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

Gewürztraminer

The name Gewürztraminer is obviously German, although the origin of the grape is the Tyrollean Alps, near the village of Termeno (Tramin) in Alto Adige, Italy. Gewürz is German for spice. The vine is evidently a pain in the ass to grow and does best in cooler climates. In Germany the wine of this grape is often made off-dry, in Alsace it’s dry and floral, and in Switzerland it produces a wide range. Gewürztraminer is one of the most pungent wine varietals and reasonably easy to identify with just your nose. It is one of the few wine that can hold its own with spicy Asian food.

Humagne Rouge

An alpine red variety that is a specialty in Valais, this vine is no relation to the similarly named Humagne Blanche. Humagne Rouge is a hardy, late ripening grape whose planted surface has increased largely during the last 20 years. It produces a fine wine, low in tannin with a slightly wild character that is ideal with game dishes.

Cornalin

An ancient and indigenous alpine variety found only in Valais, Cornalin gives a wine that is fruity with a fine bouquet and intense purple-red color. The slightly rustic hint makes it a good companion for game dishes.

And how's this for a description of the perfect wine? "It's like the perfect wife--it looks nice and is nice, natural, wholesome, yet not assertive; gracious and dependable, but never monotonous.

Anonymous

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