Swiss Wine: Oeil de Perdrix

The sun has been shining and summer is here so, after previously exploring a couple of the Swiss white and red grapes, I decided it was time for me to sample some Swiss rosé. Oeil de Perdrix is a rosé made from pinot noir. The name means eye of the partridge and is a reference to its pink colour (apparently partridges’ eyes turn pink when they are killed – not the nicest thing to name your wine after!).

While Oeil de Perdrix is now a protected AOC wine (it can only be made in Neuchâtel, Geneva, Vaud or Valais), it actually originated up in the champagne region. Prior to inventing the methode champenoise, the regions attempts at making white wine from red grapes resulted in pale pink wines which were referred to as vin gris or Oeil de Perdrix. When Dom Pérignon later worked out how to make truly white (and sparkly!) wine from the red grapes the Champenoise stopped making Oeil de Perdrix, however somehow the technique travelled to Neuchatel and was adopted there.

These days Oeil de Perdrix is a dry wine made with free run juices and with very little contact between the skin and the juice. While Neuchâtel is it’s spiritual home (it was originally only produced there), the two I tried were from elsewhere in the Swiss Romande: one from Peissy in Geneva and one from Valais.

First up was a 2012 bottle from Les Perrieres, in Peissy Geneva (CHF12)

Les Perrieres Oeil de Perdrix

Les Perrieres Oeil de Perdrix

For a rosé wine with very little skin contact (6-12 hours) this was more of an orangey salmon pink than the delicate pale wine I would have expected. It had very few legs (surprising at 13%) and a fruity nose of apricot and apple.

Les Perrieres Oeil de Perdrix in the glass

Les Perrieres Oeil de Perdrix in the glass

This was a very acidic wine which greatly improved with some food. At first there was very little flavour, juts the acidic and a hint of minerarlity, however with food the fruit became more apparent and the wine a little rounder and softer. Not a bad wine, but not something I would want to drink too much of by itself.

The next Oeil de Perdrix I tried was a 2012 bottle from Cave Saint George in Valais (CHF11.95 from Manor) which had won a best of Swiss wines award.

Cave Saint George Oeil de Perdrix

Cave Saint George Oeil de Perdrix

This was an even darker colour than the Geneva bottle, an extremely deep pink. Again, despite being 13% there were no legs to speak of, however there did seem to be the tiniest hint of fizz, a little “spritz” which was interesting. Swirling the glass revealed fresh aromas of peach and citrus.

Cave Saint George Oeil de Perdrix in the glass

Cave Saint George Oeil de Perdrix in the glass

Again this was a very dry acidic wine with a mineral flavour, however it had a fruiter sweeter finish than the Les Perriers bottle making it more suitable for an aperitif. It was quite a rich full wine and worked well with a spicy dish I was enjoying.

These were both very dry and sharp wines and while they were a little too acidic for me by themselves, they were both lovely with food. I’m intrigued by the story and origins of Oeil de Perdrix and I’m going to keep my eye out now for a Neuchâtel bottle to try as well.

Swiss Wine: Petite Arvine

Petite Arvine is one of the “speciality grapes” of Valais canton and is generally considered to produce high quality wines.  The people of Valais are so proud of it that they hold festival (the “Arvine en Capitales”) in Fully every two years for the producers to show their wares. Unfortunately I found out about the festival too late to attend the previous one (in Nov 2013) and I now have quite a long wait till the next one.

The origins of Petite Arvine are unclear.  Local lore has it that it originated in Martigny, but it’s also been suggested (presumable by the less patriotic sort) that it may have come from the Aosta valley over the Alps in Italy.  Either way, it’s not a grape that has travelled far since it’s pretty much only grown in these two regions.

As with so many of the Swiss grapes, it’s a tricky one to grow.  Late ripening and needing lots of sun and water, it’s also fragile and prone to wind damage.  It’s really no wonder that it’s not widely grown around the world and that the Valais are so proud when they get it right.

While Arvine is a synonym for Sylvaner, Petite Arvine is a completely different grape.  It was originally thought that it was related to the Aminge variety also grown in the region, but this has recently been disproven (by DNA testing no less) so now it’s parentage is also unknown.

The grape can produce a wide variety of both dry and sweet wines and the defining flavours are usually rhubarb, citrus (moving to honeyed fruit for the sweet versions) and a slight saltiness. Both the two bottles I tried were dry wines, but they were quite different from one another.

The first Petite Arvine I tried was a 2012 vintage by Jean-René Germanier  (CHF19.90 in Coop).  Given that on their website the vineyard boasts of “their place among the premiers crus” of Valais I had high hopes for this wine.

Petite Arvine Jean-René Germanier

Petite Arvine Jean-René Germanier

The bottle itself was certainly elegant enough and I was also impressed by the custom corks which had the vintage printed on the end and the name of the producer along the side.

Petite Arvine Jean-René Germanier - the cork!

Petite Arvine Jean-René Germanier – the cork!

The wine itself was a pale gold colour.  It’s 14% which, to me, seems fairly strong for a white but it seemed to have no legs in the glass.  The nose was a mix of citrus fruit and mineral tang.

Petite Arvine Jean-René Germanier - in the glass

Petite Arvine Jean-René Germanier – in the glass

In the mouth it was very dry and acidic at first; however the finish was softer and a little sweeter in a pink grapefruit sort of way i.e. still full of acid and punch, but with a hint of honey to take the edge off the astringency.  I found that when I tried this wine with some food it seemed to get even more acidic and lose all sweetness which wasn’t great.  The label had promised rhubarb, but I couldn’t detect any in this bottle.

All in all the acid was a bit much for me in this wine, but saying that I can see how it would work well as an option for an aperitif.

The next Petite Arvine was also from 2012, this time by Frédéric Zufferey  (CHF24.90 in Globus)

Petite Arvine Frédéric Zufferey

Petite Arvine Frédéric Zufferey

While a very similar colour to the previous wine there was something special about the hue of this one.  It seemed to have an internal vibrancy and glow that just doesn’t come across in the pictures, but which instinctively drew your eye to the glass.

Petite Arvine Frédéric Zufferey - in the glass

Petite Arvine Frédéric Zufferey – in the glass

Once again there was a fairly high alcohol content (13.5%) but no legs.  It had one of the strangest aromas I have ever come across in a wine, and I hesitate to even write this, but it smelt like a box of Ryvita crackers!  While I’m rather partial to a Ryvita or two (usually topped with cheese!) I can’t say it’s an aroma I usually look for in a wine.

Fortunately, while there was a certain savouriness to it, it didn’t taste too much like Ryvita.  Instead it had a warm creamy fruitiness and a general rich feel in the mouth.   I think that there was a hint of soft pear and peach, and maybe a little of the fabled rhubarb, although to be honest, I found it hard to be specific on the flavours when my nose was still screaming Ryvita!

Once again this wine was fairly acidic, but in this bottle there was also more sweetness as well as a slight (and again unusual) saltiness to offset the acid tang.  When I had previously read the descriptions of Petite Arvine and seen salt listed as one of the flavours to expect I wasn’t quite sure about it (luckily no one mentioned aromas of Ryvita or else I probably would have avoided this grape altogether), but in this wine it really did work.

While this was possibly the weirdest wine I’ve had in a long time (or possibly ever), it’s one I really enjoyed.  Their website says that’s it’s sold out, but I’m going to keep my eyes open for this in the shops.  I would love to get some more and see what other people make of it!

Swiss Wine: Diolinoir

Diolinoir is a modern Swiss grape developed to be more disease resistance.  It was “invented” if that’s the correct word, in Pully (Canton Vaud) in 1970 and is a cross between the Diolly and Pinot Noir varieties (pollen from Pinot Noir fertilizing Diolly plants in case you’re interested).

A lot of the Diolinoir grown in Switzerland is used for assemblage wines as it blends very well, but you can find it sold is as a varietal as well.   Diolinoir typically has a deep red colour and powerful nose.  It has fairly light tannins and is said to age well.

The first Diolinoir I tried was a 2009 Magie Noir Diolinor from the village of Signy in Vaud, just above Nyon (CHF24.50 in a shop (L’Horloge) in Nyon, CHF16 direct from the producer, Domaine du Capitole).

Domaine du Capitole Magie Noire Diolinoir Bottle

Domaine du Capitole Magie Noire Diolinoir Bottle

I wasn’t in Switzerland in 2009, but it must have been an extremely sunny year.  The label picture on the vineyard’s website shows that the 2008 vintage was a hearty 13.5%, however the 2009 vintage that I tried was a staggering 14.8%!  This high alcohol content meant that the wine had some of the most amazing legs that I have ever seen, they hung forever.

Domaine du Capitole Magie Noire Diolinoir in the Glass

Domaine du Capitole Magie Noire Diolinoir in the Glass

With the wine in a glass the colour reminded me of a Malbec; it was so dark that I could barely see through it.  It had a deep berry fruit nose with hints of wood and pear.  In the mouth it was soft with very little acidity.  You would never have guessed the percentage from the taste, it was very short and there was no tang of alcohol at all.

Instead it was pleasant and bright with a hint of spice.  Overall this was a very enjoyable wine, just a bit non-descript on the palate.  I enjoyed it and would happily drink more if I had some to hand or saw it on a wine menu, however I don’t feel the need to rush back to Nyon to grab some more for my cellar.

The next Diolinoir that I tried was a 2012 vintage (13.5%) produced by Albert Biollaz based in Sion, Valais (CHF 16.90 from Wine Universe at Geneva Airport Train Station or, if you’re in the UK, £20.40 for the 2011 vintage from Nick Dobson Wines)

Albert Biollaz Diolinoir in the Bottle

Albert Biollaz Diolinoir in the Bottle

Not as dark as the Magie Noir, this still had a deep vivid ruby hue.  This wine had such an strong aroma (a intriguing mix of fruit and earthy woodland) that I was able to notice it even when the glass was across the room from me.

Albert Biollaz Diolinoir in the Glass

Albert Biollaz Diolinoir in the Glass

Being much younger this had a lot more acidity than the Magie Noir.  It was quite dry and also very short with a little hint of blackberry flavour lruking, but disappointingly, no real punch or flair to back up the power of the nose.  Again I would pop this in the category of perfectly drinkable but not terrible exciting.

Overall I would say that, while it was fun to try and new grape, especially one developed so recently, I don’t think there’s much to really “sell” Diolinor from a tasting point of view.  It’s a perfectly good, inoffensive quaffable red, but it lacks that certain something that makes a wine truly special (or at least these two wines did).  For both I felt that they smelt must more interesting than they tasted.  That said, not every wine has to be an event.  Depending on the meal or occasion, sometimes you need something reliable if a little uninteresting.

Swiss Wine: Chasselas

People have always told me that Pinot Noir is a tricky grape to get right – that sometimes it’s great and sometimes rather less than great.  While that may be largely true throughout the world, I would say it’s a grape that the Swiss seems to have mastered.  They grow quite a lot of it in Switzerland (it’s their most planted grape) and I’ve yet to have a glass of Swiss Pinot Noir that I didn’t enjoy.

Unfortunately the same can’t be said for Chasselas which is Switzerland’s second most planted grape.   Since I got here I have had some okay glasses of Chasselas, the occasional very nice glass of Chasselas and an awful lot of very very bad glasses of Chasselas –  some of which I’ve actually not been able to finish they were that bad.  As a result I have completely given up ordering Chasselas when I’m out, the chances of getting something awful are just too high!

Chasselas is called Gutedel in the German speaking cantons and Fendant when it’s produced in Valais (where it also sometimes also has a slight sparkle).  Unfortunately the name change or the slight hint of fizz doesn’t seem to significantly improve your chances of getting a drink you can enjoy.  It’s just worth noting the other names so you don’t accidentally order it!

One of the reasons for the high degree of variability might be to do with the fact the wine very strongly reflects and takes on the characteristics of the terroir where it was grown.  Chasslas grown in one area will taste very different to that from another.  This would explain why some are floral, some fruity and some are very mineral.

However it doesn’t explain why so many are just plain bad.  That probably has more to do with the fact that, in order to provide plenty of cheap wine for workers, an awful lot of Swiss Chasselas used to be grown for quantity rather than quality.  While some vineyards are now trying to produce better quality wine I suspect that some others are still going for the quantity method.

In an attempt to locate a couple of better examples for this post I decided to opt for some medal winning varieties.  I know that studies have shown that the awarding of medals can be a bit arbitrary, but I figure if a bottle has a medal at least one person has enjoyed it so hopefully it’s at least drinkable.

First up was a Chasselas from Chateau de Duillier which had won a “best of Swiss wine” award.  The Chateau is just above Nyon in Vaud and I found this 50cl bottle in Nyon itself for CHF9.90 in L’Horloge.

Chateau de Duillier

Chateau de Duillier

Their Best of Swiss Award

Their Best of Swiss Award

This wine was a pale straw/hay colour with an almost brown honeyish hint to it. There were also a few bubbles lurking at the bottom of the glass although I couldn’t feel these on my tongue at all when I drank the wine.  It has a light crisp citrus nose with some chemical notes.

Chateau de Duillier Chasselas in the glass

Chateau de Duillier Chasselas in the glass

Taste wise it was rich and full of mineral and earthy flavours with only a small amount of fruit.  Consumed by itself if was a bit too acidic for my taste and that was the main thing that came across.    The Swiss always recommend you drink Chasselas if you are going to have a fondue or raclette.  I opted for fondue and the strong acidity did help with the richness of the cheese however even the acid taste was too overpowering for me.

Fondue for one!

Fondue for one!

Certainly not the worst Chasselas I’ve ever had but not something I would buy again in a hurry.

A few days later I tried a different bottle of Chasselas and this was a very different creature.  Called L’Arquebuse it’s from Bonvillars near Neuchâtel and had won a Terravin Vaud gold medal which they are very proud of.  I bought a 75cl bottle in Coop for CHF 9.90.

L’Arquebuse Chasselas

L’Arquebuse Chasselas

It was also a pale straw colour but a bit more golden that the first bottle.  The nose had a lot of tropical fruit; pineapple and passion fruit, which had an almost fake candy like quality to them rather than fresh fruit.

L’Arquebuse Chasselas in the glass

L’Arquebuse Chasselas in the glass

In the mouth however there was no fruit at all.  It was extremely dry, short and mineral.  I hesitate to say this because I don’t mean to imply that I didn’t like it, but it was a bit like licking a rock!  I don’t think I’ve ever encountered something with so much mineral and such a complete lack of fruit flavour.  It wasn’t an unpleased experience though, just a surprising one.  There was also almost no aftertaste – one hit of rock and then nothing – very unusual.

There was still plenty of acidity, but in this case it didn’t overpower.  I was happy to drink it both by itself and with the mussels that I was having for tea that evening.  I think this was a really interesting wine and I’ve love to get it again and share it with some other people to see just what they make of it!

So there you go – Chasselas – hit and miss but never boring!

Swiss Wines: Cornalin

Switzerland is not known globally for its wine – in fact before moving out to here I had no idea that the Swiss even produced wine.   The majority of Swiss wine (about 98%) is still consumed within the country rather than exported.  You won’t find Swiss wine in many shops outside of the country (despite being able to see Swiss vineyards from my balcony I still have to travel into Switzerland to buy Swiss wine as it doesn’t make it to the shops over the border!), but due to the wonders of the internet you can now purchase a fair few different bottles online and as a result its profile abroad seems to be rising slightly.

While there are some common grapes grown (for example Chardonnay and Gamay), many of the grapes are unique to Switzerland or even to certain Swiss Cantons.

One such grape is Cornalin (or Rouge de Pays/Cornalin du Valais) which is grown in the French speaking Valais canton (and is completely separate and different to the Cornalin grown in the Italian Aosta Valley).  The Swiss Cornalin is a cross the Mayolet and Petit Rouge grapes (both from that nearby Aosta Valley) and was grown since the early 14th Century under the Rouge de Pays name until for reasons I can’t discover they changed the name to Cornalin in the 1970’s.

Apparently it’s not the easiest of grapes to grow maturing late and suffering from irregular yields and so needing a lot of love and care throughout the year as well as luck with the weather.  As a result the areas in which it was grown decreased over the last century.  More recently it has been having a bit of a revival, however the area of growth is still pretty small (only 290 acres in 2009).

However hard it is to cultivate that the results are well worth the effort.   An intense and unusual wine, it’s both fruity and floral.  The wine has is a concentrated deep red hue with a slight purple edge, it’s so dark you can barely see through it even when the glass is tilted to one side.

A glass of Cornalin

A glass of Cornalin

It has strong aromas of cherry, red berries and violets.  That violet floral note carries over in the taste as well, sometimes as a mere hint but other times quite strongly present (like in the first Cornalin I ever tasted which was made by Clos de Géronde and had more than a hint of parma violets about it).

Also present are big black fruit flavours and general pepperiness or spice.  It certainly packs a punch but it has very low tannins so it’s still easy to drink when young.   As it goes well with strong gamey meats so this is the perfect time to enjoy a bottle or two.  It also holds up well with punchy cheeses.

I’ve sampled a couple recently; 2012 Fleur Du Rhone Cornalin (CHF13.50 – Coop) and a Maître de Chais Cornalin (CHF26.90 – Coop).

Fleur Du Rhone Cornalin

Fleur Du Rhone Cornalin

The Fleur Du Rhone had an intense floral violet scent coupled with a whiff of cherry.  In the mouth this was revered with the deep cheery flavor taking over and just a slight hint of blossom, along with a little spice, to taking the edge off the intense fruit.

Maître de Chais Cornalin

Maître de Chais Cornalin

The Maître de Chais was spicier than the Fleur Du Rhone and with blackberry flavours and a slight herbal note joining the cherry.  In this wine the violet in the nose only not on the palete.  Both wines were very lively and strong with a long lasting aftertaste.  They were both slightly acidic when drunk by themselves, but worked extremely well with food (one time beef and the other cheese) which seemed to tone them down slightly.

Apparently they ages these wines tend to calm down a little becoming smoother and less boisterous.  As I’ve only encountered young versions so far I can’t really comment on this, but while not for every night or occasion, I like the powerful fruit and floral flavors of the young versions.