Swiss Wine Regions

Charming Pinot Noir

Image of a glass of Pinot noirAlthough sometimes called the "queen of grapes, Pinot noir is not one of the superstars of wine, not yet at least, but it certainly has a cult following. Its subtle and mysterious nature appeals to the individualist and its versatile qualities gratify the onephile.

One could think this Burgundy grape is a criminal on the run in Switzerland, given all the names it goes by here. In the cantons of Geneva, Vaud and Neuchâtel it may be called Cortaillod or Salvagnin noir. In Ticino it's sometimes Pinot nero, and in the German-speaking areas; Blauburgunder and Klevner (or Clevner). Generally though it's Pinot noir in most of Switzerland and Blauburgunder in the German-speaking areas.

In the German-speaking region of Switzerland (where I live) there are organizations dedicated to the Blaubergunder, including small groups of vintners that are focusing their love and attentions just on this grape. No other grape is so malleable and open to the vintner's craft and alchemy of the cellar.

In Switzerland Pinot noir accounts for 30% of the wine grapes, but accounts for hardly 1% worldwide. The vine is temperamental. Pinot noir is a red grape that matures early and therefore does well in colder climates, but because it buds early it is susceptible to spring frosts. Having said that, it survived the "bad winter of '56" in Switzerland.

Robert Balzer, that venerable wine and food writer of the Los Angeles Times, often said (sometimes more that once in an evening), that to know what Pinot noir should smell like, "go to the garden and cut a fresh rose. Put in it in a vase overnight without water. In the morning smell the rose. That is what a Pinot noir should smell like."

The Pinot noir grape produces an elegant wine, but with backbone. It shows finesse and structure and is much more approachable than some Cabernet Sauvignon wines can be. Its seduction is gentle. It is more charming than entertaining, and that makes for good company.

The Wine Grapes of Switzerland

Muskat Canelli

Muskat Canelli made its way from Italy to Valais, where it has limited production, and produces a dry white wine.

Kerner

Named after local poet and physician, Justinus Kerner, the Kerner grape was hybridized in 1929 in Lauffen in the Württemberg region. A hybrid of the white Riesling and the red Trollinger (Schiava grossa), it resembles the Riesling in character. It is being vinified in limited quantities in Valais, but its future in Valais dosen’t look too bright. It continues to do well in Germany, and on a smaller basis in Austria and Italy.

Freisamer

The Freisamer plays more of a role in Graubünden but has a small presence in a few other cantons. It’s a hybrid of Silvaner x Pinot gris, developed in Freiburg in the Breisgau region. A temperamental grape that puts great demands on the type of soil and location—do I hear you say “terroir”?—it’s been trying to make a name for itself since the sixties but hasn’t really taken off.

Wine is a peep-hole on a man.

Alcaeus

Swiss Alps, cows, wine bottle and large clock face in Bern, Switzerland

Fine Swiss Wine

Discover Switzerland’s odd grapes, small producers, and eclectic tastes