Written by Sierra on 04 Nov, 2005
Southwest of Chur, on the banks of the Rhine River, there is a charming village by the name of Tamins, home to the Schlosshotel Adler Hotel and Restaurant (+41 (0)81 641 10 44), hosted by Andreas and Monika Stump; and the Schloss Reichenau winery (+…Read More
Southwest of Chur, on the banks of the Rhine River, there is a charming village by the name of Tamins, home to the Schlosshotel Adler Hotel and Restaurant (+41 (0)81 641 10 44), hosted by Andreas and Monika Stump; and the Schloss Reichenau winery (+ 41 (81) 641-11-95).
A Brief Bit of Info About Swiss Wines
Every wine affiando dreams of the opportunity to sit down with a fine winemaker in their private cellar, enjoying a private degustation. It has certainly long been a daydream of mine – and I was about to have it fulfilled.
When asked to identify major wine regions around the world, it’s unlikely that many people would mention Switzerland. However, it should be known that Switzerland is rich with vineyards, especially in the southern Ticino canton, the southwestern Valais region, and in the eastern part of the country. Wine production in some of these regions stretches back across 2,000 years of history - these areas, warmed by the föhn winds, are surprisingly suitable for wine growing, even at elevations of over 1,000 meters. The Bündner Herrschaft along the Rhine River, in the northeast area of Graubünden, is one such area, where some vineyards rise at 70º angles into the Swiss sunshine. In the Valais region alone, there are more than 65 varieties of grapes grown under the care of some 20,000 vintners. And in some areas, such as around the nearby town of Malans, small vineyards preserve antique varietals, such as completer.
The Castle and the Wine
Nearby Chur has its vineyards surrounding much of the old city. "Schloss" means "castle" in German, so I was expecting to see a large stone fortress. However, not all Swiss castles fufill the "castle" image that we tend to imagine, a la the Bellinzona castles. The Schloss Reichneau in Tamins, just a few minutes southwest of Chur, is a large white and red fortress of a building that is a couple hundred years old, with the winery operating out of the cellars. In late October, this area was very peaceful and quiet, the bright colors of autumn creating a brilliant backdrop to the white of the hotel and castle. Quiet country lanes wind through the valley, inviting you to stay and meander a while like the river below.
The robust owner of Schloss Reichenau, Gian Battista von Tscharner, met us at the door of his castle, and showed us down to the cellars. He explained that he produced 16 wines from 4 vineyards spread through the local region, with his vineyards only consisting of a handful of hectares. In a good year, he will produce 35,000-40,000 bottles of wine (approximately 3,400 cases or less) – quite modest, if compared to the likes of Napa Valley winemakers.
Like most Swiss winemakers, he stresses quality over quantity. When asked why it is unusual to find Swiss wines abroad, he explained that most Swiss winemakers are more concerned about meeting local demand, and producing the best wines they can, versus trying to build brand recognition overseas.
In one side hall of the cellar, there is a long, high set of shelves, filled with bottles of various ages. Here are samples of his own wines, stretching back over the past thirty years.
His tasting room is to the side, cluttered with ancient barrels and what were clearly very old wine bottles. Those bottles included some from his father’s earliest years of production, he told us. After telling us to have a seat, he came back a few minutes later carrying a wide selection of whites and reds.
We began with the "Goldrush" sauvignon blanc ’04, a fresh, light, fruity young wine. From there we moved onto an ’03 pinot blanc/chardonnay blend. He explained to us that the first mutation of the pinot noir grape resulted in the pinot gris grape, and that the second mutation produced what we now call pinot blanc. Sampling the three wines in a row gave a sense of the difference in depth and maturity between the wines. Pinot gris, like its Australian cousin, Semillon, can be cellared for up to 20 years. To compare what a few years could do for a pinot gris, we sampled a ’89 pinot gris, which was a rich golden color and tasted like toasted marshmallows, pineapple and citrus.
Regulations decree that vineyards should produce no more than 900 g/m ². For some regions of the world, vineyards are allowed to produce up to 1.1kg /m ² - you can certainly taste the difference in the grape that a mere 200 g difference can make, because a smaller yield will produce more concentrated, more intense flavors. Due to the topography of Swiss vineyards, they are generally hand-harvested and controlled.
Next, we had the Gewürztraminer ’04, another young wine with flavors of peach and pear, before sampling the Jeninser completer ’99, which had nice undertones of walnut. I love white wines, and I was already very impressed with his vintages, but he had more to share!
Gian started us off on his reds with his Felsberger Blaubrugunder "Hoharai" ’03, a red rich with flavors of dark chocolate and walnuts. Next we tried his lucious "Z’blau Wunder" ’03 – "The Blue Wonder." This dry, peppery red consists of 55% pinor noir and 45% dioli noir; the bottle even looks blue.
Next was his Jeninser Blauburgunder "Mariafeld" ’02 pinot noir, a smoky, dark berry red that exploded with taste on the tongue. Next-to-last was his Jean-Baptiste pinot noir, an award-winning wonderful rich red that had spent 24 months in small barrels; it had a smoky flavor reminiscent of mushrooms, berries and currant.
Last, but certainly far from least, he brought out a special late-harvest pinot gris which had been harvested on December 17, ’99 – the hand-produced leather label on the bottle even noted the date of harvest. This delightful white varietal was the color of pale honey, with flavors of pineapple, plum and honey on the tongue – mmm! This was my favorite wine of the evening, and one I was very fortunate to be able to take a bottle home. I carried it home to the States with great care, and intend to share it with family at Christmas, to remember this wonderful experience again.
Gian Battista von Tscharner was absolutely wonderful to share time with, and learn more about Swiss wines. If you are lucky enough to enjoy a tour with him, it makes a highly memorable experience.
I think I’m a bit spoiled for my next trip to wine country now!
Alternatively, you can enjoy his wines with your meal next door at the Schlosshotel Adler Hotel. Directions
Route 13 south/west to exit "Reichenau"; you will pass under the roadway and the hotel/winery is just ahead, with an ample parking lot.
Alternatively, trains run approximately every 20 minutes; get off at the "Reichenau-Tamins" station and follow the path 200m to the Adler.