How do you start the year on a wine blog mostly dedicated to German wine? Writing about German wine, of course, I hear you say. This would seem like the sensible thing to do, and yet today we are not sensible and look for Switzerland instead. For some, at least the German speaking part of Switzerland is more German than Germany itself (but please don't let any Swiss hear this), yet the wine I am writing about today is a truly Swiss thing.
Made by the Swiss and in Switzerland of course, this explosion of herbal aromas and flavours is vinified of Humagne Blanche grapes, an old indigenous variety that now is a rarity even in Switzerland.
The history of Humagne Blanche in Switzerland probably goes back to the days of ancient Rome and it is documented in the Middle Ages. Because of its high iron content, Humagne Blanche was long seen as a wine for sick people (called vinum humanum), and especially for women in childbirth. Despite its long history and the ability to create ageworthy wine, Humagne Blanche is today only grown on a few dozen hectares in the Valais region - it is a low yielding variety and susceptible to pests.
This hasn't stopped Chandra Kurt, a well-known Swiss wine writer, to create her own Humagne Blanche, working with the people of the wine cooperative Provins Valais. The history of Provins goes back to the early 20th century and they have since become a well-known and large producer - although chances are you will not have seen their wines as the greedy Swiss keep practically the whole domestic wine production to themselves.
The Wine Rambler still managed to get hold of a bottle, so I can now tell you what we thought of the Collection Chandra Kurt when we opened it at a Wine Rambler committee meeting in Munich last year. The colour is a really shiny straw, with the grass/straw theme continued in the bouquet: lots of herbs, grassland and hay aromas - so much so that my notes say "very very very herbal". There was also a touch of mineral, some grape and more sweet apple aromas coming from the glass.
Grass and herbs galore is also what we found on the tongue, coupled with menthol and nut flavours (oily pistachio perhaps) and, to go back to the Swiss theme, a finish the brought back childhood memories of Ricola cough drops. Together with enough acidity to give the wine freshness and some minerality this made for a very drinkable, well textured wine that felt drier than we expected - and went extremely well with the salad we enjoyed it with.
It reminded me a little of a good, unoaked German Pinot Gris, but lighter and very elegant in style. Don't let that comment deceive you though, it is not a copy of anything - it is a very good and unusual wine in its own right (and with a price to reflect that, but Swiss wine tends not to be cheap).