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

Altesse

More appreciated on its home turf between Lyon and Lake Geneva, it thrives in Valais

Muscat

A very ancient grape probably from Greece, Muscat Blanc is a delicate, difficult variety to cultivate. It is an aromatic specialty limited almost exclusively to Valais. Producing a fine, perfumed aperitif and dessert wine, Muscat Blanc should be served in its prime.

Humagne Blanche

Only planted in Valais today, Humagne blanche* is another of the very old Swiss grapes, probably brought in by the Romans. Having a high iron content, and supposedly health-giving properties, this wine was decreed a “health wine” (Krankenwein) for centuries. The old written documents in which this wine is referred to as vinum hum-anum date from the 12th and 14th Centuries. It’s also called Kinderbettenwein or baby crib wine. I’ll bet those kids didn’t have much to cry about.

*no relation to the Humagne Rouge

To eat, to drink and to be merry.

Ecclesiates

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