Exploring The Lesser-known World of Wine: Switzerland

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Adrian Smith
Switzerland is home to over 15,000 hectares of vineyards, some of which even date back to the Roman Empire. Unbeknownst to many, Switzerland was actually a wine hotspot during the Roman Empire, with a number of wineries now listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites due to their historic ties. While wine is grown across the country, most of the vineyards are located in the western and southern regions of the country.

Some major grape varieties grown in Switzerland include grapes you've heard of and grapes you may have never heard of, including the red varieties Pinot Noir, Gamay, Merlot, Gamaret, Garanoir, and the white varieties Chasselas, Müller Thurgau, Chardonnay, Sylvaner and Petite Arvine.

On average, just over 1.1 million hectoliters of wine are produced from these vines, (that's about 5% of the total wine produced in California). In addition, just a mere 2% of Switzerland's wines are exported (with most of them going to Germany). And this is why many of us have never had the chance to taste wine from Switzerland.

In case you do get the chance to taste wines from Switzerland, or if you're looking for inspiration to explore wines of Switzerland, here are some wineries and wines I personally recommend:

Winery: Clos de Chillon. Region: Vaud. Suggested wine: Clos de Chillon Grand Cru. Varietal: Chasselas

In the heart of Switzerland sits a castle along the shores of Lake Geneva, a castle that is home to Clos de Chillon. Their Grand Cru wine is so renowned it sells out before even being distributed, as wine merchants from across the globe want to add this to their collection.

While not a dessert wine, the Grand Cru emits a smooth caramel, caressing the tongue with a beautiful sweet honey and creamy Brie in both aroma and taste. The flavors gradually emerge into toffee apples and pears with a slight acidity to create that perfect balance.

Winery: La Cote. Region: Vaud. Suggested wine: Empreinte Merlot. Varietal: Merlot

Playing host to one of Switzerland's most unique wine bottles, the taste is equally as mysterious. Most wine lovers have come across a good Merlot in their time and from a variety of different countries, but not from Switzerland. Grown in the Vaud region, where most of the vineyards sit on steep picturesque hills alongside Lake Geneva, the vast majority of grapes are produced for white wine, making this even more intriguing.

A rich caramel erupts from the glass, host to ripe and juicy dark fruits such as plums and blackberries. Hints of black licorice and black cherries hide amongst the silky tannins and slight acidity while fresh cocoa nibs and tobacco linger on the tongue.

Winery: Gialdi Vini. Region: Ticino. Suggested wine: Terre Alte Ticino Bianco Di Merlot. Varietal: Merlot (but made into a white wine)

Founded in 1953, the reigns of this Swiss gem have since been passed onto the next generation, and the quality of the wine only continues to improve. What's so magnificent about this winery is that their wines are produced from the vineyards of over 300 families around the three local valley villages of Giornico, Biasca and Malvaglia. Not only do these folks greatly support the surrounding community, they undoubtedly capture the true essence of 'Switzerland' in every single bottle.

Most Western countries seem quite baffled at the prospect of a white Merlot, but let me tell you—this is absolutely stunning. A deliciously crisp, yet full bodied wine that adds a sweet kick right at the end of the palate—packed full of harmonious notes of apricot and white peach that continue onto the palate with gooseberry, honeydew melon and nectarine.

Winery: Domaine des Abeilles d'Or Chouilly. Region: Geneva. Suggested wine: Douce Noire. Varietals: Gamaret, Garanoir, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot

Sitting in the heart of Geneva's most prominent vineyard region, the Domaine des Abeilles d'Or family have been winemakers for centuries, with the earliest records dating back over 500 years ago. With just over 34 hectares, they're vineyards sit snuggly in the center of Choully within the largest wine town in the whole of Switzerland.

We finish with a bang, as this truly is the perfect festive wine to add to your collection, packed full of flavor and one of the most complex wines I've come across. Its color alone draws wonder and mystery, as you gaze upon this hue of deep ruby. The nose allows you to understand how incredible its structure is, big, bold, highly aromatic and fruit-forward with silky caramel and deep pepper oozing from the bottle. An assortment of over 5 grapes gives a truly outstanding array of flavors, from musky perfume to blackberry, raspberry, prunes, cedar and vanilla, interlaced with tobacco and cocoa.