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

Garanoir

A new variety (Gamay x Reichensteiner), developed in 1970 at Pully (Vaud), Garanoir ripens early. Can give interesting blends with Gamay, Gamaret or sometimes Pinot Noir.

Merlot

Imported from the Bordeaux region, Merlot has found a second home in Ticino where it performs extremely well. Later-ripening than the other main Swiss varieties, it is hardly present in other areas. Merlot red wines are racy, tannic and richly colored. A white wine from this black grape, commercialized as Merlot Bianco, gives quite interesting results and is increasingly popular with producers and consumers alike.

Chénin blanc

The versatile “Pinot de la Loire” produces some fine wine in Valais. Like the Chasselas, it provides a neutral canvas for the winemaker’s art and terroir. Originating in the Loire valley of France, it has no relation or similarity to Pinot blanc.

Nothing more excellent or valuable than wine was ever granted by the gods to man.

Plato

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