Our first full day in Switzerland was full of one breathtaking vista after another. We traveled to the Valais wine growing region, east of our home base of Montreux. We saw miles and miles of steeply terraced vineyards with snow capped mountains as a backdrop. We were soon on those terraces as we walked a spectacular wine path called “Le Bisse des Clavaux.” Bisse is a channel for water from the melting snow and we walked with the bisse on one side and the terraces sharply falling to our right. We had arranged for lunch at Le Cube, a restaurant nestled in the vineyards and owned by winemaker Philippe Varone, where we had a 5 course lunch paired with wine.
Philippe Varone produces 500,000 bottles, which makes him a medium sized producer. His winery was started in the early 1900s by his ancestors and they have expanded steadily. They have started a full fledged oenological center at the base of the mountain where most of his vineyards are located. With our lunch we enjoyed a Grand Cru Fendant ’14 AOC Valais, from a single vineyard. Grand Cru is a new designation in Switzerland with strict rules to follow. We also learned that the Chasselas grape is called Fendant in the Valais. That was followed by the indigenous Heida aka Paien, Petite Arvine, and the Humagne Blanche all white grapes that were light in body, round with a slight effervescence, very quaffable wines for aperitif or with food; we finished with a syrah that was spicy and fruity, a very good example of the variety.
Our next visit was the first German Swiss vineyard as you head up the Valais: Albert Mathier in Salgesch. We were greeted by winemaker Fadri Kuonen who proudly showed us his qvevri or amphorae imported from Georgia. He was the first in Switzerland- and until recently- the only to use qvevri to produce wine in the 7,000 year old method. We tasted his white amphora, a blend of 3 white grapes with requires an acquired taste; Pirouette Fendant ’14; Johannisberg ’14 (sylvaner); Ermitage ’14 (Marsanne); and the Humagne blanc. The Ermitage was full bodied, fragrant and delicious, my favorite white. For reds Fadri served us the Humagne red which surprisingly has no relationship with the white grape; and my favorite red, the Cormalin ’14 which was too young and needs another year at least to be appreciated at its best.
I neglected to mention that yesterday the group went on a lunch cruise of Lake Léman aka Lake Geneva under a spectacular sky and then checked into our lakeside hotel, Golf René Capt. We ended the day with an impromptu wine and cheese gathering in the hotel’s lakeside garden.
Switzerland is everything you imagined!