Swiss Wine Regions

No, it’s not just Chardonnay

Wine bottles and Swiss Alps photo montageThe Swiss are eclectic, life is comfortable in Switzerland, and the Swiss have been quietly gathering the best of what's around them: you see it in the food, fashion, and lifestyle, and the collection area isn't limited to the immediate neighbors of Austria, Germany, Italy and France. The Swiss are a far traveling nation.

This Swiss eclectic nature extends to their taste in wine, in which they indulge extensively; consistently in the upper percentile of per capita wine consumption. So extensively in fact, that very little Swiss wine gets exported. Surprising when you consider that many Swiss aren't even aware that wine is produced in Switzerland at all.

Well, it is. Wine is produced in almost all of the Swiss cantons. The major Swiss wine producing Cantons are Geneva, Neuchâtel, Ticino, Valais and Vaud, but do not rule out the German-speaking areas. With a genuine interest in quality, and an adventurous attitude toward wine making, some very interesting wine is found there, only in smaller quantities.

When it comes to wine, and pretty much anything else, the Swiss are pragmatic; happily trading tradition for efficiency. How do you suppose they squeeze 1,000,000 hl (488k white/520k red) of mostly high quality wine out of just 15,000 hectares of mountainous vineyards?

However, Swiss wine makers are not just experimenting with wine making techniques, oh no, no. Planted all over Switzerland are more different types of grapes than most people know exist. There are over 60 different wine grapes in Valais alone.

What I find particularly exiting is that some Swiss vineyards are going back in time, and making wine with the indigenous and rare grapes found only here. Today in the stores you can find wine made from such exotic grapes as Heida, Gwäss (Gouais Blanc), Himbertscha, Humagne Rouge, and Eyholzer Roter. My hope is that these niche producers succeed, so they're not forced to fall in line with the "fashionable" crowd. The wine world is a richer place with alternatives - life is all about options.

Like the Swiss watches, cheese and scenery, the quality of Swiss wine is high. It also contains an astonishing variety. However, the quantities are small, so it doesn't get exported. If you want to try Swiss wine, you are just going to have to come to Switzerland and get it.

The Wine Grapes of Switzerland

Kerner

Named after local poet and physician, Justinus Kerner, the Kerner grape was hybridized in 1929 in Lauffen in the Württemberg region. A hybrid of the white Riesling and the red Trollinger (Schiava grossa), it resembles the Riesling in character. It is being vinified in limited quantities in Valais, but its future in Valais dosen’t look too bright. It continues to do well in Germany, and on a smaller basis in Austria and Italy.

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.

Johannisberg

Second in white wines of Valais (after Fendant). The name Johannisberg is only used in Valais; the rest of French-speaking Switzerland call it Gros Rhin. The grape used to make Johannisberg is the Grüner Sylvaner. The origin of the grape is not clear. On the one hand it strongly resembles the Roman Apianisien (loved by bees) grape, as described by Pliny the Elder in his “Historia naturalis”, on the other hand, its more likely birthplace is in Romanian Transylvania.

A remedy for the moroseness of old age.

Plato

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