The Alpine Bastion III

(Continued from “The Alpine Bastion II” on 20 April 2018)

Despite the upper hand French grape varieties and French-speaking cantons continue to enjoy in Swiss viticulture and winemaking, Germanic influence remains the bedrock of the Swiss national psyche. This is not only because German has always been the most widespread language amongst Swiss cantons, but more importantly because the origin of Switzerland lies with its German- speaking cantons.

Switzerland’s story began with the remote medieval communes of Schwyz (wherefrom “Switzerland” derives), Unterwalden (later split into Nidwalden and Obwalden) and Uri in the inaccessibly mountainous centre of the country. Controlling some of the key passes of the Alps, the German-speaking trio was granted imperial immediacy, i.e. the privilege of being free from any feudal lord except the Emperor.

The strategic importance in terms of military and commerce, however, was a constant target on the back of Schwyz, Unterwalden and Uri, which resolved to sign the Federal Charter of 1291, forming the Old Swiss Confederacy, a defensive alliance against such powerful neighbours as Austria, Baden, Burgundy, Milan and Savoy. As the treaty was dated early August 1291, 1 August was chosen as the Swiss National Day, whereas 1291 is considered the start of Swiss nationhood.

Owing to its success on battlefields and trade routes, the Old Swiss Confederacy substantially expanded by admitting new cantons to the alliance from the 14th to the 16th centuries. An overwhelming majority of the new cantons are German-speaking, the remaining minority French-speaking. It was Switzerland’s golden age, during which Swiss mercenaries were the most sought-after elite fighting force in Europe, exemplified by the Pontifical Swiss Guard established in 1506, indeed the fourth oldest existing military unit in the world.

Subsequent to the French Revolution, Switzerland saw the addition of nine new cantons, nearly half whereof are French-speaking, bringing with them the majority of Switzerland’s vineyards, in the early 19th century. With the adoption of the Swiss Federal Constitution of 1848, Switzerland took its current form as the Swiss Confederation, with Bern its de facto – although not de jure – capital. The last canton to be admitted is the French- speaking Jura (not to be confused with Scotland’s island of whisky or France’s vin jaune region) in 1979, as it seceded from the Franco-German bilingual Bern.

As can be expected, the German-speaking cantons tend to produce single-varietal wines with Germanic varieties, although Switzerland’s national AOC system established in the 90s is based on the French model. The main differences between Swiss and Austro-German wine are probably the former’s frequent use of malolactic fermentation, which results in more rounded wines, and chaptalisation due to necessity, whereas irrigation requirements are also less strict than EU member states.

To be continued…

VOLG Ostschweizer Landwein Riesling-Silvaner “Goldbeere” 2015

An uncommon blend of Riesling and Silvaner sourced from Eastern Switzerland, which comprises a total of seven cantons, namely Glarus, Schaffhausen, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Appenzell Innerrhoden, St. Gallen, Graubünden and Thurgau. Pastel citrine with light golden reflex, the fresh nose offers lemon, lemongrass and jasmine. With ample acidity and perceptible minerality, the tangy palate delivers grapefruit, sweet ginger and rock salt. Medium-bodied at 11.5 percent, the fruity entry carries onto a saline mid-palate, leading to a tart finish.

VOLG Benken AOC Cabernet Dorsa 2015

A single-varietal Cabernet Dorsa (Dornfelder x Cabernet Sauvignon) sourced from Zürcher Weinland, in the north of Zürich. Reddish black with carmine-purple rim, the fruity nose presents cassis, coffee and geranium. With rich acidity and juicy tannins, the lively palate supplies mulberry, dark chocolate and lavender. Medium-full bodied at 13 percent, the dense entry continues through a jammy mid-palate, leading to a dark finish.

Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain, France,
and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages

Categories World of Bacchus