There are nearly 15,000 hectares of vineyards in Switzerland producing grapes for winemaking, these are mainly in the south and west of the country in the kantons of Geneva, Neuchâtel, Ticino, Valais and Vaud. 42% of the grapes are white and 58% are red varieties. Swiss wines are a well kept secret less than 2% of the wine produced is exported, the rest is consumed within Switzerland, so make sure to sample some of the very fine wines whilst you are there. Swiss wine labels include village of origin, grape variety, or brand name. as a non-EU member Switzerland did not have to implement European Union wine regulations.
Beers vary from region to region with breweries supplying their local areas, most local beers will be on draught- vom fass, à la pression, alla pressione – they are mostly lager type beers, a shandy is known as a panache and is a mixture of beer and lemonade. When ordering a cider it is a ‘saure most’ if you order an Apfelsaft you will get a non-alcoholic apple juice.
There are several spirits to choose from the best known and loved of all being ‘Kirsch'(cherry schnapps), this is also used in baking, then comes the ‘Williamsbirne’ (Williams pear schnapps) often sold in wide bottles containing a complete pear preserved inside the bottle. ’Zwetschgenwasser’ made from plums is found in all the shops and is similar to the spirit ‘Slivovitz’ often called plum brandy. In the Italian speaking region they produce a range of ‘Grappa’ made from grape skins, it was quite a strong fire-water but has now become more refined and is a much sought-after drink.
Swiss wines are one of Switzerland’s best kept secrets with only around 2% of Swiss wines being exported. There is evidence that grapevines were around in Switzerland around 3000BC and it is generally considered that it was the Romans who established vineyards as they made their way through the Alps.
Switzerland can boast more than 50 varieties of grapes, the principal regions are in the French speaking part of Switzerland, with the cantons of Valais producing around 35%, Vaud, 26%, Geneva, 9% and Neuchâtel 4%. The Italian speaking canton of Ticino represents 6% of national vineyards and the cantons in the German speaking region produce the remaining 20%.
The vineyards of Valais cover more than 5,200 ha which make it the principal wine-producing area in Switzerland and it produces nearly 40% of the total wine production and boast more than 50 varieties. The vineyards of Valais grow next to apricot trees and olives and produce the native grape varieties such as Petite Arvine, Amigne and Cornalin. The region sits alongside the Rhone River in the heart of the Alps, surrounded by glaciers and snow-capped peaks.
Whites – Chasselas, Sylvaner, Petite Arvine, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Amigne, Muscat, Marsanne Blanche and Païen/Heida.
Reds – Pinot Noir, Gamay, Humagne Rouge, Syrah, Cornalin and Diolinoir.
Grands Crus – Vétroz, St-Léonard, Salquenen, Fully.
The Chassalas grape expresses a range of subtle taste nuances throughout the four wine areas of Vaud. The banks of Lake Geneva, divided between La Côte and Lavaux, then the winelands of Chablais between Lake Geneva and the Valais, and finally the vineyards of Bonvillars, Côtes de l’Orbe and Vully are spread through the three lake region (Neuchâtel/Morat).Vaud has a winegrowing area of 3,820 ha
Whites – Chasselas (dominant), Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling x Sylvaner, Gewürtraminer, Doral, Viognier.
Reds – Gamay, Pinot Noir, Garanoir, Gamaret.
The vineyards of Geneva offer more than 25 varieties in addition to the Gamay and Chasselas, all of which are well adapted to their lakeside domain. The vineyards of Geneva strech from the Jura mountains to Lake Geneva and across to the French border, with reds being predominant. Geneva’s winegrowing area covers 1,340 ha
Whites – Chasselas, Chardonnay, Riesling x Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Aligoté, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc.
Reds – Gamay, Pinot Noir, Gamaret.
The Three Lake Region – (Neuchâtel, Bielersee, Vully)
This area extends from Lake Neuchâtel to the foothills of the Jura and covers, in total 945 ha. This is a really beautiful part of Switzerland with its lovely manor houses and flower bedecked farmhouses giving the vineyards of the Three Lake wine region an air of dreainess. There are two dominant varieties here – Chasselas being the white and Pinot Noir being the red. In this region one also finds the unique and highly reputed ‘Œil-de-Perdrix’, a rosé wine made from the Pinot Noir. There are also some high-quality sparkling wines produced in this region.
Whites – Chasselas (dominance 80%), Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc.
Reds – Pinot Noir (dominance 95%), Gamaret, Garanoir.
The Ticino has a perfect conditions for wine production with its southern climate and hills exposed to the elements. Especially good is the Merlot which has found its true home in the southern Alps.Merlot was first introduced into the Ticino region 100 years ago and has now virtually taken over the vineyards here. It is also paired with other grapes which all go so well with the cuisine of the region. Winegrowing area 1,000 ha
Whites (7%) – Chardonnay, Chasselas, Sauvignon et Sémillon.
Reds (93%) – Merlot, Bondola, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
The banks of Lake Zurich and the riverbanks of the Limmattal, Unterland and Weinland make up the vineyards of Zurich. 60% of the vine grown here are reds, mainly Pinot Noir. This area has a wine growing area of 644 ha.
Whites – Müller-Thurgau, Räuschling, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc.
Reds – Pinot Noir (Blauburgunder), Regent, Garanoir.
The River Rhine influences the climate of this winegrowing region. The vineyards are an integral part of the landscape here together with the famous Rheinfalls and the medieval town of Stein-am-Rhein. The dominant variety of grape is the Pinot Noir (Blauburgunder) and the region is affectionately known as “Schaffhause Blauburgunderland”. Winegrowing area 490 ha.
Whites – Müller-Thurgau, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc.
Reds – Pinot Noir (Blauburgunder), Regent.
This is a region is renowned for its exceptional Pinot Noir, it has a unique climate caused by the warm breeze called the “foehn”. The vineyards of Graubünden are divided into two areas – Bünder Herrschaft and Bünder Rheintal. The winegrowing area is 410 ha.
Whites – Müller-Thurgau, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Completer.
Reds – mainly Pinot Noir (Blauburgunder), Garanoir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot.
Other wine-growing regions are Aargau (400 ha), which produces mainly traditional varieties of the Swiss-German region just like the cantons of Thurgau (270 ha) and St Gallen (219 ha). In Basel (108 ha) there is a host of varieties. Slightly isolated from the others are the modest vineyards of Thunersee (16 ha) which are a local treasure. The canton of Bern has the notable feature of having vines on both the Bielersee (228 ha) and in the Bernese Oberland on the Thunersee (Spiez).
Rosé wines are produced throughout Switzerland with the most well known being ‘Œil-de-Perdrix’ which originates in Neuchâtel and is made from 100% Pinot Noir. It is now also found in other regions along with other Rosé wines containing Gamay or Gamay and Pinot Noir grapes.
The vinification of Sparkling wines – in particular those produced by the traditional method – is also found in several ares in Switzerland. Among them Neuchâtel is particulary worth pointing out for its renowned sparkling wines. The varieties used are mostly the same as in neighbouring France, mainly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But more and more new sparkling wines are being produced using other varieties, such as Chasselas and Merlot for example, either alone or blended.
There are also a top- of -the-range Sweet wines produced in Switzerland, particularly those originating in Valais whose grape specialties and conditions make it perfect for this type of wine making.
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