Description And History of Completer
Completer is a wine grape that is an indigenous cultivar from Eastern Switzerland. These vines in the area of Malans in the Rhine Valley of Switzerland were known as far back as 765. However, the name Completer is first thought to have appeared in 1321 where the name is found in a document from the Cathedral Chapter of the Cathedral of Chur. The last evening prayer in the Catholic Church is called Completarium (Complete). After this prayer the early monks in this area drank a white wine. This wine was high in acid and high in sugar and made like sherry with prolonged aging in barrels. This wine became known as Completer. Today Completer is known by several names including “Malanserrebe” which translated means “the variety of Malans”.
The vineyard “Halde” in Malans is shown in the picture above. It is on the steep cliff in the background with Pinot Gris vineyards in the foreground. “Halde” means steep hillside. This is the only such steep vineyard in Malans and Completer vines have grown here for over 1000 years. The vineyard is therefore also called “Completerhalde”.
At one point, Completer vines became nearly extinct as demand for the old style sherry like wine declined. Today plantings are increasing, but are still minuscule with only 5 acres of Completer vines under cultivation in the entire country. It is now made in the style of a dry white wine. At Domaine Donatsch, one of the most highly regarded wineries in Switzerland, Martin Donatsch, the winemaker, and his father, Thomas, feel that the potential for Completer is as good as Chardonnay. And they believe that the wine is capable of aging for decades with increasing complexity developing over time. (If you would like to read a more detailed and scientific explanation of Completer click here)
I recently visited Donatsch Winery in Malans, Switzerland and tasted some wonderful wines (I will have an article on that visit soon). But it was Completer that was really unique. I had never heard of the grape or the wine, much less tasted it, before my visit. So I was taken completely by surprise.
Domaine Donatsch Completer
Today Domaine Donatsch has just over an acre of Completer vines. Completer vines historically existed on their property (now in the 5th generation of ownership), but were taken out by Martin’s grandfather in 1947 and then replanted in 1993 and 1997. Production in recent vintages has varied between 1200-1800 bottles. The goal today is to increase production to 5-6,000 bottles per year through production from young vines and increased plantings.
I have now tasted three different vintages of Domaine Donatsch Completer. Completer is very unique with great structure, flavor, and balance. To me, Completer is like a cross between Aligoté, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Riesling. Completer has the backbone of Aligoté, some of the flavors and structure of Chardonnay, some of the floral complexities of Pinot Gris, and the fruit and bright minerality of a great Riesling. My notes on the most recent vintages of Domaine Donatsch Completer follow:
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.
2010 Domaine Donatsch Completer Malanserrebe.
Light yellow in color, this wine has a stunning perfume that is faintly steely, 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. Very rich, yet with finesse, there is a faint underlying exotic nuance and the wine has a great yin and yang. This is simply a fabulous wine that shows elegance and finesse with complexity and great length on the palate – Extraordinary.
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.
And now, after tasting through these vintages of Completer, I must say I am in complete agreement with Martin and Thomas. I guess that makes me a complete Completer fan. And that is the Complete(r) story. As plantings and production increase, hopefully we all will have an opportunity to obtain some Completer to drink and to lay away for future enjoyment. However, this is likely to be very difficult since there will always be a very small production. And Swiss wine in general is not often exported. So it is likely that very few people will ever experience Swiss Completer outside of Switzerland. Nonetheless, I am intrigued about the potential for the grape in other locations around the world. In cool areas, it really should be planted. I am thinking here of areas like the Finger Lakes in New York state where I recently visited and tasted many very fine wines, including some rare and unusual ones (to read that article click here). I think Completer would make a great addition to Finger Lakes varieties. Long live Completer! May its roots spread with its fame!