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

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.

Sylvaner

Originally from the Danube basin, Sylvaner is widely planted in well-exposed locations in Valais where it ripens later than Chasselas, producing wines with good body, bouquet and acidity. It is also used, although rarely, for late harvest wine.

Gwäss

Gwäss is the German-ized name of Gouais Blanc.

Wine comes in at the mouth And love comes in at the eye; That's all we shall know for truth Before we grow old and die. I lift the glass to my mouth, I look at you, and sigh.

William Butler Yeats

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