Wines of Switzerland

Believe it or not, Switzerland has a rich and diverse wine culture. Find out more here...

Wine is often referred to as Switzerland's best-kept secret. The secret lies in the fact that there are only 14,900 hectares of vineyards in the entire country and, although annual production can exceed as much as 200 million bottles, only one percent goes for export. Switzerland is one of the top wine consuming countries in the world.

Switzerland has a wide repertoire of grape varieties and winemaking styles, and many world-class wines with some that regularly win top awards at international competitions.

Restaurants and bars all serve wine, both on a winelist (weinkarte, carte des vins, carta dei vini) and – much more affordably – as "open wine" (offene Wein, vin ouvert, vino aperto), which is a small selection of house reds and whites sold by the decilitre. Standard measures are 1dl and 2dl, served by the glass, and 3dl and 5dl, served by small carafe.

The principal Swiss wine growing regions are Geneva, Vaud, Valais, Grisons and Ticino, and the national languages of French, German, Italian and Romanche reflect the wine traditions and the selection of grapes that are grown.

The Valais

Perhaps the best-known wines come from the Valais (the valley of the Rhône River and one of the highest altitude winegrowing regions in Europe).

Of the whites, the Fendant is most popular and highly suited to accompanying the many Swiss cheese-based dishes such as raclette and fondue. Fendant is made from Chasselas grapes. Chasselas and Fendant make up 45% of the production of white wines in the Valais.

Other Valais white wines include the fruity Sylvaner, which is sold as Johannisberg, the sweeter Ermitage, and Malvoisie, made from the Pinot Gris grape.

Valais' reds, led by Dôle, a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay grapes, are equally sought-after. The Pinot Noir is excellent, but the wine connoisseur's preferred Valais red is the Humagne Rouge.

Dôle Blanche is one of Switzerland's few rosé wines.

There are also Chardonnay, Riesling, Riesling-Sylvaner, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris (also called Malvoisie).

In the Upper Valais traditional types may be found, such as Gwäss, Himbertscha and Lafnetscha. The red types are Pinot Noir, Gamay, Humagne Rouge, Cornalin, Syrah, Diolinoir (a cross between Diolly and Pinot Noir) and Durize.

The Vaud Region

Despite the small size of this canton, the Vaud has 28 appellations divided among its four wine growing regions.

The vineyards lining the northern Côte and Lavaux shores of Lake Geneva produce some superb wines, with Chasselas being the predominant grape. 85% of all Chasselas grapes are grown in Switzerland and 75% in the Vaud canton. Production takes place mainly in the communes of Chardonne, Dézaley, St. Saphorin, and Épesses.

A small amount of wine is made from other varieties, including some excellent reds.

In the Chablais region southeast of Montreux you will find the vineyards of Château d'Aigle, home to a wine museum, and the other main winegrowing villages of Yvorne and Ollon.

The Geneva Region

With its 1,400 hectares of vineyards, Geneva is Switzerland's third largest wine-producing canton. Geneva has a comprehensive range of wines, producing between 8 and 12 million litres of wine annually. There are 95 wineries in the canton producing a range of high-quality wines, such as Chasselas and other white wines ranging from Gewürztraminer to Viognier, along with flagship reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Gamaret.

Producing about half white and half red, Geneva also produces new varieties such as Gamaret and Garanoir.

Whites include Chasselas, Aligoté, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc and Viognier.

Reds range from fresh fruity Gamays, through classic grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, to varieties such as the Gamaret and Zinfandel and also some excellent blends. These are available in a variety of styles, including oaked and unoaked, and all from top makers.

Wineries in Geneva

Geneva's countryside is easily accessible from the city and residents usually buy wine directly from the producers. They can also taste the wine and discover the winery's whole range (not all of which will be available elsewhere). Wines made from any given harvest are usually on sale in April of the following year.

Wineries are open at least once a week, on Saturday morning. With the exception of the harvest season, the winemakers themselves are usually available to present their wines to clients.

Geneva wines may also be purchased in specialised shops in the region. Local restaurants that showcase local produce, known as Terroir Ambassadors, also serve Geneva vintages.

The Rest of Switzerland

Around Neuchâtel and Biel/Bienne, there are dozens of local wine producers, and each estate brings forth something different from the Chasselas grapes that still dominate.

In the German-speaking north and east, though, it is the Riesling-Sylvaner grape that dominates, particularly around Lake Zürich's eastern shore.

The Rhine shores at Schaffhausen are mostly given over to Pinot Noir, while Pinot Noir grapes flourish in an area known as the Bündner Herrschaft in Graubünden, around Maienfeld and particularly Fläsch in St Gallen, and Liechtenstein.

Ticino's vine growing is dominated by Merlot, and almost every village has its own brand of Merlot del Ticino. The region north of Bellinzona, is perhaps less successful than the Lugano area (especially Mendrisio), although all the wines are of a high standard.

Legislation

Federal legislation acts as a framework for the laws which are decided at a cantonal level. In many cases restrictions are more demanding than the federal guidelines. Generally, Swiss winemaking legislation corresponds with agreements made at EU level.

The Swiss labels of origin (AOC) also apply the same base criteria in terms of zoning and surface/production levels, authorised grape varieties and vinification regulations as those applied to the EU countries.

All the major wine producing cantons have AOC laws and more than two-thirds of Swiss wine is labelled AOC.

Further information

With contributions by Denis Beausoleil, Office de promotion des produits agricoles de Genève (OPAGE) 109, ch.du Pont-du-Centenaire, 1228 Plan-les-Ouates Tel: 022 388 71 55 / 079 357 85 52 Fax: 022 388 71 58 e-mail Website