Last year after my annual trip to Burgundy, I went back to visit Domaine Donatsch in Malans, Switzerland. My first visit was three years ago. I tasted a wide range of Donatsch wines including Chardonnays from 1995 to 2011 and Pinot Noirs from 1989 to 2010 as well as many other wines. I was most impressed. Here is the conclusion to my first article: Clearly this is a small Domaine that has achieved world wide success, yet still has a lot of potential for the future. After all, how can you argue with Martin Donatsch, the two time world champion Pinot Noir maker? Taken from the Domaine Donatsch web site here’s what he has to say: “Martin is convinced that the Bündner Herrschaft is amongst the best Pinot regions in the world and is sure that its potential is by no means exhausted.” Hopefully, over time, more of the Domaine Donatsch wines will trickle out of Switzerland. In the meantime, if you live in Switzerland or pay a visit to Switzerland, they are wines to seek out. And, they stand out as beautiful expressions of what can be done with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes outside of Burgundy. So I clearly knew after my first visit that Domaine Donatsch was something very special. And, this was confirmed again this year. Not only did I again taste some of the best Pinot Noirs outside of Burgundy that I have ever experienced, but other great wines as well.
Here is a bit of the history from my earlier article:
The Dontatsch family has owned their estate in Malans Switzerland for over 100 years and is now in the fifth generation. In Malans there are 12 wine producers.Led by Domaine Donatsch, this is where the best Swiss Pinot Noirs are being made. Martin Donatsch, the current winemaker, represents the fifth generation of the Donatsch family. His father, Thomas is recognized as a pioneer of Swiss wines. Convinced that he could make better wines, Thomas traveled to Burgundy in 1973 and visited the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. There the winemaker, the late André Noblet, gave him instructions on how to make Pinot Noir as well as three used La Tâche barrels. From this he began the quest to improve the quality of the wines. In 1975 he planted Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc which were not allowed at that time under appellation laws. He also was the first in Switzerland to make sparkling wine according to the Champagne method and in 1983 first cultivated Cabernet Sauvignon in the region….
And, here is a description of the Donatsch wines again taken from my earlier article:
Today Domaine Donatsch specializes in the Pinot grapes – Pinot Noir, Pinot Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris – as well as Completer, an ancient grape variety unique to Switzerland …
Domaine Donatsch consists of approximately 15 acres of vineyards. Pinot Noir accounts for 50% of annual production, Chardonnay 17%, Completer 17%, Pinot Blanc 10%, and other varieties 6%. The average production per year is 30,000 bottles or 2500 cases. Some 75% of the production is sold to the best hotels and restaurants in Switzerland, 20% to private clients and only a small percentage is exported, mostly to Germany and Singapore. At the Domaine, most of the wines range in price from 30 to 50 CHF per bottle (about 32 to 54 USD).
Three different Pinot Noirs are made – “Tradition”, “Passion”, and “Unique”. To use a Burgundian comparison, “Tradition” is like a village wine, “Passion” is a 1er Cru, and “Unique” is a Grand Cru. The Pinot Noir plantings consist of 2 different Swiss clones (clone 10-5 and clone 45) and 2 different Burgundy clones (clone Pinot 28 and clone 115). Grapes from the Swiss clones mostly go into the “Tradition” while the “Passion” and “Unique” bottlings mostly consist of grapes from the 115 clone which is the most widely planted. Passion represents about two thirds of annual Pinot Noir production or about 10,000 bottles (just over 830 cases). It was first made in 1973 when it was called “Spiger”. In 2006 the name was changed to Passion. Today Passion is made from the oldest vines which are 30 to 40 years of age. It is aged in 1/3 new French Oak, 1/3 one year old barrels, and 1/3 two year old barrels. The first year for Pinot Noir “Unique” was 2000. It is aged in 100% new French Oak barrels and represents a selection of the best barrels with average annual production of 1200-1800 bottles or 100 to 150 cases.
Chardonnay was planted in 1975 in the Frassa vineyard. In 1990 Chardonnay was planted in the Selvenen vineyard. The early Chardonnays were from Frassa and later Selvenen and the later wines from the Frassa vineyard became “Passion”. In 2007 the Frassa vineyard was replanted with Completer. Like the Pinot Noir, today there are three different bottlings of Chardonnay – “Tradition”, “Passion”, and “Unique”. Each receives the same oak treatment as the Pinot Noir. The first “Passion” bottling was 2007 and the first vintage for “Unique” was 2004. The majority of the Chardonnay production is “Passion” with the grapes coming from the Selvenen vineyard. The “Unique” production is about 600 – 900 bottles (50 to 75 cases) per year. From 2004 to 2009 the grapes for “Unique” were picked later. But, the wine was found to be too round and alcoholic and since 2010 the grapes have been picked earlier which results in more minerality and a more Burgundian style….
(To read my article on the history of the Domaine, information on Swiss wines, and notes on Dontasch wines click here and to read my article on Completer which is a great white wine unique to Switzerland click here).
During my visit, I had dinner one night with Martin and his parents, Thomas and Heidi. We had 2 wines that I brought from Burgundy – the 2011 and 2012 Echezeaux from Domaine de la Romanée Conti. Both were gorgeous wines that were much admired by all of us. The 2011 showed particularly well – very open with lots of elegance and finesse. We also had two Donatsch wines including 2012 Completer and 2013 Pinot Noir Unique “Reserve Privée. The 2012 Completer was lovely and bright with very pure fruit. The 2013 Pinot Noir Unique “Reserve Privée was really special. It was a selection of one barrel that was bottled for the exclusive use of the family. With amazing fruit and balance the wine was delicious. I did not know at the time, but the next day we were to have the wine again at a comprehensive tasting of Domaine Donatsch wines. Lucky me! To be able to experience this very special wine on two consecutive days was a real honor and a great experience.
The next day Martin and I first tasted some Domaine Donatsch wines from barrel. This was followed by a tasting of young and old Donatsch wines from bottle along with lunch. The latter lunch and tasting included many of the top sommeliers in Switzerland.
My notes on a large number of new and old Donatsch wines follow. But, let me once again say at the outset that some of the Domaine Dontasch Pinot Noirs that I tasted on this trip as well as some of those tasted on my first visit are some the best Pinot Noirs I have ever tasted. And, since my visit, Martin tells me that the 2013 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Unique received the only perfect score ever awarded a wine by Switzerland’s leading wine magazine. In addition, the 2013 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Unique received an Outstanding rating as one of the best Pinot Noirs in the world outside Burgundy from Decanter Magazine in the April 2016 issue (To get more information as posted on the Domaine Donatsch website click on the following link http://www.donatsch.info/#!wine/c129h).
With a couple of exceptions the 2014 wines tasted from barrel were components of wines that would be blended later. Hence most of the notes are only a glimpse of components of the finished wines. The year 2014 had normal production for Pinot Noir whereas the Pinot Noir crop in 2013 was reduced by some 50% as a result of a long winter and poor flowering in the spring. The 2014s tasted all showed lovely fruit and balance. They will be wines with early charm yet with the ability to age.
2014 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay Unique
This wine was in tank awaiting bottling at the time of tasting. With a light yellow gold color the wine has a deep perfume with lovely floral notes and faint hints of tropical fruit and spice. With beautiful balance it shows floral and tropical notes on the palate with a nice underlying citrus tinged crispness and a very faint hint of vanilla – Outstanding Potential.
2014 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Tradition
This wine is a representative of the Tradition bottling. The Tradition bottling is composed of grapes grown mostly on the Swiss Pinot Noir clones. With a deep color the wine has a very nice berry perfume with a tinge of earthiness. It has lovely bright crisp berry fruit with a faint spice tinge and a faint hint of earthiness – Very Good Potential.
2014 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Passion: Five different barrels tasted
Passion represents about 2/3s of the Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir production. It is made from grapes grown mostly on the French Pinot Noir clones and include grapes from the oldest vines.
#1 One component of Passion from an old barrel. Deep color. Great perfume. Lots of fruit. Very nice concentration. Balanced and flavorful.
#2 The primary component of Passion from an old barrel. Deep color. Great floral perfume. Rounded and supple. Lots of black cherry fruit. Harmonious and flavorful. Really lovely.
#3 This wine is in new oak. New oak will represent about 30% of the final blend. Deep color. Lovely spice tinged perfume. Rounded and supple with very nice fruit and a distinct spiciness.
#4 This wine is in a different type of new oak. It is very similar, but not as spicy.
#5 This wine is in a third type of new oak. It has a more subtle spiciness and more richness.
2014 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Unique: Five different barrels
Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Unique has been made since 2000 and is a selection of the best barrels (usually 6) of the production from mostly the French Pinot Noir clones. The final blend will be composed of wines from 80-100% new barrels.
#1 Deep color with a great perfume showing a hint of spiciness. Lots of fruit and very flavorful with a faint hint of spice. Lots of fruit with a subtle spiciness. Rounded and lush.
#2 This will be a small component. Deep color. Lovely berry perfume with spice nuances. Lovely spice tinged fruit.
#3 From another type of wood this will also be a very small component. Deep color. Lovely berry perfume with a faint hint of vanilla. Very nice fruit and very flavorful with just a kiss of vanilla.
#4 Deep color. Great perfume. Lovely fruit with a very subtle oak influence. Flavorful and rich.
#5 The best balance and the most richness of the five components taste. Deep color. Great floral tinged perfume. Silky and rounded with lush fruit and lots of depth.
All of these wines were served with lunch at the Domaine. There were several older wines where very few bottles still exist. And, with just a couple of exceptions, the wines showed beautifully over the entire spectrum of vintages 1978 – 2014. It was an amazing tasting which showcased the quality of the wines, their consistency and evolution, and their ability to age. Domaine Donatsch is indeed a very special place and is a great tribute to the skill and talent of Martin and his father Thomas.
2014 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay Passion
Light yellow in color with a faint golden hue this wine is bright and crisp. It has a lovely perfume with hints of citrus and peach and has lovely citrus tinged fruit – Highly Recommended.
2013 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay Passion
Light yellow in color with a faint golden hue, this wine has a deep perfume with hints of roasted almonds and a faint floral undertone. On the palate, it is quite rich and rounded with a faint honeyed quality showing a faint citrus tinge – Highly Recommended.
2012 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay Passion
Of the 3 Passion Chardonnays tasted this was the only one that went through a full malolactic fermentation. With a light yellow color showing a faint golden hue, this wine has a lovely floral perfume with faint hints of peach and apricot. The flavors suggest a subtle myriad of fruits – peach, apricot, pineapple, and citrus – with a faint floral undertone. Balanced with a nice underlying crispness, this is a lovely stylistic Chardonnay – Outstanding.
2013 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay Unique
Light yellow color with a faint golden hue this Chardonnay has a lovely faintly floral perfume with hints of pineapple, passion fruit, and mint. The fruit is lovely with a faint floral exotic tinge and the wine is flavorful and balanced with a nice underlying crispness – Outstanding Plus.
2012 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay Unique
Light yellow in color with a faint golden hue this wine has a lovely floral perfume with a faint hint of spice. The fruit is very pure and flavorful it is balanced with depth and richness and a nice crispness on the finish – Outstanding.
2011 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay Unique
With a light yellow color showing a faint golden hue this wine has a lovely floral perfume with a touch of citrus and a faint hint of mint. It is beautifully balanced with very pure fruit showing faint hints of peach and citrus and has a nice underlying crispness.
2007 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay Unique
Light golden yellow in color this Chardonnay shows a caramelized perfume with tinges of spice. Rich and full, the wine shows a very ripe apple-like fruit with a faint tinge of spice and citrus and is a bit flat without underlying structure. It is still drinkable, but out of character with the other wines and past its prime. (Note: From 2000 to 2008 the Chardonnay grapes for Unique were picked later. This wine is a reflection of that practice. Since that time the old practices of harvesting have been followed. This has resulted in wines that reflect a more Burgundian character with more structure).
1997 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay Selvenen
(Note: This Chardonnay is from the Selvenen vineyard which was planted in 1990. Prior to 1990 all the Chardonnays were from the Frassa vineyard which was planted in 1975 and then replanted with Completer in 2007.) Light golden yellow in color this wine has a deep floral tinged perfume with hints of roasted hazelnuts. It has very good depth and richness and is faintly honeyed with a nice underlying citrus tinged crispness – Highly Recommended Plus.
1987 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay Frassa
At nearly 30 years of age this Chardonnay is quite remarkable. It has a light golden yellow color and a deep faintly floral perfume with a suggestion of passion fruit. On the palate, it is quite lush with hints of exotic fruit yet is still fresh with a nice crispness – Outstanding.
1988 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay Frassa
This is a delicious mature Chardonnay with lots of flavor and richness. Light golden yellow in color it has a deep faintly honeyed perfume with faint hints of crème brulée. With lovely faintly honeyed fruit the wine is balanced and very appealing with a nice underlying crispness – Outstanding.
1978 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay Frassa
This was the first vintage where the Chardonnay was aged in barrels. At nearly 40 years of age, this Chardonnay is complex and very drinkable if tiring a bit. Martin said that another bottle tasted a few months prior was much fresher and much better. Alas, it is academic as there is only 1 bottle left! This bottle had a light golden yellow color and an unusual perfume showing a faintly burnt quality and hints of honey. With ripe faintly honeyed fruit flavors there was also a green apple quality underneath. It is unusual to be sure, but still drinkable and interesting.
When I first tasted Completer on my first visit to Domaine Donatsch in the fall of 2012 it was love at first sip. Unfortunately, the production of Completer is unique to Switzerland and the amount produced is minuscule. In short, it is rare in Switzerland and virtually nonexistent outside of Switzerland. But, I cannot help think that one day this grape will find a home somewhere else. To me it might be the Finger Lakes of upstate New York (to read an article on the Finger Lakes click here and to read the article on Completer click here).
2014 Domaine Donatsch Completer Malanserrebe
This wine is unique and delicious. It is exotic yet bright and crisp and has richness while retaining lots of charm and finesse. With a light yellow color the wine has a faintly exotic floral tinged perfume with a faint hint of citrus. Flavorful and complex with exotic fruit and citrus nuances this Completer is also balanced with a nice crispness on the finish – Outstanding Plus.
Completer and Cheval Blanc Restaurant in Basel, Switzerland
On my earlier visit to Domaine Donatsch I tasted 3 vintages of Completer – the 2009, 2010 and 2011. This trip, in a period of 3 days, I enjoyed the 3 most recent vintages of Completer. It was a great treat to drink these rare and delicious wines. – The wines were the 2014 described above, a 2012 at dinner with the Donatsch family the night before the tasting, and a 2013 with lunch at Cheval Blanc restaurant in Basel the day after the tasting. A brief commentary on Cheval Blanc restaurant follows.
I met my wife Laurie in Zurich the night after the tasting and the next day we went to Basel to board an AmaWaterways river boat to cruise on the Rhine River. The restaurant Cheval Blanc is located in the 5 star hotel Les Trois Rois (The 3 Kings) on the Rhine River. The chef is Peter Knogl. Cheval Blanc had just recently received its third star at the time of our visit. The lunch we had was off the charts great and merits the attention of every lover of great food. Here are a few of the dishes we had: three appetizers – tuna tartare with avocado mousse, thin crackers with smoked beef and barley and horseradish cream, smoked oysters with ponzu cream and seaweed chips with mushrooms. First course – raviolis with egg yolk and fresh spinach topped with fresh shaved Alba white truffles. Second course – Fresh filet of sole for Laurie and fresh filet of Turbot for me. Both accompanied by different delicate sauces, fresh Breton lobster in a delicate foam, and fresh poached potatoes. Cheese course – a great selection of the best cheeses from Switzerland and Abbaye de Citeaux cheese from France. The latter is my favorite cheese in the world and rarely seen outside of France. Dessert – parfait of praline, lemon jelly, caramelized hazelnuts, and chocolate, followed by an assortment of fresh made daily chocolates which were the best chocolates we have ever eaten!
(Note: Up until 2006 the Pinot Noir was called Spiger. In 2006 Spiger became Passion. And since 2000 a small selection of the best barrels from the best vineyards is made and bottled as Unique.)
1990 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Spiger
Light brick red color with an amber edge this 25 year old Pinot Noir exhibits classic mature Pinot Noir flavors. The perfume is lovely with foresty/floral nuances. On the palate the wine is rounded, soft, and supple with faint hints of plum and dried rose petals. It is flavorful and exhibits great balance and finesse – Outstanding.
1995 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Spiger
Two bottles of this wine were tasted. The first showed a distinct mushroom quality in the nose and on the palate and finished with a dryness.
The second was more like the 1990. Light brick red in color with an amber edge and showing a foresty/dried rose complexity in the nose and on the palate. Elegant with lovely soft, sweet fruit the wine shows a lot of charm and is delicious to drink –
1999 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Spiger
Tasted in 2012 this wine was stunning and it remains so today. It has a deep color with a hint of amber at the edge and a lovely floral perfume with hints of plums and cherries with a foresty nuance. Rounded and supple with lots of exotic spice tinged fruit accented by foresty notes and hints of dried rose petals, this is a gorgeous Pinot Noir approaching full maturity with a long life ahead – Outstanding Plus.
2001 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Spiger
With a very nice color just amber at the edge, this wine has a lovely floral perfume. It has very good fruit with foresty nuances and balanced and flavorful with a tinge of crispness – Highly Recommended Plus.
2001 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Unique
Tasted in 2012 this wine was showing beautifully. And, it continues to remain so today. The fruit may be just a bit diminished now, but the wine remains complex and balanced with ample fruit. Now fully mature, the plum like fruit retains an exotic quality and foresty nuances. It is flavorful and a pleasure to drink – Outstanding Plus.
2005 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Spiger
With a very nice color just amber at the edge, this wine has a lovely floral spice tinged perfume. It has very nice cherry and plum fruit with floral nuances and is beautifully balanced with a lot of finesse and elegance – Outstanding.
2005 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Unique
This is a really stunning Pinot Noir. It has a deep color with an amber edge and a gorgeous floral perfume with a tinge of mint. On the palate there is a lot of floral tinged cherry fruit and the wine is very pure, supple, and rounded with lots of flavor and a great elegance – Extraordinary.
2007 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Passion
This wine has a very nice color and a lovely floral spice tinged perfume. Elegant, with supple very pure fruit, it is elegant and flavorful with lovely balance and a lot of charm – Outstanding.
2007 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Unique
With a deep color this wine has a gorgeous cherry perfume with floral tinges. On the palate it has lots of floral spice tinged cherry fruit and is supple and rounded with lots of flavor and charm – Outstanding Plus.
2011 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Passion
This wine has a very nice color with a faint amber edge. It has a lovely floral perfume and lots of supple floral tinged fruit. Elegant and beautifully balanced this s a Pinot Noir with a lot of charm – Outstanding.
2011 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Unique
With a deep color this wine has a great floral spice perfume. It has loads of lush black cherry fruit showing a floral spice nuance and is balanced and very flavorful. This is a wonderful Pinot Noir with a long life ahead – Outstanding Plus/Exceptional
Note: 2013 was a year with a very long winter and a very short spring. Very poor flowering resulted in a Pinot Noir crop that was reduced by 50% with very small berries. As a result, the wines are very concentrated. There were 8 barrels (200 cases) of Unique in 2013 as compared with the usual 6 barrels (150 cases).
2013 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Passion
With a deep color this wine has a lovely cherry perfume showing a hint of mint. It has gorgeous cherry fruit and is rounded, lush, and supple with great underlying structure. Balanced with very good concentration this is really lovely – Outstanding/Outstanding Plus.
2013 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Unique
With a very deep color this wine has a gorgeous black cherry perfume with a faint floral tinge. It has loads of rich black cherry fruit and is balanced, rich, and supple with richness and depth. A very impressive Pinot Noir by any standard it is destined for a very long life ahead – Extraordinary.
2013 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Unique “Reserve Privée”
This wine is a selection on one barrel that was bottled for the exclusive use of the family. It is absolutely stunning. Dark in color this Pinot Noir has an incredible black cherry perfume and layers of black cherry fruit on the palate. Very pure, lush, and balanced subtle floral spice nuances are woven throughout and there is a very faint exotic tinge on the finish. The evolution of this wine should be nothing short of spectacular. Bravo – Extraordinary/Extraordinary Plus.
2008 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Passion
This is a delicious Pinot Noir that is drinking beautifully now. It has a very nice color with a faint amber edge and a lovely floral berry tinged perfume. With lovely fruit the wine is elegant and finesseful with flavor and balance – Outstanding.
2013 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Gris Föhnbeerenauslese
This sweet wine is made from grapes without botrytis. Instead the bunches of grapes are placed on straw mats in the sun to concentrate the juice. Light gold in color the wine has a stunning tropical fruit perfume with honeyed floral undertones. Sweet and lush with loads of honeyed tropical fruit, it is balanced and very pure with very good underlying acidity – Outstanding Plus.
This article was originally published on April 22, 2016 by The Underground Wineletter