Switzerland’s wines are full of surprises and idiosyncrasies.
Until recently, most Swiss wines were only enjoyed locally, because they sold out, and export markets found them too expensive
Swiss vignerons have stepped up their efforts to improve quality and pursue exports in an attempt to familiarize wine aficionados everywhere with their unique products.
The Swiss have long been enjoying their wines but also imported substantial quantities from Burgundy, Bordeaux, California, South Africa, Chile and Australia. USA, except for California, has never figured largely in Swiss imports, although this may change in time.
Of course Spain and Portugal have been enjoying great popularity in Switzerland because many Swiss spend their vacations there and both countries wines are much less expensive than their competitors in France. Surprisingly German and Austrian wines have failed to attract any interest.
Switzerland has a population of seven million, produces 126 million litres of wine on its 24,000 hectares of vineyards, but imports 171 million litres to satisfy internal demand. On average each Swiss citizen consumes some 44 litres of wine per annum. (Canadian per capita consumption is approximately 11 litres).
For adventurous wine consumers, Swiss wines are intriguing and challenging. Valais (a canton) grows 52 different grapes. This canton is the undisputed star of all Swiss wine regions. (of Switzerland’s 24 cantons 23 produce wines) .
After Valais, Vaud and Geneva vie for second and third place.
Ticino, an Italian-speaking canton, is better known for its Merlot.
Geneva is a promising, emerging region Thanks to young, energetic and farsighted vignerons who planted Syrah and have been able to produce respectable wines. Previously, most Geneva vignerons were content growing Chasselas ( Gutedel ), a white grape of no particular pedigree. Next door to Geneva is Vaud which is better known for its Gamay, Pinot Noir and Chasselas, all of which yield light bodied but distinctive wines with a limited shelf life. Chasselas goes well with fondue, one of the Swiss national dishes, pan-fried perch fillets, raclette, and other cheese specialties and Swiss have many.
Indigenous Swiss grape varieties such as Petite Arvine, Amigne, Humagne Rouge and Cornalin yield distinct wines that reflect terroir well.
Young, adventurous winemakers in Valais, Vaud and Geneva planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Manseng, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Petite Arvine to experiment and explore new taste sensations. They feel young Swiss are ready for a revolutionary wine taste direction. It seems they are on the right track. Young, well-educated, and well-heeled Swiss are favouring “ new “ Swiss wines and are even willing to chare them with their foreign friends.
Of course the best Chasselas vineyards are located in Lavaux (Vaud) have not been uprooted and continue to produce fine, light, fruity wines.
Calamin Cuvee Speciale and Dezaley are two Chasselas wines worthy of prizes.
Valais Syrah can eventually compete favourably with Cote Rotie wines further west in the Rhone Valley.
French speaking canton (Valais, Vaud, Geneva) cultivate 20,600 hectares of vineyards, whereas German speaking cantons ( Zurich, St Gall, Graubunden ) have only 2600 hectares under wines and Ticino 950 hectares.
The country is mountainous and relatively cool due to high altitude. Vineyards are always on steep slopes and many on mountains making it difficult to maintain. The law allows one vine per one square metre and a yield of one kilogram per vine. The average Swiss vigneron cultivates one-and-a-half hectare of vineyards and thus cannot compete favourably with his competitors elsewhere in the world. In addition Switzerland is a high-cost producer due to its high living standards.
Although many of the Chassselas vineyards have been uprooted they still represent 44 percent of all vineyards, followed by Gamay ( 37 percent ).
Swiss wines tend to be low in alcohol, high in acids and light. They go well with Swiss specialties which contain high amounts of cream, butter, and cheese. Exports ( 74,000 cases in 1999 ) can be increased, if prices are lowered, and more importantly, unique, indigenous grape varieties employed to vint unusual, but appealing wines It seems vintners are determined to Put Switzerland on the world wine map.
Let’s see how quickly they can achieve their objective.
Here are some Swiss wines you might want to try in your travels to the country; (Unlike in Canada Swiss wine shops will let you drink wine in the store. Often they will sample interested customers.
DEZALEY, CITY OF LAUSANNE
AMIGNE VETROZ ,GERMANIER-BALAVAUD
SAUVIGNON BLANC, BOVARD
ST SAPHORIN L’ARCHESQUE, BOVARD
MALCANTONE MERLOT , CANTINA MONTI
CASTELLO DI MORCOTE MERLOT, C. TAMBORINI
VIGNETO AI BRUGHI MERLOT ,C. TAMBORINI
PINOT NOIR, BUNDNER HERRSCHAFT
MERLOT , CHANRLES BONVIN
FENDANT ,CHARLES BONVIN
A SELECTION OF SWITZERLAND’S FINE RESTAURANTS AND HOTELS
Domaine de Chateauvieux ,
( A 60 restaurant with an impressive ( 350 selections ) wine list
Osteria dell Enoteca
24 Contrada Maggiore Losone 6616
Tel 011 41917817
Specializes in Ticinese specialties and offers 300 wines.
Villa Principe Leopoldo
5 Via Montalbano Lugano 6000
A magnificent estate high above beautiful Lake Lugano, featuring northern Italian and Ticinese specialties. Extensive and expensive ( 450 selections ) wine list.
Saas Fe 3906
A small (15 tables – 60 seat) restaurant located in Swiss Alps. Saas Fe is car free
The food is Franco-Swiss and well prepared. The wine list is extensive (400 selections).
Route de Medran Verbier 1936
A fine and imaginative menu supplemented by an extensive ( 400 selections ) wine list. Excellent food quality and flawless service. This is a destination dining room.
Auberge du Raisin 1 Place de l’Hotel de Ville Cully 1096
This 35 seat restaurant on the Lake Geneva offers imaginatively prepared and thoughtfully presented specialties. The wine list is extensive ( 300 selections ) and service competent.
Le Mont Pelerin 1801
As the name suggests the view of the Lake Geneva doesn’t get any better than this. The menu offers regional specialties and the wine list ( 640 selections ) mostly from the canton , Valais and France.
Restaurant le Pont de Brent
Located just above Montreux this small restaurant offers artisanal refinement. The precision of chef’s cooking earned him two Michelin stars. The wine list ( 700 selections ) is extensive and expensive. Service is slow but friendly.
Worth a detour when in the region.
All Swiss restaurants appreciate reservations in order to serve well.