Swiss Wine Regions

Wild Time in Switzerland

Swiss autumn colors and wine glassWhen the leaves on the Swiss hillsides start flaunting their autumn color, there’s a snug pleasure in burrowing into an old sweater (jumper) and passing the evening with good friends, keeping the chill out by lingering over a cheerful meal and a bottle of wine. Autumn is “wild” time in Switzerland, which means hunting season, and that means game meat is on the table. At this time of year the restaurants and markets around Switzerland start offering venison, wild boar, hare, wild fowl, as well as wild mushrooms, red cabbage, chestnuts, and Spätzle*. The portions are big, the fare heavy, and the sauces heady. So what kind of Swiss wine goes with it?

Most wines are made to accompany food and Swiss wines are no exception. A good combination adds to the pleasure of a meal, with the sum of parts being greater than the whole. While there are no hard rules for pairing wine with food, a few guidelines can be helpful. A good starting point is: drink the wine that tastes good to you with the meal. Another tip that can lead to pleasant surprises is: if having one of the Swiss regional specialties have a regional wine. After all, they did grow up together.

The main goal of food and wine pairing is balance: neither the food nor the wine should overpower the other, and on the food side of the equation sauces count. The characteristics that should balance include the intensity of flavor as well as acidity, sweetness and body. Since this article is focusing on game, we are usually trying to match full, heavier dishes, often fatty and with strong sauces, such as the “Pfeffer” style dishes (pepper stew). Tannins help cleanse the palate so a Gamaret or a robust Pinot noir barrique is a good choice. This is also a perfect time to try one of the Swiss Syrah wines, some of which have been winning international awards these past few years.

Other good Swiss wine and game-meat combination's include Syrah from the Swiss Rhone Valley matched with Wild boar. Delicate pink prime cuts of venison deserve elegant fine wines like a Blauburgunder Auslese (Pinot noir selection). For braised meats and roasts, how about a Dole, Merlot (Ticino), Cornalin or Humagne rouge (a specialty of Valais).

Pairing Swiss wine to game birds can be a challenge because they can easily be overpowered. In Switzerland they do not tend to "Oak" their Chardonnay, so a Swiss Chardonnay or a Pinot gris is a good choice for a white wine. For the red wines, pinot noir offers flavor without the overpowering tannins. A bit of sweetness can work well with pheasant, partridge or wild duck, so Rieslings, Pinot Gris, or Gewurztraminer could be interesting.

The above mentioned Rieslings, Pinot Gris, or Gewurztraminer would also be a good wine match for spicy sauces containing fruit.

*Noodles or small dumplings made from eggs, flour, and salt

The Wine Grapes of Switzerland

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.

Lafnetscha

Here’s an obscure language lesson. The name Lafnetscha is derived from the local dialect. Because the grape is harvested early, it makes for a acerbic wine which should not be drunk too young. In the local dialect, the verb to drink is “gelafft”, so laff-nit-scha is drink-not-already (sort of). As to the grape, it is one of the oldest in from Haut-Valais. Almost identical to the Blachier. Please see Completer for more information.

Pinot Noir

Genetic studies have revealed that Pinot Noir is probably one of the two ancestors (the other being the humble Gouais) of some of the most important vines cultivated in Europe today. It is certainly a particularly ancient variety, and originally from Burgundy. Pinot Noir, with its associated clones, is found all over Switzerland, but it is only in the eastern region that it dominates production. It is either produced as a varietal or blended with other grapes. These blends are known as Salvagnin in Vaud and Dôle in Valais. Depending on where it is grown, it can produce a wine that is either light and fruity, or rich and full-bodied.

New loves and old wine, give a man these and he never refines.

Francis Beeding

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