Swiss Wine Regions

A

Aligot

Originates from Burgundy and spread through France. Originally called “Plant du Rhin” when it was brought to Geneva in the early 1900’s, and is now something of a specialty in Geneva. It was also introduced into Valais as an alternative to Johannisberg, but it didn’t fare so well and today survives in only a few small areas in Unterwallis.

Altesse

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

Amigne

Amigne was brought to Switzerland by the Romans. This grape can also produce a Sauternes-like late harvest wine. These wines are ready to drink in two to three years, but some can be aged.

Arvine

Another delivery from Rome, there are actually three Arvine grape varieties, only two used for wine production: Grand Arvine, with the larger berries, and Petit Arvine, with the, you guessed it, smaller berries. The unloved Arvine brune has faded from the scene. Grand Arvine gets criticized for displaying little character, whereas the Petit Arvine tends to have a fuller bouquet and lower acidity. In blind tasting, Petit Arvine generally kicks ass against its plumper brother. Arvine is also an excellent grape for late harvest wine, which can be cellared.

Petite Arvine

Auxerrois blanc

A clone of the prolific Pinot Noir, Auxerrois blanc is a close cousin of Pinot blanc. It comes from the county of Auxerrois, and is best known from Alsace.

Edelzwicker

B

Bernarda

An old vine, but you won’t find it for sale anymore. However it’s being experimented with by Jean Nicollier (I’m searching for more references). The Bernarda is a Prié blanc from the Val d’Aosta that may have come into Switzerland over the St. Bernhard pass, and hence the name.

Prié blanc

Blatina

A red wine grape of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bondola

An indigenous and ancient red grape from Ticino, Bondola has slightly higher acidity and lower alcohol, and produces a good simple table wine, often called Nostrano.

C

Cabernet franc

Cabernet franc, one of the Bordeaux grapes, is a bit like the little brother of the Cabernet sauvignon grape. Cabernet franc is usually used for blending.

Cabernet Sauvignon

A classic international variety, Cabernet Sauvignon is marginally cultivated in Geneva, Vaud, Valais and Ticino. Besides being vinified as a varietal, it is blended with other Bordeaux grape varieties, or with old Valais varieties.

Chardonnay

A vigorous and adaptable vine from Burgundy, Chardonnay grows pretty much everywhere that wine is made. Although production is not so high in Switzerland, award-winning wines have come out of Geneva, Valais and Neuchâtel.

Chasselas

In contrast to its native France where it wasn’t too successful as a wine grape, the Chasselas shines in Switzerland. Basically neutral in character, it reflects the nuances of the terroirs where it’s grown. Chasselas may be one of the first grape varieties ever cultivated and is one of, if not the dominant wine grapes grown in Switzerland.

Fendant (Valais), Gutedel (German-speaking areas)

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.

Pineau de la Loire, Steen (South Africa)

Completer

Completer is probably the same grape as Lafnetscha from Haut-Valais. It is a rare indigenous vine to the Gräubunden area. Used in the Valais and Grisons regions to make aromatic wine blends with some aging ability.

Lafnetscha

Cornalin

An ancient and indigenous alpine variety found only in Valais, Cornalin gives a wine that is fruity with a fine bouquet and intense purple-red color. The slightly rustic hint makes it a good companion for game dishes.

Cornalin d´Aoste -

Humagne Rouge

D

Diolinoir

A new variety, Diolinoir was developed in 1970 at Pully (Vaud). When grown in favorable locations in Valais, it gives a fine, robust wine, rich in color and with good tannin content. It is a cross between Diolly and Pinot Noir.

Durize

Durize is a red wine grape, possibly indigenous, grown in the Valais district of Switzerland

Rouge de Fully

E

Ermitage -

Marsanne Blanche

F

Fendant

Fendant is a protected designation and may only be used in Valais for wines made from the Chasselas grape. In contrast to its native France, where it wasn’t too successful as a wine grape, the Chasselas shines in Switzerland.

Chasselas

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.

G

Gamaret

A new variety, developed in 1970 at Pully (Vaud), Gamaret is enjoying a growing success with producers and consumers alike. It produces a wine that is richly coloured and well-structured with sometimes-spicy notes that ages well. Gamaret is a cross between Gamay and Reichensteiner (a white grape.)

Gamay

This is the variety that produces all the Beaujolais wines. Later-ripening than Pinot Noir, Gamay is very widespread in the western, French-speaking part of Switzerland. But it is in Geneva that it has become the dominant red variety. Produced as a varietal in Geneva or blended with Pinot Noir in Vaud (Salvagnin) and Valais (Dôle), Gamay produces lively, light wines with vivacious aromas of freshly picked red fruits. These wines are best consumed young

Gamay x Reichensteiner -

Garanoir

Garanoir

A new variety (Gamay x Reichensteiner), developed in 1970 at Pully (Vaud), Garanoir ripens early. Can give interesting blends with Gamay, Gamaret or sometimes Pinot Noir.

Gewürztraminer

The name Gewürztraminer is obviously German, although the origin of the grape is the Tyrollean Alps, near the village of Termeno (Tramin) in Alto Adige, Italy. Gewürz is German for spice. The vine is evidently a pain in the ass to grow and does best in cooler climates. In Germany the wine of this grape is often made off-dry, in Alsace it’s dry and floral, and in Switzerland it produces a wide range. Gewürztraminer is one of the most pungent wine varietals and reasonably easy to identify with just your nose. It is one of the few wine that can hold its own with spicy Asian food.

Goron de Bovernier

Goron de Bovernier is a red grape, which according to José Vouillamoz is probably a natural hybrid of Cornalin du Valais and an unknown variety. The grape gets its name from the municipality of Bovernier, in Valais. Small quantities are still found in lower Valais.

Gouais Blanc

A promiscuous grape. Not good for much, but with a long, long line of descendents, including the noble Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Possibly from Croatia, it’s called Heunisch Weiss in Central Europe.

The name Gouais is comes from ‘gou’, which is a scornful word from old French referring to its standing as the grape of the peasants. Very prevalent in the Ile-de-France and in the Champagne during the Middle Ages and perhaps brought into Valais by the descendants of the Ligurians.

Acidic and with little residual sugar, it’s primarily used to blend with low acidic wine to give it a bit of liveliness. Ampelographic studies in the old vineyards of Oberwallis have found a red Gwäss with the same characteristics as the white Gwäss. Almost abandoned, it survives in Haut-Valais hiding under the alias of Gwäss, thanks to Mr. Josef-Marie Chanton, http://www.chanton.ch/home.html

Gwäss??

Grüner -

Sylvaner in German speaking parts of Valais

Gutedel -

Chasselas

Gwäss

Gwäss is the German-ized name of Gouais Blanc.

Gouais blanc

H

Heida

From France’s Franche-Compté region, Heida is a rarity that is grown in the high vineyards of Visperterminen (Upper Valais) with the help of the warm Foehn winds. Probably brought into Valais by the Ligurians during their retreat into the mountains.

Païen, Savagnin Blanc

Hermitage -

Marsanne Blanche

Himbertscha

Himbertscha is one of the rare indigenous white varieties from Haut-Valais, mostly at home in the vineyards of Visperterminen (Upper Valais). The name Himbertscha is said to come from a raspberry (himbeer in German) taste of the wine himbeerartigen. Jose-Marie Chanton who specializes in cultivating the old vines from Wallis makes this wine available under the quality label “Brantignon”. He also cultivates the Himbertscharebe, another “rediscovered” old Walliser white wine.

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

Humagne Rouge

An alpine red variety that is a specialty in Valais, this vine is no relation to the similarly named Humagne Blanche. Humagne Rouge is a hardy, late ripening grape whose planted surface has increased largely during the last 20 years. It produces a fine wine, low in tannin with a slightly wild character that is ideal with game dishes.

Oriou, Petit Rouge, Cornalin d´Aoste

J

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.

K

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.

L

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.

Completer

M

Malvoisie -

Pinot Gris

Marsanne Blanche

Originally from the steep slopes of the Côtes-du-Rhône, the Marsanne blanche grape found its way up the Rhone to Valais in Switzerland, and is known here under the name of Ermitage (or Hermitage).

Ermitage, Hermitage, Rousanne blanche, Marsanne

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.

Mondeuse

An old red grape variety well known in neighboring Savoie, Mondeuse is a rarity found in scattered plots in Chablais (Vaud).

Müller-Thurgau

Developed in Germany by Prof. Müller (from Thurgau), this early maturing white grape variety is one of the principal white grapes cultivated in German-speaking Switzerland. Produces elegant, aromatic wines when grown in cool temperate climates. In warmer locations these qualities tend to be masked by a certain heaviness and lack of acidity.

Riesling-Sylvaner in 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.

Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains

The Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, is one of the oldest grape varieties still around. It’s linked to the Anathelicon moschaton grape used by the Ancient Greeks, and the Apiane grapevines of the Romans. A white grape, it’s a member of the Muscat family. The name comes from its small berry and tight clusters. it’s called Muscat Canelli in Valais, but also goes under lots of names: Muscat Blanc, Moscato Bianco, Muscat de Frontignan, Muscat de Lunel, Muscat d'Alsace, Muskateller, Moscatel de Grano Menudo, Moscatel Rosé and Sárgamuskotály. Theoretically a white grape, the Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains can also produce berries that are pink or reddish brown.

Muscat Canelli

Muscat Ottonel

Muscat Ottonel is a member of the Muscat family. Used for dry wines in Alsace and Hungary, and dessert wines in Austria and Croatia. In Switzerland it is usually used for light, dry wines. It’s parentage is believed to be the Muscat de Saumur and Chasselas.

Chasselas Saint-Fiacre, Mirisavka, Mirislavka, Muscat de Craciunel Tîrnave, Tamîiosa Ottonel

Muskat Canelli

Muskat Canelli made its way from Italy to Valais, where it has limited production, and produces a dry white wine.

N

Nobling

Nobling is a cross between Silvaner and Chassalas from Staatliches Weinbauinstitut at Freiburg. It’s being tested in Valais and can be found in retail.

O

Oriou -

Humagne Rouge

P

Païen -

Heida

Petit Rouge -

Humagne Rouge

Petite Arvine -

Arvine

Pinot blanc

Pinot blanc is a mutation of Pinot Gris. It may have found its way up the Rhône to Valais with any number of mercenaries returning to Switzerland, and today small quantities are cultivated in many Swiss wine regions. When grown in favorable conditions it produces a fruity wine with good acidity.

Weissburgunder, Fehér Burgundi (Hungary), Pinot bianco (Spain and Italy), Rulandské Bilé (Czech), Rulandské Biele (Slovak)

Pinot Gris

Called Malvoisie in Valais, this grape has nothing to do with any of the Malvoisie varieties of the Muscat family and is another of the mutations of Pinot Noir. A vine grown in many of the Swiss areas, in Valais, Pinot Gris produces a fine sweet late harvest wine with honey overtones.

Malvoisie (French-speaking Valais), Grauer Burgunder, Ruländer, Tokayer (German-speaking areas)

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.

Blauburgunder, Clevner or Spätburgunder in Eastern Switzerland

Planscher

Planscher belongs to a group of grapes that do well in the Alpine regions of Italy and in Valais, Switzerland. An ancient white wine grape vine once found in the Rhone valley, it was close to being extinct. Today small amounts of Planscher grow in Visperterminen, Canton Valais.

Barolo, Bourguignon, Bourgogne Blanc, Gamay Blanc, Gros Bourgogne, Bourgogne Gros Rhin Gros, Plant du Rhin and Schaffhausen

Prié Blanc -

Bernarda

R

Räuschling

The Räuschling grape is a very old and probably indigenous Swiss white wine grape. Once fairly common in Switzerland and Alsace, Räuschling got pushed aside by the more useful Müller-Thurgau grape, and today Räuschling is a minor grape. Still found in Alsace, France, and occasionally used in the “Vin d’Alsace”, it still retains quite some respect in the German-speaking parts of Switzerland, most notably in the canton of Zurich, where is is considered a “Zuri-grape”.

It is also planted in Valais.

Brauner Nürnberger, Buchelin, Divicina, Divizhna, Divishna-vizhna, Dretsch, Drötsch, Drutsch, Dünnelbling, Erjava Tizhna, Frankentraube, Gros fendant, Großer Räuschling, Grünspat, Guay Jaune, Heinzler, Klaffer, Klöpfer, Luttenberger, Luttenbergerstock, Luttenbershna, Lyonnaise Blanche, Melon Blanc, Nürnberger Braun, Offenburger, Padebecker, Pfäffling, Pfaffentraube, Räuschling Gross, Reuschling, Rössling, Ruchelin, Rüschling, Rüssling, Silberweiß, Thunerrebe, Weißer Kläpfer, Weißer Räuschling, Zürirebe, Züriweiß, Zürichrebe und Züriwiss

Regent

Regent is a very practical red grape. It matures early, is resistant to disease, needs little protection, and makes a decent wine. Cool.

Resi -

Rèze

Rèze

Rèze is an extremely rare white variety found only in Valais. Not often produced as a varietal, Rèze is blended with other Vieux Plants of Valais. Rèze was also used to make the historic “vin des glaciers”, an amber colored wine produced in Val d’Anniviers using the solera technique.

No longer done today, one method in the past was to store Rèze in larch wood barrels, which gave the wine resinous flavor similar to the Greek Retsina, and masking some grape flavor.

Resi, Resi Vert et jaune

Rhine -

Sylvaner in German-speaking parts of Valais

Riesling

A classic German white variety, Riesling (or Petit Rhin) is rare in Valais but does produce good results on the favorable schistose soils around Sion.

Riesling x Sylvaner -

Müller-Thurgau

Rouge de Fully -

Durize

S

Sauvignon blanc

One of the classic grapes of France, Sauvignon blanc is planted in most wine regions of the world. It produces a wide range of wine styles.

Savagnin blanc -

Heida

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.

Malaga; Chevrier; Goulon Blanc, Blanc Doux; Monsois Blanc; Colombarride; Colombier; Goulue Blanc, Semillon Muscat, Semillon Roux, Semillon Crucillant; Groendruif; Sauternes; Greengrape; Petit Semillon, St. Emilion; Wynedruif; Hunter River Riesling; Semijon; Barnawartha Pinot; Boal; Semillon Feher; Sotern

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.

Johannisberg (French-speaking Valais), Rhine or Grüner (German-speaking areas)

Syrah

A classic red grape variety transplanted from the Côtes-du-Rhône area, Syrah is still somewhat of a rarity here and is grown mainly in Valais and on well-exposed slopes. It produces a spicy, deeply colored, elegant tannic wine that ages well.

V

Vieux Muscat du Pays

A very old small berry Valais grape, difficult to cultivate. It is an aromatic specialty limited almost exclusively to Valais. Some clone or mutation of the Muscat is grown on almost every continent.

W

Weisser Burgunder

See: Pinot Blanc

Pinot Blanc

Fine Swiss Wine

Discover Switzerland’s odd grapes, small producers, and eclectic tastes