Friday, 29 July 2011

Swiss Oddities

Who has drunk any Swiss wines?  Not many of you I'd bet, apart from my dedicated Swiss readers of course.  Like its Alpine neighbour Austria, Switzerland makes some excellent wines but doesn't have the economies of scale of the larger producing Countries.  This applies to Swiss wine even more so than Austrian wine, the latter being increasingly represented on the UK market, primarily with white wines from their calling card Grüner Veltliner but also increasingly with wines from the their interesting native red varieties Bläufrankisch and St-Laurent.

In Switzerland, the production is much smaller still than Austria and the wines are even more obscure.  The key region for quality is the Valais, found in the upper Rhône valley before it runs into Lake Geneva.  There are other regions too making some interesting wines, there's the Vaud, north of Lake Geneva, Neuchâtel and Thurgau up in the north of the Country and Ticino on the Italian border in the South.  Here's a rough sketch of the key Swiss wine regions:

The main variety is Chasselas, the Country's speciality and by far the most planted variety.  It makes quite light but elegant whites in a wide variety of styles.  It's far from the only variety though, a couple of other white varieties being the OK Humagne Blanche and the excellent Petite Arvine.

The ones I had the other day were from more usual varieties but were perhaps more unusual wines.  The first was a Gamay (of Beaujolais fame), which is found quite a lot in West Switzerland.  Called Arcenant, it was from the obscure appellation Founex of the wine zone La Côte in the Vaud.  Certainly nothing I've ever heard of, let alone tasted.  I was very pleased to have to look it up.  As for the wine itself, it was a really decent Gamay, equivalent in quality to a fine Cru Beaujolais.  Well done Pierre Mandry, who apparently made the wine.

The second was called Prométhée, a Pinot Meunier coming from the appellation of Cummugny Grand Cru.  Meunier is a variety that normally only appears in Champagne as a minor component of the blend (after Pinot Noir and Chardonnay).  This was the first example I've ever had of pure varietal Meunier, vinified as a dry rosé wine.  Quite full and more tannic than most rosés it was good with some pizza at lunchtime.  Interesting and odd examples both, but to be honest neither was a challenge to the best Swiss wines, which are generally white wines either from Chasselas or Arvine.

These are certainly not the kind of wines you're likely to see every day (mine were brought over by a friend deliberately searching out oddities for me), so unfortunately I can't make any specific purchase recommendations here.  Basically Swiss wines aren't made in the kind of volume necessary to supply supermarkets.  However, I can recommend that you keep your eyes open for white Swiss wines when in a small independent merchant, particularly ones from Chasselas or Arvine.  It's the independents that can carry interesting wines from unusual places as they don't have to worry about only getting in lines that can be supplied in high volume.  Swiss wines fit this category perfectly: they're low volume, generally high quality (if a bit expensive), somewhat unusual and well worth exploring.


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