Something a Little Different…from the Neutral Zone: The Wines of Switzerland
On a recent trip to Switzerland, I was exposed to some very interesting local wines. Keeping with their “under-the-radar” stance as a neutral country, the wines follow suit. ou don’t exactly see Swiss wines on the shelves of many wine boutiques as much as other countries. The Swiss like to keep their wines for themselves, and for good reason. In the States, we don’t see much Swiss wine at all, and that’s what made this the whole experience very cool. I did however want to share a bit about these wines, because though they are quite scarce here, you can find them if you seek them out, mostly online. If you’re like me and enjoy switching it up as much as possible, I can promise you will be quite surprised with the quality of these wines, in a good way.
The particular wines I tasted were not exactly mind-blowing, but they were more than quaffable, and focused on a number of obscure varietals that I have never tasted. I’m a major advocate of drinking local wines with the local cuisine (the whole “when in Rome” approach). And though I would have probably been just as content with drinking my usual preferences of Champagne and Burgundy with the cuisine of Switzerland, I thoroughly enjoyed the wines the sommeliers presented me in the various restaurants I dined at. Sometimes something a little different can be pretty amazing, as were most of the food and wine pairings I had.
The food and wine scene in Switzerland is very similar to that of the U.S. The Swiss have a number of regional and national specialties, as do we, such as Fondue, Raclette and Rösti, to name a few. But most of the influence within the Swiss culinary world is from other countries, primarily France, Germany and Italy. The same goes for the wines of Switzerland. While the country boasts a diverse portfolio of wines ranging from Chasselas (the most prominent and signature white varietal) to very esoteric reds such as Humagne Rouge and Cornalin, the majority of hectares are grown with grapes from elsewhere, including Pinot Noir, Gamay, Syrah, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling and many others. But no matter where the vines originally came from, each Swiss wine I tasted had a unique identity, and there was no question as to where these wines were from. The Pinot Noir, for example, had characteristics of both Burgundy and Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir grown in Germany), but possessed a distinct character of its own.
To experience these wines is worth the time to locate them, as they are like none other. My advice if you’re up for at least one shot at this overlooked wine region, is to check out the Schoffit, Chasselas "Vieilles Vignes", 2006 ($19 at Sherry-Lehmann.com) or any other Chasselas you may find. Chasselas is Switzerland’s pride and joy, and is a simple, gentle wine with crisp, mineral flavors and a slightly effervescent texture similar to that of Muscadet from the Loire and Vinho Verde from Portugal. In its ideal form, it makes for a perfect aperitif, nice and neutral.