The perseverance of the Swiss
Swiss wines don't get much exposure in the UK, though they certainly deserve to based on their quality. Thanks in large part to our Wine Grapes co-author José Vouillamoz, I have tasted more Swiss wines in the last few years than in the previous decade, for example at the annual Mémoire des Vins Suisses, which celebrates the ability of Swiss wines to age well, and Jancis provides an excellent SWOT analysis in Swiss wines - shame about the franc.
Despite the obstacles to export, notably the fact that most Swiss wine is drunk at home and the high costs of production (thanks to what the organisers refer to as the country's "tormented and mountainous" territory) mean highish prices, I am delighted that the Swiss Wine Exporters' Association seem determined to persevere, hence this London tasting, which brought together 12 producers from the country's six wine regions, both French- and German-speaking.
In their invitation to the tasting, they give the following handy summary of Swiss wine production:
- Valais 33%, Vaud 25%, Geneva 10% (together known as the upper Rhône Valley 68%)
- Eastern Switzerland 19% and Neuchâtel 5% (together part of the Rhine basin 24%) and Ticino 7% (south of the Alps)
Four main grape varieties and a range of unique local ones
- Main grapes are red Pinot Noir (27%), white Chasselas (23%), red Gamay (10%) and red Merlot (7%).
- Plus some indigenous grapes (15%) and international grapes (13%). Main Swiss indigenous grapes include white Arvine 3%, red Humagne 3%, red Cornalin 3%, red Gamaret 3%, red Garanoir 1%, white Amigne 1%, white Raüschling 1%, and white Completer 0.1%.
While this was just a small representation, it did highlight the diversity of varieties and styles and the consistent quality that producers are mining from their demanding alpine vineyards.
The 56 wines described below are grouped alphabetically by producer, reds before whites before sweets within each group and then roughly in the order of tasting. But you can use the menu to change the order within the groups.
About Julia Harding MW
Julia Harding MW is a highly respected and independent British wine critic. After a career in publishing, Julia Harding climbed the mountain, and became a Master of Wine, winning the Robert Mondavi Award for best theory papers and was awarded the Tim Derouet Memorial Prize for excellence in all parts of the exam and dissertation. In 2005 she joined the reputed jancisrobinson.com editorial team.
2007 Masters of Wine Noval Award for Excellence in Communication
2009 Chairman's Award, Louis Roederer International Wine Writers' Awards
2014 Shortlisted, Louis Roederer International Wine Writers' Awards, Online Communicator
2012 Every major wine book prize for Wine Grapes, co-authored with Jancis Robinson and José Vouillamoz
DOMAINE DES BALISIERS, Geneva
Dom des Balisiers Aligoté 2014 Vin de Pays Suisse
Biodynamic. Fermented in tank.
Herbal and a touch buttery, more creamy on the palate. Tight and brisk and softened by the creamy, lightly buttery finish. (JH) 12.5%
Dom des Balisiers Chardonnay 2014 Vin de Pays Suisse
Biodynamic. Fermented in tank, aged on lees in amphorae, which gives a nice dusty character.
Chewy, fresh and with good intensity given the moderate alcohol. (JH) 12%
Dom des Balisiers Chenin Blanc 2013 Vin de Pays Suisse
Biodynamic. Aged in amphorae.
Lightly smoky nose. Fresh apple and citrus. Really tangy and fresh, moderate intensity, very pure and should age well in bottle. Sour-fresh finish. (JH) 12.5%
Dom des Balisiers, Le Comte de Peney 2011 Vin de Pays Suisse
Biodynamic. Two-thirds Cabernet Sauvignon, one-third Cabernet Franc. 20% aged in barrique, 80% in amphorae.
Mid ruby. Leafy complex aroma with the fruit sweetness of maturity. Refined, elegant and just slips across the palate. Ageing slowly and gracefully. Mouth-watering finish. (JH) 12.5%
Dom des Balisiers, La Dame Noire 2014 Vin de Pays Suisse
Biodynamic and from Geneva, though they use the VdP classification for all their wines. Gamay, Pinot Noir and Gamaret. 12 months in barrel.
Bright mid crimson. Lightly chalky dark-red fruit. Just a little leafy. Bright, lively, juicy and on the lighter side but harmonious. Light, definite tannins. (JH) 12.5%
Dom des Balisiers, Mélopée 2011 Vin de Pays Suisse
Biodynamic. Chenin Blanc harvested in December, with botrytis, unoaked.
Deep gold. Honeyed apricots. Intensely sweet and also intensely fresh. Super-pure and clean-cut with some marmalade on the finish. Harmonious if not especially long. (JH) 13%
£26 RRP per half
Brivio, Bianco Rovere 2015 Ticino
Merlot vinified as white. Barrel fermented.
Very very pale, almost white. Dry texture, subtle, chalky. Oak is restrained. Interesting and just a touch mineral but not a huge amount of fruit flavour, very tight and fresh. Interesting, though I am not sure I entirely see the point of white Merlot. (JH) 12.8%
Brivio, Riflessi d'Epoca Merlot 2013 Ticino
Old vines on clay soils.
Deep crimson. Invitingly deep and complex aroma of ripe plum and something a little meaty and some oak sweetness. Chewy, satisfying and fresh, with a dry finish yet plenty of fruit and no unwanted sweetness. I imagine this will have good ageing potential. Very good and still very youthful. (JH) 13.2%
Brivio, Platinum 2012 Ticino
Old vines. Made only in the best vintages. Part of the blend is made from dried grapes, but the wines are not blended until after fermentation.
Deep crimson. Packed with ripe cherry fruit. Firm, chewy and dry. Serious, both savoury and full-fruited. Great balance and the fruit intensity stands up to the tannins and the oak. Powerful and long yet not aggressive. Plenty of ageing capacity here. (JH) 14%
CLOS DU BOUX, Lavaux
Clos du Boux, La Crosse Epesses Grand Cru 2014 Lavaux
Chasselas. A little mineral and lightly spiced. Light, fresh and balanced with a salty/chalky finish. Light but sustained with a dairy/buttery note from the malo. (JH) 12%
Clos du Boux, Clos du Boux Epesses Grand Cru 2015 Lavaux
Chasselas. Full malo. Still very subtle but a bit more citrus/herbs here and a little more depth. Classic Chasselas. Slight in flavour but subtle and quite long. Dry finish. (JH) 12%
Clos du Boux, Chemin de Fer Grand Cru 2015 Dézaley
Fermented in a big oak vat and goes through malo. Stony soils.
Riper citrus here and more creamy and more complex on the nose than the Clos du Boux. This is a serious Chasselas with a sour-fresh chalky aftertaste but not a huge amount of flavour. Classic Chasselas delicacy. Dry, mouth-watering finish. (JH) 13%
£40 RRP 16.5
Clos du Boux, Chemin de Terre Grand Cru 2014 Dézaley
Pinot Noir, Gamay, Merlot, Syrah. He bought the vineyard in 2006 from his cousin, who planted all sorts of things.
Mid cherry with a bricky cast. Interesting aroma - sweet fruited, a little meaty, but slightly leafy too. Very interesting the way the varieties have melded. Harmonious, not particularly long, and the leafiness comes back on the finish, as if the Merlot is asserting itself. Really complete wine. (JH) 13%
LES FRÈRES DUTRUY, Vaud
Les Frères Dutruy, Les Romains Grande Réserve Chardonnay 2014 Vaud
Organic. All the Les Romains wines are fermented with ambient yeast, slow ferment. Barrel fermented and aged 12 months in barrique.
Subtle mealy citrus, the oak in the background. More oaky on the palate, really creamy and textured and yet still very fresh. In fact almost tart on the finish. Maybe needs a little longer in bottle to be fully integrated? Could do with a little more fruit intensity in the middle to hold the oak and acidity in harmony. (JH) 13.5%
Les Frères Dutruy, Les Romains Grande Réserve Viognier 2015 Vaud
Organic. Barrel fermented and goes through malo.
Beautifully aromatic with the perfume of the variety well integrated with a creamy oak aroma. Oak is more evident on the nose but it does not cover the peachy apricot Viognier. Perfumed but not OTT, nicely balanced and fresh on the finish. Not in the least heavy, as oaked Viognier can be. Sour-apricot persistence. (JH) 14.2%
Les Frères Dutruy Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Vaud
From Domaine de la Doye. No malo.
Chalky, green-fruited, pear-drop nose. Lively citrus, fresh yet with a light chalky texture to add interest to a straightforward and relatively subtle style of Sauvignon. (JH) 13.8%
Les Frères Dutruy, Les Romains Grande Réserve Gamay 2012 Vaud
10-12% whole bunch. Very small berries. 14 months in oak, 30% new.
Deep crimson. Sweet, spicy dark-red fruit. Really savoury and dark-flavoured, rocky like Morgon can be. Dry finesse. Really top-notch and seriously ageworthy Gamay. Savoury black-olive note. Just starting to show a touch of development. Dry finesse. (JH) 13.2%
Les Frères Dutruy, Les Romains Grande Réserve Gamay 2015 Vaud
Organic. Gravel soils with limestone deposits. Very small berries on vines aged 50 years. Mass selection from vines originally from Beaujolais. 30% whole bunch. 14 months in barrel, 30% new.
Mid to deep cherry red. The oak shows more here than in the 2012, perhaps just because it has had less time to integrate. Sweet cherry fruit. Some vanilla on the palate, less savoury than the 2012. Very good depth and length, with the sweetness of youth and riper fruit than the 2012. Juicy red-fruited finish. The oak currently a bit too evident for my taste. (JH) 14.2%
GEORG FROMM, Graubünden
Georg Fromm, Malanser Village Pinot Noir 2015 Graubünden
Their 'village' wine. Tank fermented, aged in foudre then barrique. Half underwent spontaneous fermentation.
Light bright cherry red. Sweet smoky cherry on the palate but very fresh. Soft texture. Pure and fragrant. Both juicy and nicely dry. (JH) 13.5%
Georg Fromm, Malanser Selvenen Pinot Noir 2015 Graubünden
5% whole bunch. 100% spontaneous ferment. 13 months in barrique.
Light to mid cherry. Fragrant and a little leafy. So scented and with great fruit intensity. Rich and fresh, the tannins are super-fine and still compact. Very impressive but needs another year at least in bottle. (JH) 13.8%
Georg Fromm, Malanser Barrique Pinot Noir 2010 Graubünden
A mix of Swiss and French clones, 30% whole bunch.
Lightish ruby. A nice point where it still has some fresh fruit and also a more mature sous bois character. Fragrant, a slight awareness of stems in its freshness. (JH) 13.5%
£49 RRP 16.5 points
Georg Fromm, Malanser Fidler Pinot Noir 2012 Graubünden
Single vineyard. Mid ruby. Both sweet-fruited and mature. Very fresh, still some developed character of undergrowth. Delicate and scented on the palate. Lovely long fresh finish. (JH)
Georg Fromm, Malanser Merlot 2014 Graubünden
Bright cherry red. Smoky, rich, lightly leafy, firm but juicy too. Lots of pleasure. Just slightly chewy on the finish. (JH)
JEAN-RENÉ GERMANIER, Valais
Jean-René Germanier, Vétroz Amigne Grand Cru 2014 Valais
Organic. Fermented in concrete.
Deeply aromatic with ripe fruit - apricot and almost a little honeyed, though it is a dry wine. Excellent balance between the sour-ripe fruit flavours and the freshness. Powerful and still precise in its freshness. Long, sour-fresh but ripe aftertaste. (JH) 14.2%
Jean-René Germanier, Clos de la Couta Heida 2014 Valais
Steep, isolated vineyard. Tank fermented.
Smoky, mineral and lightly herbal. Terrific intensity, bone dry and fresh. Concentrated but without any excess weight. Stunning, piercing, precise. (JH) 14.5%
Jean-René Germanier, Arvine Réserve 2011 Valais
Fermented in barrel, 10% new, the rest has been used previously for Mitis.
Pale gold. Smoky (a little reductive?) but also a hint of honey and cedar. A complex note that is rather like resin. Dry but honeyed on the palate. Really complex and fascinating wine. The complexity of maturity but with the balance and freshness to continue a while yet. (JH) 14%
Jean-René Germanier, Lapon Pinot Noir 2013 Valais
Poured from magnum. From the village of Venthôme. Fermented and aged in 500-litre casks.
Still has some fruit sweetness though it is already showing a lot of tertiary character of forest floor and mushroom. There's some sour-cherry freshness on the palate. A bit prematurely developed, I wonder? (JH) 13%
£85 RRP per magnum
Jean-René Germanier, Cayas Syrah 2014 Valais
Mid to deep cherry. Peppery, savoury dark fruit. Lovely northern Rhône Syrah peppery fragrance. Serious, peppery finesse, delicious freshness and elegant length. Long and fresh on the finish. Super-fine tannins. Very good. (JH) 13%
Jean-René Germanier, Champmarais Cornalin 2011 Valais
Picked a bit late hence the high alcohol.
Deep ruby. Very ripe and a little raisined on the nose, some dried fruits. Deep, rich and shows the overripeness yet it is fresh on the finish and the tannins rounded. More like a Ripasso… Powerful and still juicy. Lots of Cornalin character here. (JH) 15.5%
Jean-René Germanier, Mitis Réserve 2013 Valais
100% Amigne. No botrytis, aged in barrel.
Deep gold. Smoky bitter orange and apricot. Fat and smoky on the palate, almost something like ash, very interesting aftertaste. Viscous yet fresh with a fine dry texture to balance the sweetness. (JH) 14%
£43 RRP per half bottle
Gialdi, Arzo 2013 Ticino
Merlot. Exceptionally for the Gialdi label, this is from a site in the south of Ticino but at 500 m.
Deep crimson. Smells sweeter - fruit and oak - than the Platinum from Brivio. High acidity sticks out a little bit here. Not completely in balance. Not sure how it will age. (JH) 13%
Gialdi, Sassi Grossi 2014 Ticino
Merlot. Barrel aged.
Mid crimson. Leafy, fresh, red-fruits aroma. Lively, more austere than the southern wines but well balanced, giving an elegant whole, though I think it needs another year in bottle. Notable acidity. (JH) 13.2%
DOMAINE DE MONTMOLLIN, Neuchâtel
Dom de Montmollin, Goutte d'Or 2015 Auvernier
Chasselas. 2% is oak-aged in demi-muids, full malo.
Delicate lemon and green fruits on the nose. Creamy, lees texture. Gentle but fresh. Bone dry and fresh on the finish, even in 2015. Lightly chalky texture. (JH) 11.5%
Dom de Montmollin Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Neuchâtel
Tank fermented, four parcels kept separate until bottling. Full malo.
This has really aromatic ripe fruit, more apricot than passion fruit - not sure I would have got this as Sauvignon Blanc if I had been served it blind. Even though there is no oak there is a creamy note in the nose, probably thanks to the malo. Dry and more stony on the finish. Mouth-watering finish. (JH) 13%
Dom de Montmollin, Oeil de Perdrix Rosé 2016 Neuchâtel
Pinot Noir. Part direct pressing, part saignée.
Appropriately œil de perdrix colour - very pretty gleaming pale apricot pink. Fragrant with Victoria plums, and a flavourful, dry rosé. Bone dry with a light grip to the texture, lots of freshness and personality in a restrained style. (JH) 13%
Dom de Montmollin Pinot Noir 2012 Neuchâtel
Two years in barrique, 25% new.
Pale ruby with a bricky cast. Dry, just slightly drying, the structure starting to take over from the fruit, leaving it a little hard on the finish. Still has some red fruit though not quite enough for harmony. (JH) 13.5%
Dom de Montmollin, Le Soliste Galotta 2014 Neuchâtel
Galotta is a Swiss cross between Gamay and Ancellotta. Two years in oak, none new.
Deep cherry red. Sweet fruited but with nicely dry tannins to balance. Chalky finish, plenty of freshness. A little bit tart on the finish, the tannins and the acid reinforcing each other. (JH) 13%
Dom de Montmollin, Extra Muros, 2014 Neuchâtel
20% Pinot, 40% Gamaret and 40% Garanoir. Two years in barrel, 25% new.
Bright mid crimson. Chewy, dark fruited, honest and nicely dry on the finish. Tart dark-red fruits on the finish. Not entirely convinced about this blend. (JH) 13%
DOMAINE DES MUSES, Valais
Dom des Muses, Classique Fendant 2015 Valais
Chasselas. Hot and difficult vintage - especially in Sierre - hence no malo in any of his whites.
Ripe but smoky and with a touch of spice - an intense aroma for this variety. And a definite creaminess despite no malo. Rounded and riper than is typical but he has managed to keep sufficient freshness. It's less 'strict' than he (Robert Tamaracaz) would choose. Tangy finish with a very nice but subtle grip in the texture. (JH) 12.2%
Dom des Muses, Tradition Heida 2015 Valais
Again no malo because of the hot vintage.
Riper citrus than usual, even a touch of apricot, but with the variety's classic freshness well maintained. Really good intensity and still keeping its precision. Creamy lemon finish. (JH) 13%
Dom des Muses, Euterpe Séduction 2013 Valais
Very small vintage because of cold weather during flowering. Fermented and aged in barrel (previously used for the sweet wine). 60% Humagne Blanche, 40% Petite Arvine.
Super-subtle aroma, just a touch of spice and almondy citrus. Real finesse here - delicate yet sustained, the oak barely showing. Mouth-watering finish. Sheer class and still very youthful. (JH) 13%
Dom des Muses, Tradition Cornalin 2015 Valais
Mid crimson. Elegant, lifted, mineral and lightly leafy dark-red fruit. Tight, juicy, a perfect expression of the variety. Super-fine, so moreish and long in its elegance. The texture enhanced by some whole-bunch fermentation. (JH) 13%
Dom des Muses, Réserve Syrah 2015 Valais
Mid cherry red. Smoky, leathery dark fruit. Lots of peppery Syrah character. As with all his wines, this is so elegant: fine but definite tannins, pepper-scented mid palate and lovely moreish freshness. (JH) 13%
Dom des Muses, Terpsichore Séduction 2013 Valais
60% Cornalin (with some whole bunch), 40% Humagne Rouge. Small berries so it was quite tannic early on.
Mid soft ruby. Fragrant with these lovely Swiss varieties, lifted and just a little peppery. Some firmness in the tannins but they are rounded now. You can taste the oak here in a hint of chocolate but there is no unwanted sweetness. Beautifully balanced now and still a long way to go. (JH) 13%
Dom des Muses, Polymnie Séduction Or 2011 Valais
80% Marsanne, 20% Pinot Blanc. New oak.
Deep gold. Fabulous intensity of apricot cream. Silky, pure, with masses of pineapple on the palate. Some marzipan complexity. Cool and gorgeous. Seductive yet fresh. Very long. And so youthful with precise acidity to give it elegance even with all the sweetness. (JH) 14%
£70 RRP per 50cl
Provins, Maître de Chais Réserve Spéciale Petite Arvine 2015 Valais
From steep sites in Fully. Fermented in tank, aged for six weeks on the lees. No malo.
A little smokily reductive plus lots of ripe citrus fruit, almost tropical. Dry, texture giving extra depth and freshness. Lovely dry finesse. Intense in its restraint. (JH) 13.4%
£44 RRP 16.5
Provins, Maître de Chais Réserve Spéciale Heida 2014 Valais
From Sierre - hot and chalky soils. Fermented in tank, six weeks on lees, no malo.
Piercingly fresh aroma of herbal citrus. Delicate and super-fresh, with a light lees texture, long and elegant. Chalky persistence. (JH) 13.5%
Provins, Domaine Evêché 2013 Valais
All Diolinoir. Amarone style with 9-10 g/l RS. Part aged in larch barrels.
Deep cherry red. Sweet-smelling fruit lifted by a peppery spice but then much drier and firmer on the palate, chewy tannins, powerful, more structure than fruit even now. Tastes dry. Needs more time or food. (JH) 14%
Provins, Maître de Chais Réserve Spéciale Syrah 2011 Valais
Aged in oak, only 20% new.
Mid cherry red. Dominated on the nose by sweet oak spice though there is plenty of bramble fruit underneath. Oakily sweet on the palate too. Resolved tannins, plenty of fruit in a warmer vintage but the oak dominates on the finish too, leaving sweetnees not freshness in the mouth. (JH) 14%
Provins, Maître de Chais Réserve Spéciale Humagne Rouge 2012 Valais
Aged in oak, 70% new.
Mid ruby. Earthy red fruits. Fresh and red fruited on the palate with a chewy but rounded tannin grip. A variety well suited to the style of wines that are becoming more and more popular today. So fresh. (JH) 14%
Provins, Domaine Tourbillon 2012 Valais
Marsanne. Harvested in January with 80% botrytis. Barrel fermented and two years in oak. RS approx 180 g/l.
Orangey gold. Intense aroma of bitter orange and concentrated apricots. Very sweet but balanced with a nice slight grip to the texture. Great concentration and length. Viscous, mouthfilling. Seductive. It might well age longer than this but it is lovely now so I am being cautious. (JH) 12%
SCHLOSSGUT BACHTOBEL, Thurgau
Schlossgut Bachtobel, MT 2015 Thurgau
MT = Müller-Thurgau. No malo, all fermented in tank. Picked early for freshness.
Delicate, fresh, light citrus and gently floral/herbal - more blossom than perfume. Richer on the palate than I expected, with a creamy texture but still very fresh, tangy quince aftertaste. (JH) 12%
Schlossgut Bachtobel, No 1 Pinot Noir 2015 Thurgau
Unoaked. Pale crimson. Delicately fragrant red fruit, a little smoky on the palate. Fresh and delicate. Light, very well balanced and refreshing. (JH) 13%
Schlossgut Bachtobel, No 2 Pinot Noir 2015 Thurgau
Aged in foudres. 'This is the wine we like, in good times and bad times', says the producer.
Light ruby with a slight brick cast. Complex and sophisticated on the nose; still with red fruit and just the first signs of maturity. Spice, undergrowth, fine, dry tannins. Complete wine, the oak all in the background and providing a touch more structure. (JH) 13%
Schlossgut Bachtobel, No 3 Pinot Noir 2011 Thurgau
Aged in Burgundy barriques, 30% new. A mix of clones in all their wines. 15-20% whole bunch.
Lightish red with brick starting to show. Subtle mix of savoury notes and sweet red fruit. Oak completely in the background. There's that slight baked/rubber character that I have found a few times in this tasting and I wonder if it is a characterustic of one the German clones? Dry, subtle but long. (JH) 13%
VALAIS MUNDI, Valais
Valais Mundi, Electus 2015 Valais
Humagne Rouge, Diolinoir, Syrah, 18 months in barrique.
Deep crimson. Oak's sweet spice on the nose. Dense and savoury but rich on the palate. Tannins are dry, firm yet very fine - chocolate-like texture. Needs some time for the oak to recede but has the fruit to keep up with the evolution. Long finish. (JH) 14%
16.5 ++ points