Make Time for Swiss Wine
There’s more to Switzerland than watches, cuckoo clocks and chocolate… Discover world-class wines with a unique alpine character
Switzerland has a secret. If you’ve travelled to Zurich on business or hit the ski slopes of Verbier, you’ve probably already discovered it: unique, food-friendly wines from Swiss vineyards. Now, thanks to increasing availability in the UK, it’s time for Swiss wines to step into the spotlight and gain the wider recognition 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: native grapes, lakes, rivers and last, but by no means least, the Alps.
‘I think our USP is the Alps,’ says Gilles Besse, winemaker and president of the national association Swiss Wine. The alpine climate and mineral soils – granite on mountain slopes, schist in river valleys and limestone around the lakes – create a series of unique terroirs perfect for quality grape cultivation.
With 95% of vineyards located in the alpine mountain ring, it’s fair to say that Swiss wines share a distinctive alpine character. Try a few of our recommendations (see box) and you’ll taste this: alpine wines from Switzerland have a clean minerality and sometimes astonishing level of fruit purity. You can almost breathe in the clear alpine air with each sip.
Beyond this alpine character there’s huge variety, with vineyards located on both 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.
Take a tour...
Valais, in the south-west, accounts for a third of Swiss wine production, with vineyards that run for more than 100km along the Rhône Valley. Vaud lies to the west, around Lake Geneva, and includes the scenic sub-region of Lavaux, a Unesco World Heritage site with steeply terraced vineyards clinging to the slopes above the lake. At the southern tip of the lake is the smaller wine region of Geneva, influenced by the Jura mountains as well as Lake Geneva.
North of Vaud is the Three Lakes region. The lakes in question are Murten, Biel and the largest, Neuchâtel. Together, these four French-Swiss areas produce 70% of Swiss wines.
Eastern Switzerland is a large wine area that covers all the German-speaking parts of the country. The Rhine river, which originates in Switzerland, is an influence here, as are the neighbouring moutains and lakes. Finally, Italian-speaking Ticino, in the south-east, enjoys a more Mediterranean climate, which distinguishes it from the other regions.
Four grape varieties take credit for 72% of Swiss wine production: Pinot Noir, Gamay, Merlot (reds) and Chasselas (white). Wine lovers will be familiar with the red grapes, though that alpine character gives Swiss expressions a unique charm.
Merlot thrives in Ticino, producing wines to rival Bordeaux. Serious Gamays come from Geneva, with easy-drinking examples in Vaud and Valais, and Pinot Noir is best suited to the cooler northern climates of the Three Lakes and Eastern Switzerland.
Native Swiss grape Chasselas is planted all over the country and made in a variety of styles, from creamy lees-aged wines to linear, mineral ones. Chasselas is just one of 26 native varieties. ‘We may have a small area of vineyard, but we have a lot of diversity with our unique grape varieties,’ says Besse. As well as Chasselas, look out for white Arvine (also called Petite Arvine), particularly from Valais, and the red grapes Cornalin and Humagne.
There’s much more to explore, but the secret’s out: Swiss wines are ripe for discovery. So what are you waiting for?
For more information visit
swissiwine.ch (official portal)
swissfinewine.ch (international guide to the best swiss wines)
swisswinedirectory.ch (swiss wine tourism guide)
Swiss wine at a glance
6 regions: Valais, Vaud, Geneva, Three Lakes, Ticino, Eastern Switzerland
4 main grapes: Pinot Noir, Gamay, Merlot (red); Chasselas (white)
15,000 hectares of vineyard