Michelle writes the Notes from Memphis blog, a showcase of art, architecture, news, and general joy about living in Downtown Memphis. Over the past two years we've gotten together from time to time with other friends to spend an afternoon tasting wine and having fun. She also gets the opportunity to do some groovy international travel, and through a series of odd events she was able to help me complete part of my jigsaw puzzle of Europe with a pair of Swiss wines.
You don't see a lot of Swiss wine outside of the country, and that makes sense when you're surrounded by the powerhouses of Germany, Italy, and France, not to mention Austria. For perspective, Switzerland produces about 1/60th the wine that France does, and 98% of it stays in Switzerland.
I love meeting Swiss people. I know enough bits of German, French, and Italian that we can get along great. In return, they look at me like a dog that is suddenly able to walk on its hind legs and speak human--they have justifiably low opinions of American language skills. If I hear a Schwiizertüütsch accent, I know I can have some fun. Likewise, these labels were sort of from an alternate reality: laid out like German wines, but with French names, and featuring nothing that was recognizable. I found them fascinating and exciting, much like my earlier passion for stamp collecting.
These bottles were produced by Jean-René Germanier, whose family has been in the wine business in the town of Vétroz since 1886. These wines are made in the southern canton of Valais from the Fendant grape, the local name for Chasselas. This region is also home to Visperterminen, the highest elevation vineyard in Europe at 1150m/3800ft. (While impressive, I've had Colorado wine made at 1400m/4700ft, and some Colorado vineyards go up to 2100m/7000ft above sea level.)
2008 Fendant Coteau D'Ardon Classique
$15, 12% abv.
Bright, clean, strong floral and mineral elements on the nose. Very crisp and dry, and only slightly fruity. The overwhelming experience on the palate is acidity and stone.
2009 Fendant Vétroz Les Terrasses Classique
$15, 12% abv.
This one is similar in profile, but I was able to narrow down the characteristics a little better. Elderflower and wet granite is the best way I can describe it. While this one is fuller in body, the two wines are very close, and completely different from what I was expecting. Based on the tradition of Swiss winemaking in Missouri and Arkansas I was expecting something honey-sweet and full of giant fruit, but was instead rewarded with a pair of light, restrained, and certainly terroir-driven wines. I can't say that these would be crowd pleasers like a sweet Riesling. I think to properly enjoy these you're going to need some experience with the mild wines of Alto Adige, Alsace, and other sorts of transitional wine regions in colder areas.
Thanks again to Michelle for these wonderful wines, and I'd highly recommend trying a Swiss wine if you're interested in a little adventure. If you are part of a group of wine fanatics and have a wicked sense of humor, slip one of these into a blind tasting. Always fun to stretch the palate a bit, especially when people aren't expecting it.
P.S. Here's my Risk-style map of Europe with the countries whose wines I've tasted highlighted in purple. If we add in beer and spirits I've got most of the continent conquered. The breakup of Yugoslavia adds a bunch of separate states, and tiny countries like Luxembourg and Liechtenstein are probably going to require a personal visit. I'm not going to bother with the Principality of Andorra or the Most Serene Republic of San Marino.