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wines of Switzerland

by Tom Cannavan, 03/04

Based in Berkshire, Nick Dobson Wines was established in 2002 and has become known for its range of Beaujolais, Mâconnais and Côte Chalonnaise Burgundies. Nick has recently added a Swiss range to his portfolio. Having done business in Switzerland in an earlier career, Nick says "not only do I like Swiss wines, but it gives me a good excuse to keep going back".
 

Swiss wine is an almost unknown quantity outside the country's borders. There are two principal reasons: one is that the production is pretty small, and two is that the patriotic Swiss drink most of it themselves. The quality of Swiss wines is widely acknowledged to by high, but so too are the prices: growing grapes in Switzerland is not cheap, and the affluent Swiss economy means locals will pay top dollar for their wines.

I can probably count the number of Swiss wines I have tasted previously on two hands, so this was a rare and welcome opportunity to try something different, from one of the world's least known quality fine wine nations. I have to say I was very impressed overall: not only did these wines live up to the challenge of "being different" but they were also very well made and delicious. It was a wine made from the "international" variety Viognier that probably took the top prize in my opinion, yet the all-Swiss oddity Gamaret (a cross of white and red grapes) from Les Perrières more than held its own too.

I wish the enterprising Nick Dobson all the best of luck, and hope the great British wine-loving public will give these wines a try. I can put hand on heart and say that whilst not cheap, they deliver real quality for their prices, and make for an intriguing drinking experience. At a time when the range and variety available on the shelves seems to be shrinking, it is wonderful that bold individuals are still offering wine-lovers real choice. All prices in pounds sterling (approximately £5=$9US/€7.50).

white

Luc Mermoud (Switzerland) Chasselas de Lully 2002
Chasselas is the archetypal Swiss grape, though unfortunately it has attained some notoriety due to large volumes of not very good wine that lack concentration and flavour. This example comes in a screwcap (a welcome sign of a producer interested in quality) and has a very pale colour. On the nose there are notes of malted grain, soft, melon fruit and a hint of nuttiness. On the palate it is light and a little bit neutral, with some pear-drop fruit, crisp, underripe melon, and a good core of acidity that is fresh, without being tart. It has pretty good length, and would be a good partner to firm white fish like turbot or halibut. Difficult to judge given my lack of experience with this grape, but it grew on me. Very good. £7.95.

Les Perrières (Switzerland) Chardonnay de Peissy 2001
This Chardonnay is fermented and spends twelve months in Nevers oak, but I presume that must be lightly toasted and is predominantly older wood, because the effect on the nose is to add just a background level of sweet vanilla and spice, whilst the dominant force is limpid, very honeyed fruit. Mealy and soft, there are little floral, honeysuckle notes too. On the palate, the wine is quite clean and crisp, and although there is good weight and a supporting cushion of leesy, creamy density, it is sprightly, juicy white fruit and citrus acidity that sets the character for this wine. On the finish, more spice and oaky warmth emerges. Very good indeed. £11.95

Luc Mermoud (Switzerland) Sauvignon Blanc de Lully 2002
This is a memorably unique and arresting style of Sauvignon Blanc. Had I been served it blind, I would probably have placed it as late-harvest Gewürztraminer given its pungently spicy, tropical-fruited, floral-tinged nose The colour is a relatively deep gold too, suggesting these must be very late-harvested grapes, fermented with the skins perhaps. On the palate there is a definite sweetness to this wine, and a real richness of texture and flavour. There is a mass of grapefruit and gooseberry-tinged, peachy fruit with a good core of acidity, but that is somewhat overwhelmed by the richness and concentration of this wine. A distinctive style, but an outstanding Sauvignon that takes no prisoners. Excellent. £11.95

Domaine du Paradis (Switzerland) Pont des Soupirs Viognier 2002
If the Sauvignon is the most memorable white wine of this selection, then this Viognier is probably the best. The colour is, again, quite deep, but the arresting nose is flooded with inviting honeysuckle, spices, and super-succulent apricot fruit. There's a honeyed limpidity about this wine on the nose, and a luscious character. On the palate the texture is smooth and silky, and the fruit is like biting into a ripe, sweet pear. Fleshy and round, good acidity stops this from beijg overblown, and a toasty edge that fills out the finish adds another layer of complexity (this wine is 50% barrel-aged). It is heavyweight without being at all flabby, and with its very good length, this is another Viognier to turn me from a sceptic, to a bit of a fan. In the Wine Report 2004, Swiss expert Chandra Kurt tips Domaine du Paradis in her top 10 fastest-improving estates, and on this evidence I can see why. Excellent. £14.95

red

Domaine des Abeilles d'Or (Switzerland) Rosé de Gamay de Satigny 2002
This rosé has a very distinct copper colour, and a very pretty aroma of wild strawberry, rose-hips and a touch of straw-like, herbal character. On the palate there is plenty more of that creamy red fruit and little bubblegummy hints, but there is also a tannic bite, some earthy, truffle hints and broad-based, but pert acidity. Quite long and tangy, this is a very nicely made rosé. Very good/very good indeed. £7.95

Domaine du Paradis (Switzerland) Gamay de Satigny 2002
This wine is pretty big-framed, with plenty of spice and stuffing, yet retains lots of classic, typical Gamay character. It has a fairly deep, vibrant cherry colour, and a nose of brightly-toned currant fruit, a hint of baked plum pie and some spice. On the palate it is smooth and quite round, with an almost Merlot-like character. It is typical Gamay too, but without the acetone character of Carbonic Maceration. There is more earthiness here, and a Pinot-like edge, with some cherry and strawberry fruit and hints of briar. Spicy and with a bit of tannin and acid in the finish, this is savoury stuff, and really very good indeed. Serve after 15 minutes in the fridge door. £8.50.

Les Perrières (Switzerland) Gamaret 2002
Gamaret is a relatively new Swiss cross of Gamay and Reichensteiner (a white grape) which is rather taking Switzerland by storm, especially in the Geneva Canton. I was quite startled to learn that 49% of Switzerland's 2002 harvest was red wine grapes, and white grapes - especially Chasselas - are being replaced by Gamaret and other red grapes to such an extent that the balance will by now have tipped towards red. The Gamay origins of this wines are quite clear, with a typical watercolour paintbox aroma, and plenty of fresh red fruits, currants and sweet, floral notes. This wine is "élevé en Fûts de Chêne", but the oak is background, adding some warming clove spice and gentle toastiness. It adds more structure and power on the palate: the wine is open and broad-shouldered, with chocolate and spice as well as the blueberry and cherry fruit. Really very impressive, with lots of mouthfilling toast and eathy, tannic bite into the finish. Very good indeed/excellent. £11.75

Domaine des Abeilles d'Or (Switzerland) Chouilly "Douce Noire" 2002
This flagship wine is a blend of indigenous and "international" grapes varieties. There is more Gamaret here, and intiguingly, another Gamay x Reichensteiner cross called Garanoir, plus a French melange of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The whole lot is aged in oak barrels. It has a deep but quite bright ruby/crimson colour, and a gently perfumed, aromatic nose with notes of raspberry and soft summer fruits, but also a truffly, damp undergrowth quality. There's a background hint of anise. On the palate it is smooth and very juicy, with lots of redcurrant and raspberry fruit, and a nice roughening edge of plumskin and tart cherry. The mid-palate fills out with some toastiness and a broad, dry tannic bakground. Acidity is very good, and really pushes through the finish giving good length and balance. A lovely, unusual wine, and really excellent. £15.75