Wine is not something that most people generally associate with Switzerland. Cheese, chocolate, mountains, watches, yes.
However, Switzerland does produce wine. They have six wine regions and approximately 15,000 of vines. Mostly white, typically Chasselas or Arvine, but also some lovely Pinot Noirs and Merlots, along with a fair few indigenous grapes that few will have heard of. The only thing is, that they keep most of it for themselves, only exporting about 1% of production.
A week or so ago, I attended the DWCC2014 conference in
Montreux to learn more about wine and all things digital, which gave me the ideal opportunity to try a few for myself.
For some strange reason, I seem to have developed an interest in obscure grapes, so decided to go along to the session on rare Swiss varietals with Jose Vouillamoz.
We had already had the Grand Tasting with Jancis Robinson and Jose, where we had tasting more typical varieties , such as Chasselas, Petite Arvine, Pinot Noir and Merlot. Now it was on to the curiosities.
The first wine we tried was a Räuschling from the area around Zurich. A progeny of Savignan and Gouais blanc, it has a deep yellow colour, fragrant and aromatic. Well-developed aromas gave hints of freshly cut hay and camomile. Although not big on the fruit, there was apricot and a savoury, smoky, earthiness.
We then moved on to a Rèze, an alpine variety previously widespread in Valais, but now there is only 2.5ha planted. It is also used to make a speciality of Valais, ‘Vin du Glacier‘, a wine made in the valleys but then brought up to the glacier and stored in a Solera system, producing a kind of Vin Santo. A smooth, honeyed wine with flavours of ripe yellow apple and herbs. The acidity on the finish keeping the mouth lively and fresh.
Next up, Humagne Blanc, of which there is only 30ha in the world, all of which can be found in Valais. A discrete nose, with aromas of straw and camomile, slight minerality and notes of mandarine and apricot. A little lacking in acidity.
Lafnetscha was the next in our wine palette. From the German-speaking part of Valais, it is now only produced by four winemakers. Apparently in this part of Switzerland, the locals speak a rather incomprehensible dialect, little evolved since the Middle Ages. The name means don’t drink too early! Perhaps due to its high acidity. Powerful aromas of melon and white peach. Well-structured, persistent finish with a touch of bitterness, rather like that of a kumquat.
On to the Amigne, first mentioned in 1686 in Valais. There are now some 42.5ha remaining, mostly in one village. For many years, this wine was made with some residual sugar without actually mentioning it. Now bottles carry little bee symbols to denote sweetness, one being dry, two off try and three semi-sweet. One bee means a wine with residual sugar of less than 8g. A wine with a powerful golden nose, flavours of ripe pair and honey. Full-bodied, almost oily with good acidity and a bitter, almondy finish.
Our final white was Completer. There are 3ha remaining, principally in Graubünden. As the vines yield tiny bunches with very low yields, only ten producers persevere with it. A wine with a more powerful nose. Toasty, almondy with an oily texture. Creamy with mandarine and melon in the mouth. Jose informed us that this wine ages well.
First up in the reds was a Bondola, which is produced in Ticino and representing a typical alpine red. Good with salami and the local polenta, we were reliably informed. Cherry aromas and a cherry stone bitterness, with quite gentle tannins.
Next was the intriguingly named Plant Robert, no not Robert Plant. Although an internet search on this varietal will doubtless return lots of hits about rock stars! An old clone of Gamay, which was most likely introduced from Burgundy, although it is no longer found there. A red fruit and cherry bomb, similar to Gamay from Beaujolais, but with more tannins and structure.
Cornalin was our next varietal. Originating in the Aosta Valley, in Piemont, it was introduced to Switzerland around 1900. Ironically there is now about 130ha in Valais and only 1ha remaining in Aosta. A tannic wine with dark fruits and chocolate, dried vine leaves reminiscent of a vineyard in November (Jose’s description, not mine), earthy, yet fresh and drinkable. I particularly enjoyed this variety and found a few more to try on the walkaround tasting later.
And last but not least, Rouge du Pays. Certainly not least, as it was the most expensive of our tasting! Also originating in Aosta, it can now only be found in Valais (122ha).Nervy, fresh and zingy with cherries and a lengthy finish. Delicious!
So, there is in plenty more to the Swiss wine palette than Chasselas.