The Patriotic Tourist

‘What wines should a patriotic citizen of Switzerland pour on the first of August?’, a reader of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung asked the wine editor. On the Swiss National Day, celebrating the founding of the Confederation in 1291, he wanted to uncork the right bottles. The editor refrained from too specific a recommendation, so as not to be confronted with offended wine-makers asking why their wines were not mentioned. After praising Swiss wine in general, he shared his plans for the evening: a zippy sparkling wine from Ticino as an aperitif, for starters a Petite Arvine from Wallis, to accompany the ubiquitous grilled meat (grilling is a national obsession in Switzerland) an oak-barreled Pinot Noir from Schaffhausen and for pudding a sweet wine from the Vaudois. I wouldn’t have minded to join, wine-wise at least.
AfbeeldingI must confess, the same question troubled me, a tourist in this beautiful country, too. As Switzerland is a confederation and the National Day is celebrated rather locally, the only national item being the speech by the president, a local wine would be best, I thought. The good news was that we would arrive in Graubünden that afternoon, home to the Bündner Herrschaft where they make an excellent Pinot Noir; the bad news that all shops would be closed. (Already at the French-Swiss border we had been informed that on August 1 ‘la Suisse est fermée’.) The all-Swiss Coop supermarket came to my rescue: here I found Selection 1291, a Vallaisian Dôle for the bargain price of about 8 Euro’s, with the story of the oath printed on the bottle.

Selection 1291, Dôle AOC Valais, 2014, 12,7%vol., ca. € 8
Agreeable wine, good value for money. Roundness is typical for Dôle (Pinot Noir/Gamay).


How to

Are there any parts of life not covered by How-to manuals apart from being born and start breathing, though many of us got a little help with these tasks too? Type ‘How to’ and Google provides one with a few search options: ‘how to tie a tie’, ‘how to delete facebook’ and the slightly worrying ‘how to train your dragon 2′ (something must have gone wrong the first time). Let’s be honest: these are by no means easy tasks. But visiting a vineyard? I could do that without help, couldn’t I? The Huffington Post does not agree and I must say, I have made a faux pas or two myself.

Thinking winemakers are everywhere as welcoming as in Alsace, I once headed out in rural Chianti to one of the star winemakers, via small, sometimes hardly gravelled roads, only to be chased from the premises once I got there. Didn’t I know they had a shop in Montepulciano? That’s where I should go. I didn’t. That was not what I wanted.

Malans, CH

Malans, CH

Last June, visiting the Bündner Herrschaft, a small region of quality wines in Switzerland, I thought I’d do it more carefully. Though I had a few names in mind, I asked the hotel manager if she could recommend a winemaker where I could taste and buy wine. “On such short notice?” she exclaimed. No way. Did I really think winemakers had time to receive me? They have work to do. Maybe in winter, when the vineyard needed less attention. But even then. And of course they would charge me.

When it dawned on her that I was interested in buying wine too, not in huge quantities maybe but surely more than one or two bottles, her entrepreneurship got the better of her. Why not taste the open bottles of their house wine, for sale in the winemaker’s shop just opposite the hotel? In the hotel’s kitchen, right away? Why not indeed, I liked their sparkling wine. And of course she allowed me to leave any boxes for the day in a cool place so I could do some more sightseeing.

A vineyard is not a vineyard is not a vineyard is not a vineyard.


Vivino Non Est Divinum

Kloster Fahr’s Discretio, a Federweiss, is a red wine from Rheinhessen, Germany. So is their Pinot Gris.
Surprised? Well, this is what wine app Vivino tells us. Per chance I happen to know better. Federweiss is a white, so is Pinot Gris, and Kloster Fahr is not to be found in Rheinhessen, nor in Germany.

Let me start by saying that it is not Vivino bashing I am after. I don’t use the app, nor any other wine app for that matter (though that may change). I suppose, as Vivino is community-driven, that mistakes like these will be corrected in time. I’ll correct this one here, as I feel sorry for Kloster Fahr, a community-driven institution itself, but in a less virtual world (or is it?).

KlosterFahrKloster Fahr is situated in a secluded spot in the otherwise crowded valley of the Limmat, a few miles from Zurich, Switzerland. It is a beautiful, sweet place, this monastry for female Benedictines, and of a far more humble nature than the male headquarters in Einsiedeln. Where the male Benedictines proudly present their much pilgrimaged Black Madonna and their famous Vesper service with a (mildly) polyphone Salve Regina, the nuns at Kloster Fahr make do with sacred textiles and bottles of, among others, Discretio, Laudate, Nocturna, and Gaudeamus.
Gaudeamus igitur, as these bottles contain Federweiss, Pinot Gris, Regent, and a sparkling wine respectively, made from their own grapes. The ladies, old and young, do the harvesting (Wümmet), the rest of the job is done in their commission by cellar master Roland Steinmann.

KlosterFahr-vatWine has been serious business here since 1130, the 4,2 hectares of Kloster Fahr (“ir eygen fruchtbar Gut, das man nempt Var mit der Capellen”) now providing more than they need for celebrating mass. Beside common grapes like Riesling x Sylvaner and Pinot Noir they grow Dornfelder, Zweigelt, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. Some are elevated on wood, e.g., their flag ship Monacha Pinot Noir Barrique (too much so to my taste, though some customers like it even more oaky, so Steinmann told me). The Discretio, an off-white white of Pinot Noir (Federweiss, a common thing in German-speaking Switzerland, not to be confused with German Federweißer, a young, fermenting wine), is an excellent Apéro and not too sweet. The Laudate is an agreeable, soft-spoken and off-dry Pinot Gris. Their Nocturna Regent, my favourite, is dark purple with notes of plums, black olives and vanilla.

Whatever Vivino makes of these wines, in neutro genere vinum est divinum, especially when made by nuns.


Sensible Shoes

Living in one of the ‘Ten Places in Europe You Never Thought You Could Afford’ can be a challenge. Imagine everything in your local supermarket, everything except for the cotton buds, had doubled in price and you get the picture. We are vegetarians now most of the time, and we do everything by foot.
But even expensive cities have things for free. Here it is water, for example. Everywhere in the city are so called Brünneli, water taps in the shape of a urinal with drinking water for humans and animals. Parsley too can be for free, at the Oerlikon market, but for that one needs to buy vegetables up to a considerable amount of money (but then again, one has spent a considerable amount of money before one can say ‘Wiie bitte?’ in Schwyzerdütsch). Other herbs (ramsons, burnet, thyme) can be found along streets and in the surrounding hills.
So when I read about a free wine tasting at the lake, I put on my sensible shoes and walked. It being a beautiful day I imagined a considerable crowd of wine lovers and the tinkle of glasses and happy laughter. The Bürkliplatz seemed deserted though, and the only people I saw were eating a sausage at a Wurstbude. But at the bandstand about five people had gathered, and they were sipping wine alright. Two wines were being presented: Akkurat Rot (red) and Akkurat Weiss (white), Akkurat being the name of this new brand of Staatskellerei Zürich, for sale from half June at around CHF 15. The name stands for an honest wine for daily use. That so few people had bothered to come might have had to do with the ‘spontaneity’ of the event, only advertised on their own website.
It would be a bit of a bore to say that these wines are made accurately. The red is a Pinot Noir of which one third is matured in oak. That results in an almost sweet, juicy wine with red berries and a little vanilla on the palate. Not really to my taste, but if served cool surely an agreeable ‘Apéro’. Its white counterpart is a blend of RieslingxSylvaner (=Müller-Thurgau), Muscat and Pinot Noir. Zippy, citrusy (pink grapefruit) with something exotic. Would not only do well as an aperitif, but could also accompany a meal, e.g.,  of fried white fish or roasted chicken.

If you want an impression of this ‘pretasting’, click here. For some reason no photographs of me have been selected. The sensible shoes, probably.


Merlot Symphony

Paying a short visit to Merlot country last March, we spent two fabulous days among flowering camellia’s at the lake, walking to an almost deserted village in a steep valley surrounded by snow-white mountains. At dinner, in a simple but okay restaurant, we drank a local Merlot – what else? – that did remind us of that other well-known Merlot terroir: Bordeaux. Fruity, smooth, spicy, with a touch of vanilla and a long aftertaste, this Symphonia Barrique is the first wine of Chiericati in Bellinzona, Ticino, Switzerland. And like so much other wine makers in this country, their main business is a different one, although in this case not so very different: they import and sell Swiss, French and Italian wines since 1950. Only in 1986 they have started vinifying their own, from grapes of neighbouring farmers.

Ticino wasn’t always planted with Merlot. In fact, it is just over a century that Alderige Fantuzzi, who was to help the Ticinese to improve their wine production, concluded that Merlot had the best potential. Before that the American (hybrid?) grape Isabella was most popular, though one wonders why. Yes, high yields, good resistance against heat, mildew and phylloxera but poor wines with the foxy flavours that go with Vitis Labrusca types. I have even read it made people sick, but haven’t found how, or how bad. Sick and tired enough to replant almost the entire Canton with Merlot. It paid off. It took some time, of course, but now, one is told, Swiss Merlot can compete with the great wines of the earth. That is a bit much for most Swiss Merlot, maybe, but for this Symphonia Barrique I could agree. Competing is not winning, necessarily.