An advantage for us living here in Switzerland is that not many people know just how good the wines produced here are. Did you know that about only 1% of all the wine ever produced here is exported? Grapes have been grown here in Switzerland since the days of the Holy Roman Empire and one third of all the wines produced here are from indigenous grape varieties alone. The main regions where our wines are produced are to be found in the Vaud, Valais, Geneva, Ticino, Morat, Biel and Neuchetal. (crikey seven wine regions, who knew?). This septenary of areas are the engine houses of the wine industry. In fact, the Valais produces around 33% of all Swiss wine and is this countries, largest wine region. The second largest being of course the Vaud which furnishes the Swiss wine industry with approximately 25% of the wines produced.
Of course, the grape variety that is synonymous with Switzerland is Chasselas, (aka Fendant in the Valais) or Gutedal if you pop over to Germany. This varietal is indigenous to Switzerland, it makes up around 28% of the total vine plantings in this country. To the untrained eye it is sometimes easily mistaken for Chardonnay in the vineyard with which it not only shares the same shape of leaf but also some genetic similarities as well. Almost similar in aroma and taste profile the main difference is to be found in the slight sweetness that the wine imparts on the palate.
The other white grape variety that is of significant importance to the wine industry is Petit Arvigne. This is perhaps the most important grape grown in the Valais. In fact, it accounts for almost 90% of all white grape plantings in the Valais however you can also find it in the other regions around Switzerland.
Then there is the beautiful Heida grape. I remember the first time I encountered this stunning grape variety, (which if you hadn’t guessed is a personal favourite in our house) on our arrival here in Switzerland. From the moment that the wine first caressed my lips I was hooked and fell in love with it almost immediately. The grape was brought to the Valais from the Jura region in France sometime during the middle ages, around 1536. It was first planted close to the village of Visperterminen in the upper Valais. To this day it still continues to thrive and for those of us who enjoy this varietal this is where some of the very best examples are to be found.
The often overlooked and hugely underrated Muller-Thurgau (aka Rivaner in Germany) also plays a significant factor in the production of some of this country’s greatest wines. This is a Swiss home grown grape, a crossing between Riesling and Madeleine Royale, not as was once thought a cross with Riesling and Sylvaner. Created by Hermann Muller in 1882 in the canton of Thurgau, it is often blended alongside other grapes. Muller-Thurgau adds high notes of fresh floral and green apple fragrances to the wines it is included in. By itself the wines it produces are light, ethereal, full of character and coupled with nuances of spice.
When it comes to the red wines of Switzerland it is the Pinot Noir grape that reigns supreme. Mostly grown in the Vaud where it is also known as Servagnin. Although this variety originates in Burgundy there are records that show the grape variety was being grown and harvested successfully here in Switzerland as far back as 1375. Pinot Noir is a chameleon of a grape and is a delight to pair with any type of cuisine. Soft and fruity with very soft supple tannins this is a grape that almost anyone can enjoy. Try it slightly chilled this summer when you are sitting by the banks of the Rhine by tying it to some string and letting it chill in the river.
Gamay is the second prominent red varietal, a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc. Gamay is sometimes in the French speaking parts of this country often called Döle and produces medium bodied cherry flavoured wines. In the Lavaux there is an ancient bio-type of Gamay called Plant Robert (no, not the lead singer from Led Zeppelin!). This ancient clone makes wines that are more earthy, plum based and spicy.
Last but certainly not least is the magnificent Merlot grape, named after the French word for Blackbird (Merle). These pesky birds would eat the berries straight off the vine, much to the frustration of the poor Vigneron who would be just about to harvest his/her wine. The grape is an ancient cross between Cabernet Franc and Magdelein Noir and is the backbone to many of the blended wines to be found here. It is a grape that not only adds depth and weight but imparts deep flavours of dusty plum and black olive to a wine.
Don’t forget that if you are travelling down towards the Vaud around about 8th – 9th June. Around 300 wine producers in the area will be opening their cellars for not only wine tastings but some will feature food by well known chefs.
For details visit: www.ovv.ch/en/caves-ouvertes
Similarly, there is the once in a generation event that begins on 18th July until 11th August in the small town of Vevey in the Vaud on the shores of Lake Geneva. The Fete des Vignerons has been taking place since 1797 and each year they construct a different arena in which to host this event. This year the stadium has been designed by Hugo Gargiulo and is cutting edge in its design but it also pays homage to some of the arenas that have graced the shore of Lake Geneva in the past. This is an event that is UNESCO protected and only occurs every 20 years. If you are a lover of Swiss wine, then this is the one experience you should attend, I know that I will. You’ll probably recognise me as I will be the one with seven drinking vessels lined up before me (purely for research and homework purposes you understand).
For details about this event visit: https://www.fetedesvignerons.ch/