Dare to be different. Try Swiss Wines
The best wine lists have a few things in common. They’re put together by sommeliers with real passion; they feature quality wines from great producers in top regions; they have rare vintages or special bottles that customers won’t find anywhere else. If you’re looking for that point of difference to make your wine list unique, look no further than Switzerland.
Thanks to increasing availability in the UK, quality Swiss wines are starting to gain the wider recognition that they deserve. In terms of area under vine, Switzerland isn’t big: its total vineyards equal about one-eighth of the vineyards in Bordeaux. But Swiss winemakers have a few aces up their sleeve when it comes to making wines that are perfect for the UK on-trade: native grapes and unique Alpine terroir.
"With 95% of Swiss vineyards located in the alpine mountain ring, our USP is the Alps," says Gilles Besse, winemaker and president of the national association Swiss Wine. The alpine climate combined with mineral soils – granite on mountain slopes, schist in river valleys and limestone around lakes – create wines that share a distinctive character: a clean minerality and sometimes astonishing level of fruit purity. You can almost breathe in the clear alpine air with each sip.
Beyond this shared identity there’s huge variety, with vineyards on the north and south sides of the Alps, at varying altitudes. Six wine regions are spread across the French, Italian and German areas of Switzerland: Valais, Vaud, Geneva, Three Lakes, Ticino and Eastern Switzerland.
Valais, in the south-west, has vineyards running for over 100km along the Rhône Valley. Vaud lies to the west and includes the scenic sub-region of Lavaux, a Unesco World Heritage site with steeply terraced vineyards. North of Vaud lie the Three Lakes (Murten, Biel and Neuchâtel); while at the southern tip of Lake Geneva, the small region of Geneva is influenced by the Jura mountains. Together, these French-Swiss areas produce 70% of Swiss wines.
The Rhine is a major influence in Eastern Switzerland, a scattered area that covers all of the German-speaking parts of the country. Finally, Italian-speaking Ticino, in the south-east, enjoys a more Mediterranean climate.
Four food-friendly grape varieties take credit for 72% of Swiss wine production: Pinot Noir, Gamay, Merlot and the native Chasselas. Merlot thrives in Ticino, where it produces wines to rival Bordeaux. Serious Gamays are made in Geneva, with easy-drinking examples coming from Vaud and Valais. While Pinot Noir is best suited to the cooler climates of the Three Lakes and Eastern Switzerland.
Chasselas is planted all over the country and made in a range of styles, from creamy lees-aged wines to linear, mineral whites that rival Chablis. It’s just one of 26 native grape varieties: look out for white Arvine (also called Petite Arvine) and the red grapes Cornalin and Humagne. While these wines aren’t cheap, they offer a genuine point of difference for your list and a chance to trade your customers up.
To try a range of Swiss wines and meet producers visit Stand D20 at Imbibe Live. For more info visit swissfinewine.ch
SWISS WINE AT A GLANCE
6 regions: Valais, Vaud, Geneva, Three Lakes, Ticino, Eastern Switzerland
4 main grapes: Pinot Noir, Gamay, Merlot, Chasselas
15,000 hectares of vineyard
FOR YOUR LISTBY THE GLASS
Gamay 2014, Domaine des Muses, Valais, £15
A light, fruity summer red, that’s well made and perfectly balanced.
La Crosse 2013, Luc Massy, Clos Du Boux, Epesses, Lavaux, Vaud, £15
Fruity aromas with a spicy note. Lively and round with a clean mineral freshness.
Oeil de Perdrix 2014, Domaine de Montmollin, Neuchâtel, £14
This Pinot Noir rosé is harmonious, well rounded, fruity and fresh.
BY THE BOTTLE
Cayas Syrah 2011, Jean-René Germanier, Valais, £28
A fresh Rhône-style Syrah with blackcurrant, black cherry and black pepper.
Dezaley Chemin De Fer 2013, Luc massy, Clos Du Boux, Epesses, Lavaux, Vaud, £20
This complex and elegant Chasselas has savoury, creamy, honey and mineral notes.
Les Romaines Gamay 2012, Les Frères Dutruy, Founex, Vaud, £21
This organic beauty boasts smooth black fruit, silky tannins and a long spicy finish.
Maître de Chais, Petite Arvine de Fully Réserve Spéciale 2013, Provins Valais, Valais, £22
Fruity flavours (lemon, pink grapefruit, banana) balanced by crisp acidity and fresh minerality.
Pinot Noir no.3 2011, Schlossgut Bachtobel, Weinfelden, Eastern Switzerland, £22
Elegant, complex and long, this is typical of the great Pinots produced in Eastern Switzerland.
Pinot Noir Passion 2012, Vinotiv, Dontasch, Malans, Graubunden, Eastern Switzerland, £25
Berry and cherry perfume with floral spice. Very pure fruit, plus great balance and depth.
Rifessi d’Epoca 2012, Brivio, Ticino, £29
Clay soils give this Pomerol-style Merlot a mellow tobacco note over smooth, black fruit.
Terpsichore 2011, Domaine des Muses, Valais, £34
A classy red blend of Cornalin and Humagne: deep, layered and worth lingering over.