Swiss Trip

Robin Kick MW

From 8-13 September, 22 Masters of Wine were hosted by Swiss Wine Promotion in Switzerland. The goal of the trip was to show the quality and diversity of Swiss wines and culture, as well as its unique Alpine micro-climates and the viticultural issues that accompany them within its three distinctive regions.

Each day included at least one walk around tasting of 18-20 producers showing 2 or 3 wines and lectures with highly knowledgeable professionals. Following a quick detour to the vineyards west of Geneva, the first official stop was east of Geneva in Nyon at Ecole de Changins, Switzerland’s renowned viticulture and oenology university. The facilities are shared with Agroscope, Switzerland top agriculture research centre. Dr. Olivier Viret and Dr. Johannes Rösti introduced Switzerland as a winemaking zone and discussed the research that has been done to create hardier crossings in order to achieve better ripeness in their marginal climates and to treat less. The use of drones as a tool used in precision viticulture was also discussed. The day finished with a walk around tasting showing the diversity of grapes planted in Geneva, La Côte and Neuchatel/Trois Lacs followed by dinner at Schenk’s beautiful Château Chatagneréaz.

Day 2 was spent mostly in the Vaud focusing on the history, terroir and ageability of Chasselas, Switzerland’s most planted variety. A lecture by Alexandre Truffer from Vinum magazine was followed by a visit to the cellar of Louis-Philippe Bovard in Cully. We tasted 5 Chasselas clones (Fendant Roux, Fendant Vert, Blanchette, Giclet and Bois Rouge) as well as 6 older vintages (ranging from 2005-1983) from the Dézelay Grand Cru appellation produced by various producers. This tasting suggested that there is far more potential to this indigenous variety than it might sometimes appear.

A boat ride on Lake Geneva enabled us to learn more about the different soil types and wine styles of Lavaux. This included the two Grand Cru designated areas, Dézelay which we had already discovered and whose wines tend to be quite broad and powerful, and Calamin, a significantly smaller AOC that produces more chiselled, less powerful wines.

A walk around tasting at Château Maison Blanche highlighted the area around Chablais and also included the regions of the lower Valais – Martigny & Fully. A number of indigenous and international varieties were poured. The highlight was a dry 1988 Petite Arvine from Benoît Dorsaz that showed incredible freshness (even at 15%) and displayed notes of creamy butter, dried apricots and cut hay.

Dinner took place at the Château de Villa, the region’s renowned raclette restaurant where we experienced 5 different “crus” of raclette cheese, a Valaisian speciality.

Day 3 focused solely on the Valais, Switzerland’s largest wine producing region, and home to most of Switzerland’s indigenous varieties. We began with an inspiring presentation and tasting with Dr. José Vouillamoz, grape geneticist and co-author of “Wine Grapes” (with Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding MW). He led us through the history and parentage of various varieties, including Rauschling, Rèze, Petite Arvine, Amigne (from 1971!), Completer, Himbertscha, Cornalin (aka Rouge du Pays), and Bondola from Ticino. Following José’s presentation, Marie-Thérèse Chappaz, Switzerland’s reigning queen of séléction des grains nobles, introduced the Charter of Grains Nobles, a doctrine to ensure the highest quality of these superb sweet wines within the region. We finished the lecture tasting three of her wines, including an extraordinary 1997 Petite Arvine.

With the sun on our side, the afternoon carried on with a guided walk with the mayor through the vineyard of Chamoson, one of the region’s most beautiful. At the end of the trail, we were greeted by an acrobatic Swiss flag tosser, Alpine horns, a small pavilion of producers and a delicious “vendangeur” lunch of local sausages cooked in a cauldron of grape marc.

Another walk around tasting with local producers at the newly opened Celliers de Sion lead into an exquisite meal hosted at Provins, Switzerland’s largest wine producer (a high-quality cooperative) and Jean-René Germanier. Multiple wines were shown including two vintages of Electus, a recent project from Provins which is a top parcel selection and blend of Cornalin, Humagne Rouge, Diolinoir, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Impressively endowed, it is also one of the most expensive wines coming out of Switzerland at CHF 150 (€130). Gilles Besse also showed two vintages of Cayas, his top award-winning Syrah.

Early the next morning, we left for Ticino, Switzerland’s Italian-speaking canton. Though Ticino only produces around 7% of the country’s wines, its Merlot creates some of the most famous and expensive bottles in the country. Our first stop was at an unusual vineyard in the village of Ludiano, where vines are planted around large boulders deposited by glaciers. As they retain heat, they help ripen the grapes in this wet and often cool climate. Cristina Monico, winemaker at Cantina Moncucchetto gave us an introduction to this more Mediterranean region.

The afternoon continued with a comparative tasting of Swiss wood ageing. Gerhard Benninger, the cooper at Tonnellerie Schuler led us through the different types of Swiss oak and chestnut. We then tasted the differences for ourselves. Two flights of Merlot from Gialdi/Brivio, the Swiss producer who uses the most barrels in the country (1500 annually), one flight of Merlot from Gianfranco Chiesa and one flight of 2 different Merlot Biancos from Schuler Weine. We finished the day with a walk around tasting with 18 different producers at the newly opened, Casa del Vino, an old mill which has been converted into a gastronomic centre focusing on Ticinese wine and locally produced food.

Our last day was spent in the Graubünden, Switzerland’s most renowned Pinot Noir area and in Zürich to taste a number of wines from the smaller wine producing areas of Zürich, Aargau and Schaffhausen. But before we could tuck into some extraordinary Completer and Pinot Noir clones with Martin Donatsch and Georg Fromm, our bus was pulled over by the polizei! Apparently, our driver had overtaken trucks on a road that he was not supposed to and so our bus was weighed and searched for over an hour. In the end, our cultural discoveries were not just vinous ones.

Overall, it was an exciting trip that showed Switzerland’s beauty and diversity, and also provided a laugh or two.

For more information on Swiss wine and our trip, visit https://swisswine.ch/fr/imw2017

Robin Kick MW
26 September 2016