I met Dr. José Vouillamoz at lunch...in the Republic of Georgia. An international gathering of wine professionals sat in the autumn sunshine eating roasted meats and drinking Rkatsiteli fermented in qvevri. When I turned to make conversation with my table mate, he modestly revealed he was working on a book with the tremendous ambition of cataloguing the world’s grapes under production. “Wow!” was all I could muster.
José, ampelographer (an expert in the study and classification of cultivated grapes) and vine geneticist, hosted a Swiss wine tasting at the conference with collaborator Jancis Robinson. I tasted many Swiss wines for the first time, including Chasselas, also called Fendant and Gutedel, the country’s best known variety. When sourced from over-productive vineyards, it’s a rather watery-tasting white, but today there are many well made Chasselas. Jose described them as “like Muscadet on the nose and honey on the mid-palate.”
Tasting with José at the conference was educational, but only when our press trip took to the countryside did we see, smell, and taste the wonder of the Valais. This is Switzerland’s largest wine region where wine grapes are harvested more than 1000 meters high. We spent three days steeped in this alpine wine culture and tasted rare wine varities including Arvine, Amigne, Cornalin, Rèze, and more.
We zig-zagged down a rocky slope that had vineyards cutting across its face. We concentrated on our balance as we snapped photos of magnificent vistas and repeatedly stopped in awe. This vineyard was as incredible for its remote location and height as its beauty. At a slight flattening in the ground, lunch and a tasting had been prepared. Pumpkin soup from a brass cauldron, and a world of savory Swiss cheeses and dried meats awaited us. We were spoiled with a fine selection of white wine, including sweet and dry Amigne and Arvine, and red wine including Humagne Rouge and a range of savory, bold Syrahs. The wines were from the recently restored vineyards of Jean-René Germanier, whose wines have been recognized as among the best in Switzerland. He and enologist and co-owner Gilles Bess have devoted efforts to native varieties and working with the unique terroir of the Valais.
Provins Arvine 1971 – This wine also had strong apricot flavor as well as orange marmalade and blood orange. It had great balance and huge length. José’s comment on this: “It has become a meditation wine.”