It's been just nine years since I was first invited to present Swiss wines in Germany. I still remember well how I traveled with two big suitcases to Bielefeld and Cologne to bring a little piece of wine Switzerland closer to my German wine friends, whom I had just met through Wein-Plus.de. This would be much easier today, because meanwhile there are two comprehensive new Swiss wine guides.
|World Heritage Lavaux. The area above Lake Geneva comprises 14 communes with 574 hectares of vines|
Literature on Swiss wines has been around for many years. But a lot of it is not very well-founded or is already quite outdated. It was two years ago when at the Swiss stand at the ProWein in Düsseldorf, there was still a Swiss wine guide that was at least five years old. Not exactly a convincing business card! I was teased accordingly by my friends whom I accompanied to the very eye-catching Swiss stand
Especially since the selection of wineries and winemakers presented was not at all what I understand by the term "best Swiss wines". No, it was - to put it delicately - a disaster. Last year, the two most profiled Swiss vintners who participated as exhibitors at ProWein, Daniel Gantenbein and Thomas Mattmann, were not at the Swiss booth but at the "Wein-Gourmet" and "Vinum" wine magazines. The "official Switzerland", on the other hand, was dominated by large companies, among others by the Rahm winery, which does not own its own vines (thus, buys the grapes together) and is mainly known for its sparkling wine-like, alcohol-free grape juice "Rimus" (annual production 4 million bottles).
|Presentation of Swiss wine at ProWein in Düsseldorf% dominated by large companies.|
But now everything is different - at least in the field of wine literature! Switzerland now has two publications to be taken seriously: An official book, "Swiss Wine Guide", published by VINEA (committee mainly involved in the annual Valais wine meeting) on behalf of "Swiss Wine Promotion", published by Ringier and provided with a foreword by Federal President Pascal Couchepin. And an independent, much more evaluative book, written by the German wine journalist Wolfgang Faßbender, with the ambitious title: "Die besten 400 Weingüter der Schweiz", published by Orell Füssli. The subtitle seems to me to be decisive: "Tested and rated". Wolfgang Fassbender does not only list, does not only describe the wineries, he also awards points, evaluates the wines. This is exactly what can quickly become a bone of contention even in close-knit Switzerland. The official Swiss wine guide, on the other hand, avoids its own rating by only publishing the results of the "Grand Prix du Vin Suisse 2008" - in which 1860 Swiss wines were to be judged. In each of the 11 categories (from white Chasselas to rosé and red Merlot), there is a winner's podium with three crowned "best vintners". Moreover, 263 gold and 321 silver medals are awarded.
|Two new wine guides for Swiss wines|
Since many top winemakers also do not participate in this competition, a strange "ranking list" has inevitably emerged. For example, the award-winning best Pinot Noir does not come from Gantenbein, Kesselring or Mattmann, but from Hansruedi Adank from Fläsch, who makes good wines, but overall is rated by Fassbender "only" in the midfield (2 out of 4 stars with a tendency towards a higher rating).
The winning wine among the Merlots, Sassi Grossi 2005, from Feliciano Gialdi, on the other hand, is also awarded 90 points by Fassbender with the justification: "very clear, ripe fruit, smoky; spicy, firm, taut, nothing disturbing, elegant, perfect use of wood, almost a charmer." As a consumer, I can relate to this, despite all the subjectivity that lies in every evaluation and description, at least more than with the sporting victory ladder or the gold and silver awards of competitions. On the other hand, the vintner with the best Gamay in the competition, Noël Graff, is not represented by Fassbender, is not among the "best 400 wineries". There are still many similar differences in the two new wine guides. Is this a mistake, a qualitative shortcoming? I don't think so. It is just the subjectivity - the attachment to the knowledge, the taste, maybe also the preferences - of a certain taster that creates clarity for the consumer.
|One of the many village locations: Berneck in the Rhine Valley - today mainly an industrial area|
I readily admit that I am not objective either, in fact I am partisan. Both towards many Swiss vintners - whose wines have accompanied me for many years - and towards the wine critics. I know and appreciate Wolfgang Faßbender, with whom I have experienced many a nice hour and drunk many an excellent wine. I am also skeptical about the competitions, where, despite good will, more or less chance rules, the "form of the day" or the average values of 120 tasters from all over Switzerland. I also have my favorite wines, for instance those of Eric Klausener or Adrian Kaufmann, which are just mentioned in passing in Faßbender's book, but which are not rated.
Such subjective discrepancies also show the problem of every wine guide. For instance, I'm confidently looking for the very special - indeed unique - Räuschling (for me the best apero wine) by Hermann Schwarzenbach: this one gets just 84 points from Faßbender, while the Pinot noir (Réserve) by Christian Hermann, which for me is covered with too much wood, is not very balanced and seems very artificial, gets 93 points.
|Two weighty Swiss vintners - Gian Battista von Tscharner% Reichenau (left) and Hermann Schwarzenbach% Meilen (right)|
This is when I really realize what a wine guide can and cannot do. It can provide information about winegrowers and wineries in Switzerland. And the official guide does that quite well, maybe even better than the rather scarce Faßbender book. It can contribute to a purchase decision, there Faßbender has the nose clearly in front. As a wine freak, I can do a lot with his ratings. In the end, however, such publications rather serve to confirm one's own taste in wine. Am I on the right track with my consumption of Swiss wines? Have I invested correctly? Can I pour out local wines to critical wine lovers from other countries? Conclusion after reading Faßbender's tested and evaluated wines: I can! The last doubts have been removed. I no longer need to hide with my Swiss wines in the big wide wine world. Even if the highest rated growths are hardly to be found in a Swiss wine shop, let alone to be bought abroad. But I am reassured, I now have at least two guides.