Unknown territory to many. Robin Kick MW profiles the four main grape varieties and picks 10 of her favourite wines
FEW WINE LOVERS are fully aware of the viticultural beauty of switzerland. The country of Alpine peaks, countless lakes, velvet green pastures and even palm trees boasts some of the world’s most dramatic and breathtaking vineyard vistas.
The country’s wines are also little known: only about 1% of production is exported, as most bottles are consumed within swiss borders. For an industry of mostly smaller domaines with modest volumes, high labour and land costs, along with a thirsty domestic clientele, exporting has never been easy. But the swiss are proud of their own wines and rightly so; there are some beautiful and highly individual styles to discover, and not all will break or even fracture the bank.
Unlike other European countries, switzerland is something of a mini United Nations, being home to German, French, italian and Romansch-speaking nationals.
But its most important viticultural areas lie in Suisse Romande, Switzerland’s Frenchspeaking hub, where 80% of the country’s wines are produced in its largest wine regions.
This intricate and diverse zone includes the regions of Valais, Vaud and Geneva. Within it are plantings of some of Switzerland’s most exciting indigenous varieties, including Chasselas, Heida/Païen and Petite Arvine. The varying styles that can be produced from these grapes create a cornucopia of personalities and experiences for wine lovers to enjoy.
The greatest indigenous white grape of the Valais is Petite Arvine. Also simply known as Arvine, in historical texts it is mentioned as far back as 1602. Although Petite Arvine can be found in other Swiss regions, an impressive 99.5% of the country’s total plantings are located in the Valais.
Petite Arvine’s wines hit a high note with pronounced acidity, a sleek mouthfeel with notes of peach, citrus fruits, fennel seed and a saline touch. Because of these appealing attributes, it has an increasingly passionate following. But the Valais region is neither simple nor small, so its wines can vary significantly in style.
A highly mountainous area, the Valais boasts a dramatic range of vineyard altitudes. Plantings along its valley floor range from 400m-500m above sea level, while its most elevated and ancient, 800-year-old southfacing terraces can go as high as 1,100m, some at gradients up to 70°, even steeper than Côte-Rôtie in France’s Rhône Valley.
Its most renowned vineyards include Combe d’Enfer in Fully, a steep and chiselled mountain-hollow, and the Petite Arvine grand cru vineyard in Chamoson. Both make taut, mineral and concentrated wines. Some exceptional examples of these unique
Below: Château Maison Blanche, at Yvorne in Chablais, situated in the Vaud region