I recently judged at the 20th Mondial des Pinots in Sierre, Switzerland. This is my second year at this show organised by Swiss wine organisation VINEA and continues to be a revelation. This year more than 60 judges from Switzerland and around the world came together to judge wine dedicated to the pinot varieties. There were 1300 entries from 461 producers across 25 countries (Australia included). My tasting panel consisted of a Swiss winemaker, a wine export manager from Lebanon (Beqaa Valley), a winemaker from Italy and an oenologist from France.
We tasted pinot noir, pinot blanc, Pinot Gris and Rose Blanc de Noirs — 121 wines in total — and gave 12 gold and 45 silver medals. The Swiss pinot noirs, in particular, continue to reveal themselves and in my opinion would be up there with their Burgundian counterparts as well as their NZ friends. The wines have body, flavour and finesse, while the pinot gris styles are true to form and sit alongside the French winemaking in style.
There are more than 200 grape varieties grown in Switzerland, with the most popular white chasselas (pronounced Shuss-luh) and pinot noir in the red department. The chasselas is a very old native Swiss grape variety that originated on the shores of Lake Geneva and is grown widely in other parts of Switzerland, however, in the canton of Valais it is known as fendant. This style can be made as a dry or off-dry style and also a sparkling white wine and is extremely adaptable and very enjoyable.
The Swiss drink nearly all of the wines they make and in 2016 the Swiss drank 89 million litres with only about 1 per cent exported, mainly to Germany. Because of the steepness of many Swiss vineyards it is not uncommon to see helicopters either spraying the vines or lifting the hand-picked grapes back down the mountain to the winery with many smaller wineries using monorail-type wagons to transport the grapes down the slopes. To give you some idea, the highest altitude vineyard in Switzerland (indeed Europe) is at Visperterminen in the Valais at 1150m. During a trip on Lake Zurich we saw vines close to the water’s edge as well as high trellis vines leading to the tops of the mountains overlooking the lake.
The 2013 Gardners Ground Shiraz is made from grapes that come from an organic farm located within a community title in Canowindra in Central NSW. Jenny and Herb Gardner also make merlot, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay from their 14.5ha vineyard. The wine displays a deep inky black colour with a vibrant purple hue. The nose is awash with dark/red berry fruits and hints of nutty French oak. The full-bodied palate is powerful and dense and on first sip you’ll sit up and want to explore more. The palate is silky and juicy with very good mouthfeel and palate length. The components such as acid/oak/tannin marry beautifully into the wine. A real eye opener and one you should source if you want an organic wine. (rrp $20)
For those of you who are still drinking chardonnay then perhaps Metal 2016 Classic Chardonnay will suit you right down to the ground. Straw lemon in colour, the nose oozes tropical fruit with no traces of oak. The palate is showing ripe varietal fruits such as mango, nectarine and rockmelon.
The acidity is crisp and refreshing and sits well with the tropical fruits. This unwooded chardonnay has layers upon layers of fruit and is going for a song at $12 rrp.
Where in the world would you get a reserve cabernet sauvignon for $17? South Africa perhaps? I can offer you the Berton Vineyard Reserve 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon which is deep crimson in colour with a vibrant purple hue around the rim. The fruit on the nose offers spicy plumy aromas with red/black berry fruits. The palate shows blackcurrant, eucalyptus and menthol notes with wild berries. The oak is restrained and adds beautifully to the body, texture and flavour of the wine. The finish is dry with firm acid/oak/tannin flavours nicely interwoven. A beauty at this price! (rrp $17)
The 2014 Gartelmann Mudgee Petit Verdot. This grape variety was once the king pin in its native Bordeaux but has largely fallen out of favour in that part of the world, but not Mudgee. A deep rich purple colour with bright pink rim, the nose offers black peppery spice with myriad dark/red berry fruits. The tannins are evident together with firm oak. The wine displays a great concentration of fruit flavours with body, texture and good length of palate. This is a full-bodied wine with oak/acid/tannin aplenty all adding to longevity; it will go for years if properly cellared. An amazing wine and one worth sourcing if you’re looking for something different to enjoy. (rrp $30)
Staying with Gartelmann, try their 2017 Stephanie Orange Pinot Gris. This wine follows in the French style of barrel maturation to add texture and flavour. Bright lemon in colour, the fruit on the nose is perfumed pineapple, white pear and honeysuckle notes. The palate is nicely flavoured with a lovely creamy texture which is something I like in this style of wine. For me, this is a great alternative to chardonnay. The acids on the dry finish are firm without being overly expressive. The fruit lingers on the palate and the finesse and texture is something to die for. (rrp $25)
Verdelho is a white Portuguese variety that originally hails from the island of Madeira in the Atlantic, off the African coast. The 2016 Catherine Vale Pipers Verdelho, however, comes from the Upper Hunter at Broke. It features a lively bright lemon colour with the tropical fruits virtually jumping out of the glass. The palate is fresh as a daisy with mouth-watering acidity. The apricots, guava and other tropical fruits all play a part combined with a crisp, spicy acid finish. (rrp $18)
Also from Catherine Vale, try their 2016 Catherine Vale Arneis. This style comes from Piedmont, Italy, but is something that the people at Catherine Vale do best, with a clear hand on Italian grape varieties. This wine is light straw in colour and nicely scented with honeysuckle and citrus flavours.
The palate is soft and fruit driven with those same flavours found on the nose cascading down onto the palate. The acidity is soft to medium with the concentration of the fruit flavours lingering on the palate. (rrp $18)
Jim McMahon teaches hospitality at Sutherland TAFE