One of the events that I get especial pleasure from is the annual re-tasting of shortlisted wines in the Grand Prix du Vin Suisse competition in Sierre, which I’ve had the chance to participate in for the past four years. For this outsider – albeit one with a particular interest in (and longstanding connection with) Swiss wine – it provides an annual snapshot of a wide range of Swiss wines, a great way to keep a finger on the pulse of Swiss winemaking, where progress in recent times has been remarkable.
In case you haven’t yet heard of the Grand Prix du Vin Suisse, familiarly known as the GPVS, this is the annual Swiss wine competition staged jointly by Vinea, the association that organises numerous promotional activities on behalf of Swiss winegrowing at regional, national and international level, and Vinum, the Swiss-based wine magazine with editions published in German and French.
For the competition, winegrowers the length and breadth of this small but hugely diverse wine-producing country are invited to submit samples of their red, rosé and white wines in thirteen different categories, including still, sparkling and sweet wines, mono-varietals and blends. Depending on the year, close to 3000 wines are submitted. Like all such competitions, it represents an important source of income for the organisers, who charge an entrance fee per wine submitted (currently CHF130 per wine, and CHF110 for further/different wines).
The fact that the number of wines submitted has risen steadily since the competition’s inception in 2006 gives an indication of its growing importance and standing. It also demonstrates the steadily increasing ambition of Swiss winemakers and the quality of their wines. It’s come to be an important promotional tool for Swiss wines and their makers, respected by winemakers and consumers alike.
For the competition, wines are assembled at Vinea’s headquarters in Sierre in the Valais, where they are tasted blind and rated over six days by around 150 experts – both Swiss-based and international – using the internationally accepted 100-point rating system. From these scores, the GPVS committee distils a shortlist of six wines in each category. A few weeks later the top six in each category are re-tasted by a smaller judging panel of around 12 people and ranked in order of the judges’ preference, from first to sixth place.
The results are embargoed for a couple of months more and then unveiled at a prize-giving gala dinner held in the grand Kursaal in Bern. All those shortlisted (six in each category, thus 78 in all) are invited category by category onto the podium, accompanied by the obligatory roll of drums. The wine in sixth place is announced first and so on, up to numbers three, two and one. Only the top three wines in a given category receive awards, but to make the final shortlist is an undoubted feather in the winemaker’s cap (or straw hat, in the case of winemaker Ivo Monti, below, one of the winners in 2015, with runners-up).
Award-winners receive – apart from the kudos – a trophy, a certificate that they can hang proudly on the wall of the winery and stickers which they can affix to the bottles to advertise their winning status. They also get a big boost from the considerable press and social media coverage following the results. For Swiss winegrowers, it’s the chance to benchmark their wines against their peers, judged according to strict criteria. For the consumer, a GPVS sticker on a bottle sends a message that this is a wine that has been singled out by a panel of experts, a wine which believes in itself and a worthy representative of Swiss wines today.
This year’s gala dinner will be held this year on October 18th in Bern – it’s open to the public and as a way of keeping your finger on the Swiss wine pulse (as well as enjoying a good dinner and some distinguished wines), it’s hardly bettered. The results will be published soon after, so even if you can’t attend, keep an eye out for these winning Swiss wines.