Swiss Wine Regions

Luzern; a Geological Mixed Bag

Luzern collageWine lives in the heart of Switzerland, and the heart of Switzerland is Zentralschweiz; the historic and mythological origin of the Swiss Confederation. It's here that on November 18, 1307, as punishment for his defiance, William Tell was forced to shoot an apple off his son's head. Tell's defiance kindled the revolt that ultimately led to the formation of the Swiss Confederation.

In the heart of Zentralschweiz is Luzern (Lucerne). The sunny slopes of the vineyards here are concentrated in the wine sub-regions of Seetal, Vierwaldstättersee, Wiggertal and Sempachersee. Two lakes provide a regulating influence to the climate across the area and the varied geology gives the wine of the sub-regions subtle variations in character.

The biggest wine sub-region in canton Luzern is Seetal. Here, the high concentrations of limestone give the wine a sturdy structure.

In Vierwaldstättersee, the Föhn (warm southerly wind said to cause headaches and erratic behavior) encourages early budding of the grapevines and optimal ripening of the grapes. Add the rich soil and the result is a Swiss wine with finesse and elegance.

Wiggertal has the warmest and driest zones in canton Luzern. The high clay content of soil on the steep southern slopes of the vineyards offer the ideal conditions for grapevines, producing a variety of Swiss wines with character.

The smallest wine sub-region in Luzern is Sempachersee. It's also the newest. The vineyards on the moraine hills benefit from well draining soil and the many hours of sunshine, yielding harmonious and balanced wines.

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The Wine Grapes of Switzerland

Sémillon

Hard to believe that Sémillon’s main claim to fame is its propensity to rot, but because of its soft skin Sémillon is prone to Botrytis cinerea (a.k.a. “noble rot”). The “rot” concentrates the acid and sugar in the grape, and the resulting wine can be complex, rich, sweet, and aromatic. In short: pretty damn nice. The best known of this sweet style wine is Sauternes, coming from the Sauternais region of the Graves, near Bordeaux in France.

Sémillon can also make an elegant dry white wine, but since it can be short on acidity, it is often vinified with Sauvignon blanc.

Bernarda

An old vine, but you won’t find it for sale anymore. However it’s being experimented with by Jean Nicollier (I’m searching for more references). The Bernarda is a Prié blanc from the Val d’Aosta that may have come into Switzerland over the St. Bernhard pass, and hence the name.

Rèze

Rèze is an extremely rare white variety found only in Valais. Not often produced as a varietal, Rèze is blended with other Vieux Plants of Valais. Rèze was also used to make the historic “vin des glaciers”, an amber colored wine produced in Val d’Anniviers using the solera technique.

No longer done today, one method in the past was to store Rèze in larch wood barrels, which gave the wine resinous flavor similar to the Greek Retsina, and masking some grape flavor.

Wine is bottled poetry

Robert Louis Stevenson

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