The Alpine Bastion

Switzerland is a distinct anomaly in numerous regards: situated in the heart of Western Europe and the only country that borders the three largest countries on the continent (Germany, France and Italy), it is nonetheless not a member of the European Union, and narrowly voted to join the United Nations in 2002 by 54.6% for and 45.4% against; although landlocked and with some 60% of its total area of approximately 41,000 sqkm covered by the Alps, this mountainous country has been one of the richest in the world by GDP per capita since WWII; its (semi-)direct democracy – as opposed to representative democracy – is reminiscent of the bygone era of Classical Greece.

Wine, however, does not belong to the list of anomalies. Oft-overlooked is the fact that Switzerland sits latitudinally on a par with Mâconnais and Beaujolais, enjoying some 2,100 hours of sunshine and 600 to 800mm of rainfall per year. Viticulture and winemaking in modern-day Switzerland were initiated by the Celts more than two millennia ago, predating Roman conquest, subsequent to which the region became the Roman Province of Raetia. At present, Switzerland possess about 16,000ha under vine, comparable to its neighbours Alsace and Baden.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, Swiss wine is a mélange of French and German traditions: Switzerland’s AOC system is distinctly French, and so are its national varieties of Pinot Noir and Chasselas, which constitute nearly 60% of all plantation; its focus on single-varietal wine, however, is apparently German. Remarkable are the facts that Switzerland actually produces more red (58%) than white (42%), and that it has a long list of obscure grape varieties, e.g. Petite Arvine, Diolinoir (Rouge de Diolly x Pinot Noir), Gamaret (Gamay x Reichensteiner), Garanoir (Gamay x Reichensteiner), Humagne Rouge (Rouge du Pays x ?) and Rouge du Pays (Petit Rouge x Mayolet).

seven out of Switzerland’s 26 cantons – member states of the confederation – have French as sole or joint official language. Apart from Zürich (German-speaking) in the north and Ticino (Italian- speaking) in the south, the majority of vineyards are located in the French-speaking cantons, e.g. Genève in the southwest, Neuchâtel and Vaud in the west (all French-speaking), as well as Valais (bilingual: French & German) in the south.

French-speaking Switzerland is traditionally known for two wine styles: Œil de Perdrix (literally: eye of partridge), a greyish / rosé wine dating back to the Middle Ages, perhaps as a result of anaemic red grapes, or imperfect blanc de noirs techniques; and Dôle, a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay, indeed another name for Bourgogne-Passetoutgrains. Valais (German: Wallis) is the ninth most populous and third largest canton, as well as the largest wine-producing area of Switzerland, representing over 40% of country’s total wine output.

To be continued…

Samples supplied by Schmidt Vinothek, the leading specialist of German, Austrian and Swiss wine in the Asia-Pacific region. W:; E:

Cave Valcombe Dôle du Valais AOC “Nuit d’Amour” 2015

A blend of majority Pinot Noir and minority Gamay, fermented under temperature control and kept in stainless steel tanks for seven months. Bright ruby with incandescent carnelian reflex, the tutti-frutti nose effuses cranberry, raspberry and potpourri. Supported by juicy acidity, the bucolic palate emanates redcurrant, rosehip and fresh earth. Medium-bodied at 12.5%, the fruity entry continues through a lively mid-palate, leading to an earthy finish. Switzerland’s idiosyncratic rendition of the classic Bourgogne-Passetoutgrains.

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