I can’t let this WF end without writing about my enthusiasm for the Swiss wines which have come my way, especially those from the canton of Valais.
Switzerland is the mountainous country par excellence. Its vineyard area is quite small, 14,900 ha, and is located mainly close to the Rhône and Rhine rivers, both of which have their sources in Switzerland, together with their tributaries and those of the river Po. There are vineyards in all cantons, I believe, but about three-quarters are located in the French speaking Suisse Romande, particularly in the Vaud and Valais cantons along the Rhône valley and the Lake of Geneva (Lac Léman), which is in fact just a wider and deeper part of the river Rhône. About 17% of the vineyards are in German speaking cantons and the remainder in Italian speaking Ticino. Overall the standard is IMO extremely high with the Swiss work ethic and technical skill getting the best out some excellent terroirs. Here is a link to a simple map of Swiss wine growing regions http://www.viticulture-oenologie-format ... uisse.html
with apologies for the German and Italian canton names' appearing in French.
The wines which I know best come from Valais
. The vines are grown here in the upper Rhône valley where it flows from East to West carving a deep and not very wide groove between the Bernese and Pennine Alps. The valley represents a considerable sun trap and most vineyards are planted facing south but nights are cool. Drainage is mostly excellent due to the steep slopes but in any case summer precipitation in the valley is amongst the lowest in Switzerland. A wide variety of grapes is planted; the indigenous Cornalin and Humagne (red) and Amigne and Petite Arvine (white) as well as international varieties including Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, Chasselas, Traminer/Savagnin (under the local names Païen or Heida), Marsanne, etc. Valais seems to contribute a noticeable local accent to the international varieties with a result that there is a wide palette of original flavours available. Here is a link to a quite long note which I wrote after a visit to the area in 2007 viewtopic.php?f=3&t=7187&p=57028&hilit=+cornalin#p57028
vineyards are distinguished by the spectacularly steep and beautiful Lavaux terraces overlooking the Lake of Geneva as well as by the manner in which they sublimate the otherwise rather mediocre Chasselas grape both at Lavaux and slightly further upstream at Chablais. 70% of the Vaud vineyard is planted with Chasselas, 15% with Pinot Noir, 12% with Gamay and the rest with various international varieties. AFAIK, unlike in Valais, there are no important indigenous varieties.
I have very little experience of the wines from German speaking
cantons, which is a pity because there are several dedicated growers making well regarded wines usually in small quantities from scattered sites. A lot of international varieties are planted, the most common of which is Pinot Noir often giving excellent results in a lightish vein, as I have found in restaurants. The Graubünden
canton boasts a local white variety, Completer, which reportedly gives original flavours and Zürich
has its Räuschling, also white; I have had neither.
The predominant grape variety in Italian speaking Ticino
is Merlot; there are rosé and even white versions from Merlot, as well as red. The vineyards are mainly located near the river Ticino and various lakes which drain eventually into the river Po. So far I’ve been underwhelmed by Ticinese (like most other non-Bordelais) Merlots and positively disliked a white which I found fat and flabby.
An interesting tribute to Swiss wines came from Victor de la Serna batting well away from his home turf. “Switzerland has the highest percentage of great wines that are perfectly unknown internationally of any country in the world. The Valais is of course its greatest wine region, but I'd encourage travelers who go there (indeed the Swiss drink most of all this themselves) to also try other top wines, including: chasselas whites from the greatest sites (with the most mineral character and the best ripening conditions) in Vaud, on lake Geneva (Dézaley, Calamin), particularly older vintages if they can find them; the unexpectedly fine 'spécialité' wines from Geneva; the outstanding pinots noirs produced in various areas like Graubünden/Grisons and Zürich.”
To finish off this long post, here are two of my TNs of really fine wines from local Valaisan varieties drunk at home. (NB The Valais Cornalin is not the same grape as Cornalin d’Aoste, which is known as Humagne in Valais.)AOC Valais Cornalin 2002 - Denis Mercier
, Sierre (CH) - Alc.13%. If I had been blind, I think that I would have taken this for a Côte Rôtie and a very fine one too. There was a brightly focussed nose with fruit and floral elements from which I particularly identify violet and black currant more than CR's cherry but with a steely note similar to French N.Rhône. The palate was medium bodied and linear with still vibrant fruit, lively acidity and touches of spice as well as the aromas from the nose and there was a firm backbone supporting the finish; 17/20.
This was the last bottle of 2002 but I have three of 2004 left. It is equally good and a bit fuller. (June 2011)Petite-Arvine 2005 – Denis Mercier
(white) was quite generous with a spicy southern warmth (alc. 14.5%) but is balanced by minerals and excellent acidity; 16/20; the 2002 was less generous but fresher and more elegant and more to my taste. (Sept 2008)