This Is The Secret Attraction Of Swiss Wine
The secret attraction of Swiss wine is, well, Switzerland.
To enjoy a full range of Swiss wines, you need to visit the country. This is because less than two percent of Swiss wine is exported, while the rest is purchased internally. Reasons for low exportation include limited production as well as high costs associated with labor fees and the challenge of harvesting small plots on steep mountainsides. Additionally, the strong Swiss currency raises real prices in foreign markets.
Years ago I visited Cave Emery in the Valais canton, the largest wine production region of Switzerland. This is located in the southwest portion of the country. While we nibbled cheese and drank Diolinoir Réserve in his cellar, owner Louis-Bernard Emery summarized difficulties with Swiss wine exportation “Mass production? You can forget it. We have niche products. Very little quantity, but very selective people. We could export it, but not at a very low price.”
This exclusivity remains, but is now regarded as an asset to lure wine lovers to the Alps. Considering the natural beauty, geographical diversity, excellent food and ample sports amenities that include golf and skiing, the prospect of visiting Switzerland is hardly formidable. Added to those attractions now is a range of excellent wines that grows in diversity and quality each year.
“Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese wines are exposed throughout the world,” said Vincenzo Aiosi when we recently spoke by telephone. Aiosi is a sommelier with 20 years of experience who instructs at the renowned Les Roches hospitality school in Bluche, in the Valais. “But Switzerland is just a small producer with 1.1 million hectoliters [29 million gallons] a year. So if someone comes to Switzerland as a guest—to enjoy the countryside, rivers and mountains, the fondue and raclette food—they can also enjoy wine that they cannot have in their own country. That’s why I am passionate about wine here.”
Originally from the Italian isle of Sicily, Aiosi worked as a restaurant director in Geneva before instructing others about wine. “The Valais is the largest wine producing region in Switzerland, having 5,000 hectares [12,300 acres] of vines, while all of Switzerland has a little less than 15,000 hectares [37,000 acres],” he added.
Swiss franc coins show a relaxed, wreathed and gowned woman holding a spear and shield. This is Helvetia, symbol of the Swiss Confederation and derived from the name of an Iron Age Celtic tribe that dominated this mountainous land before Roman General Julius Caesar defeated them in 58 BCE. In their time, both groups boosted the presence of Swiss wine: Helvetians loved it enough to offer it to their dead, while Romans introduced clay amphorae vats to age and store their fermented juice.
Today some 240 grape varieties are grown in Switzerland, although just four (Pinot Noir, Chasselas, Gamay and Merlot) constitute almost three-fourths of the harvest.