Switzerland is a land known for its riches – luxury oozes from the towns of Zurich and Geneva, the posh ski slopes that dot the country, and somehow even hiking seems glitzy. An often overlooked richness is Swiss wine.
I am a “Swissaphile” and friends have referred to me as “Swiss Miss.” After living in Switzerland I can’t stop talking about just what a great country it is. I want all of you to see it and experience it.
It’s spring time and many readers are busy researching summer vacation ideas. Here’s one for you: go to Switzerland!
Going to Switzerland is like visiting several countries in one small country. You feel the Italian culture and language in Ticino, you feel the German influence and language around Zurich, and you feel like you are in France when you go over to the Valais and Geneva. All of these three regions have great wines for you to taste and vineyards to visit. Imagine the fun! A hike or a town exploration and then ending the day at a restaurant overlooking plummeting mountains sipping a delightful glass of wine.
I lived in Geneva for a little over two years and J lived there for 4 years. We loved it! I taught a French Cultural Conversation class at the American International Women’s Club class and had the chance to take our ladies to visit a vineyard. We had friends come in town and we would show them some local vineyards. Since only 2% of Swiss wine is exported, it is a very local wine culture. Many locals buy directly from the vineyards and there are “caves ouvertes” typically on the weekends where you can meet the vineyard owner. The Swiss take wine tasting very seriously, but the mood is laid back and a boutique industry. That said, when you do go to a vineyard you are typically expected to purchase a little wine unless they have a wine tasting flight offered for a price. Many times you will have a “dégustation” or wine tasting with no fee, but expected to purchase.
Most Swiss wine is red, but the area around Lake Geneva (the Vaud, the Valais) is known as Switzerland’s Cote d’Or or Gold Coast and the predominant wine is white. Think of it as the area between Geneva and Montreux – the total distance is about an hour’s drive along the lake. The white wine is made from the Chasselas grape. The predominant red wine is made from the Gamay grape and full of berries and medium low tannins. There are several other grape varieties and Jancis Robinson has a great article that goes into detail about Swiss varietals by region (click here to read).
The Chasselas varietal wine is straightforward, easy-to-drink pairs well with the perch fish that comes from the local lakes or the fondu that is served in winter. The Gamay tends to be light-bodied, medium acidity packed full of ripe berry notes. It goes lovely with game and in the fall many restaurants serve a special “chasse” (or hunt) menu.
The slopes of the Valais are breathtaking as they plunge into Lake Geneva and this area is responsible for most of Switzerland’s wine production. A famous area and a UNESCO heritage site is the Lavaux Wine Terraces. There are hiking trails throughout them or you could drive or cycle.
If you do visit Switzerland and take a day in Geneva, rent a car the second day and drive to the wine terraces of the Lavaux during the day. The scenery is postcard perfect! Spend the night in Montreux. There is also a very interesting castle on the water by Montreux called Chateau Chillon which is worth a tour.
A handy website that tells a lot about Swiss Wine is appropriately called Swiss Wine (click here to access). This article is a great resource if you want to go wine tasting in the Lake Geneva area – click here to read.
The third day take the morning in Montreux (if you go in July you will be in the midst of the famous Montreux Jazz Festival!) and then after lunch take the train to Zurich. Spend a day or two in Zurich and its surrounding towns like St. Gallen to the North about an hour away. Switzerland is renowned for hiking around Lake Thun (Interlaken). The southern Ticino part not only offers great Merlot, but also the town of Lugano is gorgeous and is Switzerland’s Lake Como (which is conveniently not far away if you want to pop into Italy).
Just writing this makes me want to go back to Switzerland this summer! I won’t be able to do so, but maybe you will visit and enjoy the scenery and the Swiss wine.
Swirl, sip, sigh…mommelier
Image “Lavaux Vine Terraces by Theo Baracchini” courtesy of Creative Commons Search Wikimedia Commons available here
Image “Lavaux Vine Terraces on Sunset” by Luca Casartelliand courtesy of Creative Commons Search available here.
Image “The Sun Sets on Chateau de Chillon While a Storm Brews Over Lausanne” is by Eric Hill and available on creative commons here.
Image of Geneva and the Jet D’eau is titled “Europe Swiss European Genva Switzerland Lake” is made available by creative commons zero and available here.
Image “Zurich in the Night” by Andyindia is available under Creative Commons Search and Wikimedia Search available here.
Image “View of the Cathedral of Saint Lawrence at Lugano (Cattedrale di San Lorenzo)” by MercuriiMaiae is available under Creative Commons Search and Wikimedia Commons available here.