Saturday, 2 November 2019

Enter a parallel universe. The Basler Weinmesse






We love Swiss wine. It is different, original. Switzerland is an ampelographic hotspot to be sure with many native grape varieties. Until now we have sought Swiss wines out from the specialist importer Alpine Wines (founded by Nick Dobson now owned and run by Joelle Nebbe-Mornod) and frequented Swiss winemerchants in Switzerland such as Lavinia in Geneva, Paul Ulrich in Basel and


others in Zurich but now the opportunity arose to attend the Basler Weinmesse and it was this experience which opened our eyes to the true singularity and idiosyncracy of Swiss wine.

Indeed, there are so many differences between Swiss wine and all other wine that visiting the Basler Weinmesse is like entering a parallel universe.

Consider this:


1. A typical producer might have up to 15 different grape varieties or more. A typical one: Les Fils Maye S.A. (Valais) had wines made from the following;

White grapes

Amigne
Chasselas (Fendant)
Humagne Blanche
Malvoisie
Marsanne (Hermitage)
Muscat
Petite Arvine
Savignin Blanc (Heida, Paien)
Silvaner (Johannisberg)


Red

Cornalin (Humagne Rouge)
Diolinoir
Gamay
Gamaret
Merlot
Pinot Noir
Syrah

Some of these are French varieties, some Swiss, some international and one German. Note how many have their own local Swiss names. One, Diolinoir is a Swiss crossing (Robin Noir x Pinot Noir).

So it is as if all grapes are admitted with the international varieties given no more prominence than any other.

2. The national signature grapes are quixotic to say the least. What other country gives prominence to Chasselas or has such a number of blanc de noirs (Ticino) or makes such a feature of blending Pinot Noir and Gamay to an extent unknown elsewhere (Dole)?



3. Switzerland is remarkably active in producing their own crossings and hybrids. In all the Weinmesse there were only three products of the great German grape breeding institutes - a Solaris (Geisenheim), a Bacchus (Geilweilerhof) and an Ortega (Wuerzburg) to whit and all from the same producer. No, here were a multitude of grapes developed at the Caudoz viticultural research centre in Pully, near Lausanne - today part of Agroscope, such as the Diolinoir already mentioned, Gamaret, Garanoir, a new one of great interest, Carminoir - a Pinot Noir x Cabernet Sauvignon cross of which more later and 8 Blattner varieties. What a difference with the Dutch wine event we went to recently where almost every single variety was a German hybrid.

Shelves of 50cl bottles at Globus department store.
4. The Swiss have a fondness for the 50cl bottle for which no one else on earth seems to have felt the need.

5. A majority of wines at this fair at least were priced around CHF20. Not many were cheaper and quite a few were more expensive so as is well known, Swiss wines tend to remain in the domestic market. Production is small, the land is difficult, the Swiss Franc is expensive (CHF1 is currently almost equal to USD1) and the sheer other-worldliness is daunting to the outside world.

6. There is a surprising lack of communication between the various parts of Switzerland especially between the French and German-speaking areas. We have found it wellnigh impossible to buy wines from the German-speaking regions in the French-speaking ones for example. The Basler Weinmesse is valuable in bringing all regions together. Basel sits near the border between French and German Switzerland so is well placed from that point of view. Indeed, it has its own wine producers - Basel-Land - of which about a dozen were represented. We had no idea there was such a wine region.
                  
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Slotovino started this foray to Basel in our usual cack-handed way. Just assuming opening time would be in the morning - knowing the Swiss perhaps at 09.00 or even 08.00 when the offices start business - we booked flights to arrive around 11.00 and leave at 17.00. It was only after getting up at 04.45 to catch the 08.00 and standing in the queue to board at lovely Gatwick's lovely North Terminal that we thought to check the opening time and discovered it wasn't until 15.00! Who on earth leaves the opening time to 15.00? Answer, the Swiss in their parallel universe.



Hastily booking ourselves a later return, we thought we could salvage the situation by doing the rounds of Basel's wine shops before going along to the fair at 15.00. Congratulating ourselves for remembering the name Paul Ulrich, (temple of Swiss wine) and approximately where it was and furthermore taking a tram to get there. Imagine our disppointment when we found out it was Montags geschlossen.

Indeed on calling the Messe we were told most of the independent wine shops would be closed because they would be exhibiting at the fair.


Plan C took us to various department stores including Globus - impressive mainly for a display of wine bottles in the lift - Migros, impressive for not selling wine,






Lidl who made a good effort to market Swiss producers


Manor's Swiss wine selection (front)

Manor's Swiss wine selection (back)

and Manor where we got lucky.

Buess Dioly Noir (sic)

Ever since reading Jose Vouillermoz's trenchant opinions on hybrids (not much good) we had been fascinated by the only one he had any hopes for - Divico, a (red) Gamaret/Bronner cross by the Caudoz viticultural research centre in Pully (Agroscope).  We had actually planted a couple of Divico vines ourselves just to see what would happen (they died) but had never been able to find a 100% Divico wine so buying a bottle or even just tasing Divico was one of our top aspirations in making the journey to Basel in the first place. This was not to be but there were compensations especially in the form of that other Agroscope crossing, Diolinoir. (We since learned that there is a Divico producer in the UK no less: Halfpenny Green wine estate near Wolverhampton in Staffordshire).




 Manor had not one but two Dilinoirs so we snapped them up on the spot.

Baseler Messehalle 2
Reception kindly admitted us without delay
inside pleasantly uncrowded at that early hour of 3pm.


Practically the first table on entering Hall 2 was to be found Patrizio Baglioni, the sales manager of a Ticino producer Cantina Giubiasco. We asked Sr. Baglioni if he had any native grape varieties from Ticino knowing full well that all they had was Merlot, Merlot and more Merlot but our friend put his hand on a bottle of something called Bondola.



Assuring us this was indeed a native Ticinese grape, Sr. Baglioni informed us that up to the 1950s, the majority of red wine production in Ticino was from this grape and it was only since then that Merlot had crept in leaving only five producers of Bondola of whom Cantina Giubiasco was one.

Tasting our first Bondola was a delight. The bottle had been chilled but this was a wine that could be drunk equally well at room temperature.

This is truly a Swiss variety; there is no Bondola in Italy for example. We were tremendously excited to discover this new variety and nagged our new friend to let us buy a bottle. He was not very keen to let one go as he needed to be sure he had enough for the rest of the fair (another 5 days) but he was kind enough to relent and now we are the proud posessor of what might be the only bottle of Bondola in the UK.


Another ambition was to taste a Garanoir on its own. We had only ever encountered it in conjunction with Gamaret of which there seemed to be plenty of examples in purezza.

Maszeros Martin
Thanks to another friendly person, this time of Hungarian heritage, Martin Maszaros at the Cellier du Chablais table we indeed tasted our first Garanoir. It was different from Gamaret perhaps more rustic? In this case, it was 'lieblich' although dry.


The great thing about this Baseler Weinmesse was that there were often more than one chance to taste rarities and indeed here was another Garanoir.



Preparation is strongly advised for these events but as well as not checking the opening hours we hadn't been able to download the catalogue for the fair. On receiving our copy at reception we immediately saw the name Bonvin and determined to make this our point of reference as it were for the whole Weinmesse.


The reason was that we had won this bottle of Bonvin Petite Arvine in the 'Wine Grapes' challenge to find a grape variety missing from their 1,368 varieties. By a fluke we had recently had a bottle of Voudomato so checking that name we discovered it had been left out. We assumed the bottle of Petite Arvine might have been selected by Jose Vouillamoz and we liked the name of the producer. What could be better than Bonvin?




 We decided to renew our acquaintance with both Humagne Rouge and Cornalin.




It was strange to read on the back labels that Humagne Rouge is described as an Ancien cepage Valaisien and Cornalin is said also to be an Ancien cepage Valaisien apelle egalement Rouge du Pays. Wine Grapes notes that this has been disproved and in fact Humagne Rouge is identical to Cornalin so it will be interesting to taste these two side-by-side. Humagne Blanc is entirely unrelated to Humagne Rouge. Bonvin had a bottle but we couldn't buy everything of interest. There was just far too much of it.

These varieties could be found on most tables devoted to Swiss wines (there were others dealing with different parts of the world) so we concentrated on the more obscure grapes.

Chevalier Bayard Diolinoir
Leyscher Diolinoir Barrique
We started seeing Diolinoirs aplenty. 


But then we came across something called Carminoir. This name was completely new to us and on enquiring we were told it was a Pinot Noir/Cabernet Sauvignon cross. Tasting was heavenly - beautifully soft and mellow. Subsequently we read in Wine Grapes that the Pinot Noir predominates in Carminoir but hey!

Trust us, the sign says Domaine Cornulus.
Sadly nothing would persuade Domaine Cornulus to part with a bottle. Apparently these were cask samples and the wine wouldn't be bottled until December.

Gregor Kuonen Carminoir

There was a second Carminoir even. One from Gregor Kuonen, Caveau de Salquenen, Valais.



The discoveries were by no means over. As mentioned this fair was not confined to Switzerland. We checked in at a table promising wines from Moldova and Ukraine as well as Switzerland: Ion Gherchiu Bessarabie Vins. This sounded promising.



Indeed there was this discovery. A wine from a grape called Telti-Kuruk from a region called Shabo in South-East Ukraine. None other than Stéphane Derenoncourt has hailed this wine calling it 'The awakened giant.' Certainly Telti-Kuruk is a delicious mouthful and deserves to be better known.




In fact it was difficult to move withoout finding items of interest. We had recently come across a Tuscan Tempranillo - now here was a Monferrato Bastardo!


The engaging Swiss owner of Preli, Christof Weber was on hand to show us his range. Grapes include Barbera, Brachetto, Chardonnay, Timorasso and Moscato. The reds Nebbiolo, Cabernet-Sauvignon and Albarossa. Mr. Weber might have explained how Trousseau/Bastardo got into his vineyard but if so, we can't remember for the moment.


The Basler Weinmesse is the kind of  fair where it is impossible to walk down the aisles without finding items of interest.



at the St. Jodern Kellerei (Visperterminen, near Brig) we found a beautiful bottle of Resi (aka Reze) - a native grape of great antiquity, formerly quite widespread through Swiss lands and even as far as Italy. Wine Grapes suggest Resi is 'worthy of greater attention.' We couldn't agree more. There are only 2 ha. left in the Valais. St. Jodern's Heida (Savignin Blanc) was also a lovely mouthful.

Domaine Chiquet table
There was also a Gwaess (Gouais/Heunsich), a Lafnetscha (Lafnetscha vines cover fewer than 2 ha. of the earth's surface) and no doubt others of interest along the way but what caught our eye next was a Basel/Solothurn producer called Domaine Chiquet.


Here were exclusively Blattner varieties:

Sauvignon S. (Sauvignon Soyhieres)
Prisma (Cal 1-22)
Mairah (Cal 1-28, Cal 1-15, Cal 1-14 and Cabernet Jura)
Ormalinger Rote (Cal 1-22, Cal 1-36
Calif 28 (Cal 1-28)



We tasted only the Sauvignon Soyhieres and must admit decided there and then that we preferred this to most other white Blattner varieties.


By this time we shouldn't have been surprised to meet with further discoveries but there was one quite unexpected one at Weinbau Klushof Koellreuter: a Chasselas x Chardonnay cross called Charmont.



Wine grapes sums Charmont up as 'Minor Swiss cross making slightly more aromatic wines than its parents.' Later in the entry, there is an admission that the variety is 'lacking the elegance of its more illustrious parents.' We had to buy a bottle nonetheless. At only 11.2% and only CHF14, what harm could it do?

All this in a couple of hours. What a great universe!