in the nose with some butterscotch and dried fruit. Glossy lemon pâte de fruits, dried mango and minerals. Rounded edges but the searing acids to finish contradict any apparent evolution. This one is in an in-between stage right now. Should evolve slowly.

2011: Gold with some telltale green highlights. Fragrant white flowers, lemon cream and pollen dominate this fascinating nose. Flavors of cream, dusty grain and lemon are fantastic with a palate-coating, lardo-like creaminess. This is both tantalizingly sweet and dry. Truly outstanding and just beginning to show its stuff.

 

Domaine des Muses, Sierre, Valais —

2017 Humagne Blanche, “Tradition”, Valais: Very pale straw in color. Interesting herbal, vegetative nose. Delicate and ethereal, nearly sheer. More herbs on palate with some curry spice. Green apples with a faint jalapeño pepper note. Quite unusual but not fully expressive yet. I really like this one.

2015: Pale straw in color. My notes begin with “Wow!” I’ve come to expect great things from this warm vintage but I’m still surprised to see it coming from any number of varieties, both red and white. This one begins with buttery shortbread notes and lots of spice with some herbs. Intense is how I begin to describe the palate with it’s lemon ripeness and textured silkiness. The shortbread element on the nose adds a saltiness on the palate. Totally exotic. The is the best Humagne Blanche of my experience.

2013: This one is almost as good as above. Also from a hot vintage. Pale gold in color. Begins with a rich nose of grain, nuts, white chocolate and mountain honey. I found it amazingly Completer-like in that its high acidity is married to an improbable level of ripeness and creamy texture. The palate mimics the nose with grain and white chocolate being most pronounced. Truly excellent.

 

Red Wines

Weingut Jauslin, Muttenz, Basel-Landschaft —

2016 Pinot Noir, “Hohle Gasse”, Basel-Landschaft: The newest wine, the 57th in the Trésors portfolio, was celebrated at this tasting in Basel. Bright ruby in color. The nose is spicy, herbal and woody with some raspberry/cherry jam. The palate is silky with nicely saturated cherry fruit, some new oak and furry oak tannins to finish. I liked this but would have preferred a bit less oak.

 

Domaine de la Maison Carrée, Auvernier, Neuchâtel —

2016 Pinot Noir, “Auvernier”, Neuchâtel: Pale ruby in color. Bright, fragrant cherries with a bit of raspberry. Very pure and classy with a liquid silk palate and cherry and raspberry flavors. Very bright, fresh and structured. Almost weightless. Very good sweetness and a lovely perfumed finish. I could drink this all day.

2012: Ruby with a bit of bricking. Fairly developed nose of a savory mature Burgundy. There’s also a bit of hedgerow and vegetable garden. A little attenuated with some oxidized notes. A bit too much vegetativeness for me. High acid to finish. Drink up.

2008: Transparent ruby with bricked edges. All savory dried herbs, hay, dried figs and dates. Palate is drying up and overbalanced to acid. Drink up.

 

Weingut zum Sternen, Würenlingen, Aargau —

2016 Pinot Noir, “Kloster Sion – Klingnau Réserve”, Aargau: Transparent ruby in color. Broad and warming nose with sweet cherries, caramel and cotton candy. Palate is soft and silky with dark cherry fruit and a bit of sous bois freshness. Some furry tannins to finish. Very good.

2012: Ruby in color. Intensely herbal and savory with a bit of caramel and dark cherries buried beneath. Palate is both savory and sweet with a beet root core and a touch of greenness. This is a bit odd to me. I’m not wild about the earthy elements but it finishes with a fruity sweetness.

 

Azienda Mondò, Sementina, Ticino:

2016 Bondola, “Nonu Mario”, Ticino: Garnet to the rim with blue streaks. Opening aroma of wood, dark cherries, plums and toast are a little one dimensional, like Dolcetto. Very primary on the palate with tangy sour plums, substantial grip and crisp acids. Linear with some unfathomed depth. I want to see how this one ages.

2012: Deep garnet in color. Lovely aroma of blueberries, smoke and spice with an oversized wood cohort. On the palate the fruit is on the slim side with high acids and substantial tannins. Ripeness is questionable. Finishes short. This was rescued by the nose which I found to be quite interesting.

2008: Faded garnet with a bit of brown. The nose is all savory herbs, singed hair and singed strawberries. The palate is serious, in fact the sweetest of bunch but still quite acidic, not tannic but ultimately interesting. There are so few producers of this variety that I don’t think it’s possible to know its full potential. What little there is sparks curiosity.

 

Denis & Anne-Catherine Mercier, Sierre, Valais:

2016 Cornalin, Valais: Opaque blueish-purple in color. Super plummy with black current leaf and a Syrah-like reduction. Mouthful of blackberries, mulberries and plums. Quite tannic and grippy with amazing persistence and creamy fruit. Mesquite charcoal to finish.

2012: Garnet and somewhat transparent in color. Interesting spent embers nose with closed up fruit. Super concentration and palate saturation with tons of chewy plum and mulberry fruit. The focus is precise and the fruit pure it’s just missing some relaxed generosity. Needs time.

2008: Opaque garnet in color. Such a nose — sweet caramel, charcoal embers, herbs, and creamy mixed berries with a hedgy backdrop. The palate is dense and nearly impenetrable with plum, blackcurrant and blackberries and some creosote notes.  Substantial tannins and acids to finish. Still years away. This variety is so interesting. I believe it offers world-class interest and so deserves more exposure. The Mercier family is at the top of the heap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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