I do strongly urge wine-lovers, who also enjoy superb mountain scenery and perhaps skiing, rambling and mountaineering too, to visit Valais and investigate its original and varied high quality wines.
Valais’ Rhône valley between Martigny and Visp has a lot of advantages for the production of fine wine. In past millennia, the Rhône glacier carved out a quite narrow trench depositing rich mineral diversity in the process and creating a number of southerly exposed sites between 450 and 800 metres with steep valley slopes assuring good drainage for vines. Added to this for the creation of fine terroirs are exceptional sunshine, favourable winds, cool nights and low precipitation (too low in some seasons when careful irrigation is authorised). Forty-nine grape varieties are cultivated including high quality indigenous varieties, such as Cornalin and Humagne (red) and Petite Arvine and Amigne (white), and international varieties, such as Pinot Noir, Gamay and Syrah (red) and Chasselas (Fendant), Sylvaner (Johannisberg) and Chardonnay (white). There are also a number of conscientious quality orientated producers and a receptive high income home market.
There are two drawbacks; first, quantities produced by the best producers are so small that even local wine-bars and restaurants have difficulty in getting good allocations and, second, prices tend to be quite high due to high production costs on the steep slopes of the Rhône valley and to strong local demand; little worthwhile can be had locally for less than CHF 15 (about EUR 10). I suspect that hardly any of these wines find their way to the USA and even here in Belgium only a few are available and usually sourced from the larger and more boring négociants.
My enthusiastic report on a visit to Valais two years ago can be found in the archive and I can now confirm my high regard for the Petite Arvine as a top class white grape and add Amigne (white) and Cornalin (red) into that class. Additionally I tasted more fine Syrah, elegant and enjoyable Pinot Noir, a succulent Dôle (a Valaisan speciality Pinot/Gamay blend), robust fruity red Humagne (another local grape) and spicy honeyed white Païen (none other than the Jura’s Savagnin but tasting quite different here).
This year I was more successful in locating good wine retailers. The Château de Villa at Sierre offers for both on the spot consumption and take-away a very comprehensive range of wines from Valais’ villages and best producers. I would recommend stocking up on the range of wines from here at the beginning of a visit so as to home in later on what seems best; I tried to do this but was defeated by its opening hours in the afternoon of my first day (not before 4.30 pm when I needed to be up at Crans-Montana to take possession of our flat). I also found an excellent wine-bar/take-away in Crans-Montana, le Tirebouchon in Avenue de la Gare with a friendly and knowledgeable owner.
And now for the wines in the order in which I tried them –
PINOT NOIR 2002 – Clos Château Ravire – Michel Savioz, Veyras, Valais. Very nice with salmon-trout in a light elegant style. Sour and sweet cherry aromas, some structure and good length.
“HEIDA” PAÏEN du lieu-dit Les Bernunes 2004 (white) – Fernand et Conrad Caloz, Miège, Valais. Quite original flavours; round meaty, slightly honeyed aromas with a crisp spiciness and good mouth-fill in front and mid palate. A somewhat abrupt and bitter finish on the first day but two days later this was scarcely perceptible and the wine had become more expansive and had filled out. (Terroir talks; this is quite unlike the somewhat sour and sherry-like assertiveness of Jura Savagnin, reportedly the same grape.)
HUMAGNE Caprice des Temps 2005 (red) – Hugues Clavien et fils, Miège, Valais. Robust, tasty and somewhat rustic. Quite thick textured with a sweetish note. Soft on entry developing spice and liquorice hints with a softly bitter tannic finish.
SYRAH DE LORMEY 2004 – Cave de la Pierre – Jacques et Lucie Clavien, Venthôme, Valais. Full and robust with Syrah charm, good structure and suavity but I preferred the Humagne for its stronger personality.
AMIGNE de Vétroz 2004 (white) – Gilbert Devayes, Leytron, Valais. A real charmer ! Lovely, softly spicy, honeyed and white fruit aromas with round full mouth-fill, good depth and length and flesh seemingly trying to be sweet but perfectly balanced by gentle acidity.
HUMAGNE 2004 (red) – Domaine et Cave du Crêtacombe Chamoson . Light in colour and weight on the palate. Pleasant to drink but lacking the personality of the previous Humagne.
AMIGNE de Vétroz “Héritage” 2005 – Varone, Sion. This is an off-dry example. Fuller, more honeyed and more fleshy than the dry Amigne from Devayes but less lively and, for my taste, less perfectly balanced.
At this vinous juncture, we visited the grower, DENIS MERCIER, where we had already been two years ago. I loved and have already finished the crisply mineral yet quite generously meridional PETITE ARVINE 2002 which I had brought back two years ago; the PETITE ARVINE 2003 was fatter and flabbier but nevertheless very enjoyable and the CORNALIN 2002 is impressive and full of character but its tannins were still somewhat dry the last time I opened a bottle. This time, Denis Mercier warned me that his stocks were very low pending the bottling of the 2006 harvest and many lines are sold out. However, I was able to taste the following –
PETITE ARVINE 2005. Quite similar, I think, to the 2002 when I first tasted it. Delicious with crisp minerality and backbone with meridional generosity and hints of honey and spice. Denis Mercier limited me to 6 bottles.
CORNALIN 2004. Deep plum velvety aroma. Vigorous, savoury mouth-fill with ivy and complex dark fruit notes, good structure, marked but ripe tannins and good length. It was much more approachable and less austere than 2002 at the same stage and it should become a very fine bottle. Strong personality. I got 4 bottles. (I completed a case of 12 with 2 bottles of Dôle, which I did not taste then, but see below.)
SYRAH 2004. Very attractive. Sweeter, warmer and spicier than the Cornalin and classier than the Syrah de Lormey noted above but the Cornalin has a personality which makes it stand out. Sold out but Denis Mercier generously gave me a half-bottle as a bonus along with half-bottles of Païen and Pinot Noir (see below).
So back up the valley side to the flat and further bottles with food.
PAÏEN 2005 – Denis Mercier. Nice round spicy fruit but less character than Caloz above.
PINOT NOIR 2005 – Denis Mercier. Very good indeed with more depth of fruit and structure than the Savioz above but similar elegance and charm.
CORNALIN de Vétroz “Les Ruinettes” 2004 – Serge Roh. A lovely bottle. Right now more velvety than the Denis Mercier with lovely spicy fruit with good structure and length. I think that there has been new oak maturation here but it has been very deftly managed so as to keep any hints of vanilla in the background. A touch more “international” but the Cornalin character shines through strongly.
DÔLE 2005 – Denis Mercier. An exemplary bottle of exuberant young red wine. Fine Pinot fruit charmingly roughened yet complexified by Gamay and traces of one or two other undisclosed varieties. Good tangy structure. I wish that I could have taken more bottles. By far the best Dôle which I have ever drunk.
ARVINE de Fully “Les Perches” 2005 – Benoît Dorsaz, Fully, Valais. Another lovely Petite Arvine. Maybe a little softer and less mineral and meridional than that of Denis Mercier but perhaps with white fruit more prominent. I believe than Dorsaz makes a more ambitious cuvee of Arvine called “Quintessence” as well as excellent Syrah and Cornalin and he is definitely on my visiting list for a future stay in the area.
Last edited by Tim York
on Sat Mar 02, 2013 8:33 am, edited 1 time in total.