Valais, Switzerland isn’t the first place you’d expect to find a Georgian qvevri, but Amédée Mathier has no less than 20 of them. Since 2008, his family’s estate Albert Mathier et Fils has been making two amphora, or rather qvevri matured wines, one white and one red. Sorry, I mean one orange and one red.
The Assemblage Blanc is a blend of rare Swiss variety Rèze and Ermitage (aka Marsanne). Amédée describes Marsanne affectionately as “the king of white wine grapes”, noting that “Riesling is the queen”.
This wine has a wonderful burnished amber colour, which lends credibility to Josko Gravner’s preferred term “amber wines”. There is something very vital about the hue, especially when it’s viewed in the early morning sunshine at Mathier’s estate, surrounded by the most sensational mountain panorama.
Ten months on the skins/in the qvevri, has produced a dense, complex wine which is thrilling and satisfying. Aromas of spiced plum, honey and herbs open up to a seriously structured and quite chewy palate. The finish is very long, with dried tobacco, cumin and black tea.
This wine is not really about fruit. Both varieties in the blend can be quite headstrong on their own, but here they have fused into something very complete and sophisticated. Impressive stuff.
Growing and harvesting grapes on the Valais’s vertiginous slopes is hard work. This plus the expense of the qvevri, and a buoyant Swiss economy means Mathier’s Assemblage is pricey, even by orange wine standards. But Assemblage is a special wine, with layers of interest and lot of soul. Available in the UK from Alpine wines, £50.
Both this wine, and the 2011 vintage made it into the top 24 orange wines tasted for Decanter’s first ever orange wines tasting, in December 2014. The full list was published in Decanter’s May 2015 issue, which should be available online in a couple of weeks.