Switzerland Is The Next Hot Wine Destination You Need To Visit
Switzerland is famous for its chocolate and cheeses, but it may surprise many people to know that the country has a thriving wine industry as well. Sadly, most of us will never get to indulge in savoring a Swiss vintage because (thanks to its small production volume and thirsty citizens) less than 2% of the country’s wine is ever exported. That means that if you want to experience the bounty of one of Europe’s tastiest wine regions, you’ll pretty much have to go there yourself.
Trust me. The fact that you’ll need to sojourn to Switzerland to sip its wines is good news. All six of the country’s official wine regions offer breathtaking scenery, fascinating attractions and an array of culinary delights (not to mention superb wines) that you’d be well-advised to visit even if you aren’t a wine lover. Here’s a guide to Switzerland’s six official wine regions and what makes them special.
This is the area that all other wine regions wish they could be. Surrounded by towering mountains, undulating hills and the icy blues of Lake Geneva, the scenery is so beautiful it will take your breath away. Don’t believe me? Then take UNESCO’s word for it, they gave the remarkable terraced vineyards in Lavaux (one of Vaud’s wine sub regions) World Heritage Site status. The area is located less than an hour train ride away from Geneva and you can base yourself in the lovely towns of Lausanne, Montreux or the charming village of Vevey (where you can stay at the historic, resplendent, five-star property Grand Hotel du Lac).
The signature grape of the region is Chasselas, which is a light, fruity white grape that goes well with just about everything. Vaud is the second largest wine region but is arguably first when it comes to looks. It’s also the only region in Switzerland that produces more white wine than red, though you’ll find some nice Gamay and pinot noirs here too.
While most of us are familiar with the sophisticated city of Geneva, few realize that it also hosts Switzerland’s third largest wine-growing region. It’s an ideal stop for those who want to combine vineyard and countryside strolls with the cosmopolitan delights of one of Europe’s most dynamic cities.
The vineyards in this region dot the Rhône river not too far from the city center. The proximity of world-class restaurants, chefs and sommeliers adds a more modern flavor to this wine region, which has wholeheartedly embraced contemporary viticulture techniques. As well as lots of Gamay and Chasselas, there are many international grape varieties grown in the area, like Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Viognier, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir.
The majestic Matterhorn may be the most well-known attraction for tourists traveling to this part of Switzerland, but to locals, Valais is revered as the country’s largest wine region. Lying on the east side of Geneva, this sprawling landscape produces nearly one-third of Switzerland’s wine. The alpine terroir has a hot and sunny clime thanks to the barrier of protection the Alps provide. This microclimate creates rich, complex wines that are difficult to duplicate in other regions.
There are over 50 different varieties of grape gown in the area, with Pinot Noir and Chasselas being the most plentiful. Petite Arvine, a floral, refreshing white wine is the headliner in Valais. Be sure to try Amigne, Humagne rouge and Cornalin to taste wines that are not widely known outside of the country. Sierre is the capital city of the Valais region and it hosts a fascinating wine museum that is well worth a visit.
German Switzerland / Graubünden
In Switzerland’s north is where the German Switzerland/Graubünden wine region mostly lies, with a few other sub-regions peppered about the middle of the country. The eclectic mix of different soil types, a mild climate and warm winds gives this area some of the most varied vintages.
Pinot noir reigns supreme here, where the grapes grow into subtle, light wines that tease the palate. Full-bodied Riesling-Silvaner (known as Müller-Thurgau in Switzerland) is the main white varietal, but lesser-known but tasty grapes like Räuschling, Completer also do well.
In Switzerland’s south, on the other side of the Alps and bordering Italy, sits captivating Ticino, arguably the country’s least known but most alluring region thanks to its Italian flare and flavors. This under-the-radar area with its Mediterranean clime is more particular than the other five regions, growing predominantly Merlot. Ticino is best known for its unique White Merlot, an elegant, surprisingly subtle varietal that’s hard to find outside of the country.
Visiting this region gives you the opportunity to discover stunning, ritzy resort towns like Lugano and Locarno. Or check out the capital city Bellinzona, an enchanting if unassuming beauty that boasts three UNESCO designated castles.
The smallest of Switzerland’s wine regions, it makes up in flavor what it lacks in size. Most of the hilly region hugs the banks of Lake Neuchâtel. Only one red grows here, Pinot Noir, but there’s also a smooth, fruity rosé called Œil-de-Perdrix, which is the area’s flagship wine.
The region’s whites are mainly Chasselas, though there are some world-class Chardonnays and even a few sparkling wines to be found as well.
About Sandra MacGregor
I’m a Canadian writer and editor who specializes in travel, food and wine. My father was in the Canadian Air Force so my family was constantly moving from base to base, which is why I developed an unquenchable thirst to discover what lies beyond the next horizon. My work has appeared in a variety of publications like the New York Times, the UK Telegraph, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe and the Toronto Star. As a wayfaring writer I spend most of time exploring new destinations and I’ve also been fortunate enough to live for a year or two in captivating cities across the globe like Paris, France, Seoul, South Korea and, most recently, Cape Town, South Africa. When travelling I especially love experiencing the food and wine scene, and I have my WSET Level 1 Award in Wines. Follow me on Twitter at @MacgregorWrites and Instagram at @sandragetssidetracked.