Swiss Wine Regions

Wine is good for you

Wine has long been valued for its medicinal benefits - it figures in almost all the remedies recorded by Hippocrates, from a general antiseptic to cooling fevers. The grape has been part of the triumvirate of good throughout the middle ages, and the triumvirate are those benevolent institutions: the church, hospitals, and vineyards.

The church, some of them at least, had a tradition of helping the poor, and hospitals are one way of helping, which is why many of the first hospitals were in fact started by, and were part of, Monasteries . Most of them also had the tradition of making life comfortable for their members, and wine, in addition to its medicinal uses, was both enjoyable and profitable. This symbionic relationship was well established by the time of the Barefooted Monastery near Zurich. First documented in 1247, the monastery was renamed "Holy Spirit Hospital" in 1293.

Wine's medicinal and financial properties were also the reason secular hospitals maintained extensive wine cellars. Again, this was true later in the century when the house of "Zähringer" founded the "Hospital of the poor," in the Zurich region.

The Wine Grapes of Switzerland

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.

Merlot

Imported from the Bordeaux region, Merlot has found a second home in Ticino where it performs extremely well. Later-ripening than the other main Swiss varieties, it is hardly present in other areas. Merlot red wines are racy, tannic and richly colored. A white wine from this black grape, commercialized as Merlot Bianco, gives quite interesting results and is increasingly popular with producers and consumers alike.

Freisamer

The Freisamer plays more of a role in Graubünden but has a small presence in a few other cantons. It’s a hybrid of Silvaner x Pinot gris, developed in Freiburg in the Breisgau region. A temperamental grape that puts great demands on the type of soil and location—do I hear you say “terroir”?—it’s been trying to make a name for itself since the sixties but hasn’t really taken off.

Water for oxen, wine for kings.

Spanish Proverb

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