On our trip to Lichtenstein in the fall of 2011 we visited the Hofkelleri Des Fursten Von Liechtenstein in Vaduz. This is the winery and vineyards belonging to the Prince of Liechtenstein (to read about that click here ). Here we had a wonderful visit and tasted some lovely, elegant wines. In the course of our discussion, we learned of the Pinot Noirs being made in Malans Switzerland and Domaine Donatsch was mentioned as being one of the best producers. We drove the short distance to Malans only to find that everything was closed that day. Later, I was able to contact Martin Donatsch and begin making plans for a visit. And, after speaking with my long time friend, Underground contributing editor, and 20 year resident of Switzerland, Wolfgang Grunewald, it was decided that my friend and Underground contributing editor, John Brincko and I would visit Switzerland in 2012 on the way to our annual Burgundy tasting (an article on the 2011 Burgundy vintage will follow shortly). The final arrangements were made by Daniel Senn, a friend that we had met last year when we dined at Rochat in Crissier, Switzerland and a long time friend of Wolfgang. Daniel and Wolfgang are both avid wine drinkers and collectors. Daniel escorted us on our visit to Donatsch and arranged for another tasting as well as hosting 2 dinners and wine tastings. (Future articles will feature a truly remarkable wine and more details of the trip including more wines that were tasted).
HISTORY AND BACKGROUND
Today there are some 37,500 acres of vineyards in Switzerland. Approximately 30% of the total wine production is Pinot Noir. The most important region is the Bündner Herrschaft which is the home to 60 different producers in four villages (Malans, Jenins, Maienfeld, and Fläsch). There are 1,000 acres of vineyards planted here and 80% of the production is Pinot Noir.
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.
Martin apprenticed at several wine growing estates in Australia, South Africa, Bordeaux, and Spain before joining the family domaine. He has achieved great success and has been awarded the world champion Pinot Noir producer at the Le Mondial du Pinot Noir for the years 2010 and 2011. The Pinot Noirs produced at Domaine Donatsch are very pure and beautifully balanced with flavor and elegance. Martin feels the best of recent vintages are 2010, 2008, 2007 and 2005. As for the older vintages, the best include 2001, 1999, 1997, 1995, and 1989. All of the Domaine Donatsch wines are capable of aging for a very long time. Several years ago, Martin says they conducted a tasting at the Domaine of twenty vintages of Chardonnay and twenty five vintages of Pinot Noir. Only two wines were gone and a few were a bit past their peak. The rest of the wines were at a peak or still evolving.
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 (to read the Completer article click here ).
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….
DOMAINE DONATSCH TASTING NOTES
Wines Tasted At The Domaine
We tasted with Martin and his father, Thomas, in the Domaine Donatsch cellars. We tasted several barrel samples of 2011 Pinot Noir that were not yet blended as well as several different bottles of Pinot Noir from 1989 to 2010. Also, we tasted the 2011 Pinot Blanc from bottle, two vintages of Completer from bottle, and several different bottles of Chardonnay from the 1995 – 2011 vintages. It was a remarkable tasting as the following notes attest:
Wines Tasted From Barrel
2011 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir
There were three different barrels samples of young vines Pinot Noir presented. All had lovely fruit and were balanced and very pure. Particularly good was a sample made from grapes grown on 12 year old Burgundy clone vines. It had gorgeous depth and richness. The best 2011 sample came from grapes grown on the oldest vines (30-40 years old). The wine had great color and an intense perfume with loads of fruit. Impressively rich and flavorful with great balance this really showed the difference in the old vines fruit. These wines will be blended before bottling to make the three different bottlings: “Tradition”, “Passion”, and “Unique”.
Wines Tasted From Bottle
2011 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay “Passion” Malans.
Bottled in September this wine has a lovely floral perfume with tinges of citrus and spice. The fruit is very pure and the wine has elegance, depth and flavor. It will repay aging for a few years – Outstanding. 
2010 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay “Unique” Malans.
Light yellow in color this is a Chardonnay with great complexity and style. It is light yellow in color and has a floral perfume with hints of citrus and hazelnut and a touch of vanilla and spice. It has gorgeous fruit and flavor with a firm underlying crispness. Citrus and mineral accents are complemented by hazelnut nuances and the finish has impressive length – Outstanding Plus. 
2008 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay “Unique” Malans.
Light yellow gold in color this Chardonnay has a lovely floral perfume with hints of apricot and tinges of vanilla and spice. The wine is rich and flavorful with hints of citrus and apricot accented by a floral nuance and a kiss of vanilla. It is drinking beautifully now, yet has many years of life ahead – Outstanding. 
1998 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay “Selvenen” Malans.
Light gold in color this is an impressively rich and balanced Chardonnay. It has a gorgeous deep honeyed perfume with hints of apricot, spice, and hazelnut. Rich and lush with layers of fruit and flavor, the wine maintains a sense of elegance with long crisp finish and seems to be capable of sustaining many years of life ahead – Extraordinary. 
1996 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay “Selvenen” Malans.
Light gold in color this Chardonnay has an intense floral, honeyed perfume with a citrus nuance and a touch of spice. It is structured with lots of fruit and flavor and has a bright underlying acidity. Honeyed, faintly tropical flavors are wonderfully integrated and the finish is long and lingering – Outstanding Plus. 
1995 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay “Selvenen” Malans.
Light gold in color with a deep honeyed, pineapple tinged perfume, this Chardonnay exhibits a decided minerality which gives it a sense of freshness. The flavors are lush and rounded with a nice underlying crispness and show hints of hazelnut and pineapple with honeyed, spice, citrus nuances. Long on the palate this stunning Chardonnay has years of life ahead – Extraordinary. 
2009 Domaine Donatsch Completer Malanserrebe. Light yellow in color with a faint golden hue, this wine has an intense perfume of honey and citrus with floral, hazelnut undertones. It has gorgeous fruit showing a floral, honeyed, spice tinged nuance and a nice underlying crispness – Outstanding Plus.
2011 Domaine Donatsch Completer Malanserrebe.
Light yellow in color with a lovely floral spice tinged perfume, this wine has great fruit with depth and flavor and is beautifully balanced with a firm underlying structure. Subtle floral notes are accented by citrus and a touch of spice and the finish has a nice underlying crispness. This very young wine has impressive potential – Outstanding. 
2011 Domaine Dontasch Pinot Blanc Malans.
Light yellow in color this wine has a gorgeous floral perfume with tinges of vanilla and citrus. It is very elegant, finesseful, and rounded with lovely fruit and a nice crisp finish – Highly Recommended. 
2010 Domaine Dontasch Pinot Noir “Passion”.
With a deep color this Pinot Noir has a great berry, cherry perfume with floral spice notes. It is brimming with very pure fruit and has great balance and depth. This is really lovely – Outstanding Plus. 
2010 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir “Unique”.
This wine is really stunning. The color is dark and there is a deep perfume of blackberries with a hint of exotic spice. Layers of fruit are accented by a floral spice tinge and the wine is structured and balanced with a long lasting finish. This is a Pinot Noir with a great future ahead – Extraordinary. 
2009 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir “Unique”.
Dark in color this wine has a gorgeous perfume of plums, berries, and spice with a faint floral undertone. It is rich and rounded with lots of supple fruit and is balanced with a long finish – Outstanding Plus. 
1999 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir “Spiger”.
This is a gorgeous Pinot Noir that at over 10 years of age is just hitting its stride. The color is deep and there is a great foresty perfume with hints of spice, cherries, and a faint exotic nuance. There is lots of fruit and depth and foresty, exotic spice nuances provide a nice counterpoint to the intensity of the fruit. Well structured and balanced, this wine should have a long life ahead – Extraordinary. 
1989 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir “Spiger”.
Now at a peak, but without any sign of decline this is a stunningly great Pinot Noir. It has a deep color with an amber tone and amber just to the edge. The perfume is gorgeous with floral cherry undertones and a tinge of tropical fruit and exotic spice accented by a faint spicy, foresty nuance. Rounded, lush, and supple with great intensity, there is a myriad of fruit flavors wrapped around tinges of exotic spice and an underlying foresty quality. The finish is very long and it would seem that this wine still has many years of life ahead – Extraordinary. 
Wines Tasted Later
These notes are from wines that came directly from Domaine Donatsch as well as wines from Daniel Senn’s personal cellar.
Wines Tasted From Bottle
2010 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay “Passion” Malans.
Light yellow gold in color, this Chardonnay has a lovely floral perfume with hints of citrus and a nice underlying minerality. It has lovely floral, citrus tinged fruit with a nice crispness and is very elegant and finesseful with a long finish – Outstanding. 
2010 Domaine Donatsch Completer Malanserrebe.
Light yellow in color, this wine has a stunning perfume that is faintly exotic, honeyed, and floral with tinges of spice and hazelnut. It has great intensity and is very lush yet with a bright underlying acidity. The flavors are beautifully integrated and show subtle floral, honeyed nuances with hints of citrus, spice, and hazelnut. This is simply a fabulous wine that shows elegance and finesse with complexity and great length on the palate – Extraordinary. 
2009 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir “Vintage”.
This is a first for me – a sweet Pinot Noir that is like a light port. It is delicious. The wine has a very nice color and a stunning perfume of cherry, spice, vanilla, and cedar. Elegant, supple, rounded, and very pure, it has delicious fruit and is sweet, but balanced by a nice fresh crispness. The flavors have lovely tinges of cherry and cassis with faint exotic nuances and the finish has impressive length. This is a unique and wonderful dessert wine – Outstanding Plus. 
2009 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Gris “Fohnbeerenauslese” Malans.
This is a beautifully balanced intensely sweet and rich dessert wine made from very late picked grapes. It is light gold in color with a great exotic spice tinged perfume showing hints of tropical fruits and apricot. It is sweet and intense with wonderful balance and a nice underlying crispness. Tropical fruit flavors are accented by hints of exotic spice and citrus and the finish is long and lingering – Outstanding Plus. 
2009 Domaine Dontasch Pinot Noir “Passion” Malans.
With a deep color this wine has a lovely floral berry perfume and gorgeous supple fruit. It is rounded and flavorful with lots of spice tinged fruit and is beautifully balanced – Outstanding. 
2008 Domaine Dontasch Pinot Noir “Passion” Malans.
This is a gorgeous Pinot Noir with a deep color and a lovely floral spice tinged perfume. It has great fruit and structure and is very pure. There is a lot of intensity and depth, but the wine has a wonderful finesse and is very elegant. The finish is very long and accented by a faint tinge of exotic spice – Outstanding Plus. 
2007 Domaine Dontasch Pinot Noir “Passion” Malans.
With a deep color this wine has a gorgeous perfume with cherry fruit and floral spice nuances. It is full of fruit and very flavorful with beautiful balance. There is lots of depth and richness and the finish is long and lingering – Outstanding Plus. 
2008 Domaine Dontasch Pinot Noir “Unique” Malans.
This Pinot Noir has a deep color and a lovely perfume with floral spice notes and berry tinged fruit. The fruit is very pure and the wine has impressive richness and depth with a long lingering finish. It is a beautifully balanced Pinot Noir with a long life ahead – Extraordinary. 
2001 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir “Unique” Malans.
Now over 10 years of age this Pinot Noir is just hitting its stride. It has a deep color with just a tinge of amber at the edge and the perfume is stunningly complex. Floral nuances are intermingled with beet root and spicy foresty accents. Structured with great fruit there is a lot of richness on the palate and a gorgeous spicy foresty undertone with just a faint exotic quality. This is an absolutely gorgeous wine with a long life ahead – Extrordinary. 
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.