Swiss Wine Regions
Vaud, pronounced Voh in French, is located in Romandie, the French-speaking western part of the country.
Bordered by the Jura to the west and the Alps to the east, the canton of Vaud produces a quarter of Swiss wines.
It is Switzerland’s second wine producing region (Valais being the first) and is known as the ‘great land’ of the grape variety Chasselas. There are vineyards everywhere in Vaud and everyone grows up knowing winemakers - and with strong opinions on Chasselas.
Tasting Chasselas in the different regions is an adventure by itself. The fresh and fruity white wine is particularly sensitive to the character of the soil it finds itself in - transparent to Terroir, as we say. The wine will taste different depending on where it is grown and people in Vaud all learn to recognise regions and even villages, in the glass.
Besides Chasselas, red wines from the Gamay and the Pinot Noir varieties represent about a quarter of production.
Today, the canton of Vaud offers 26 villages with the appellation d'origine contrôlée – AOC (controlled term of origin) and a growing number of Grand Crus. These include a wide range of exquisite white wines coming from the Chasselas grape and a great number of excellent red wines – Gamay and Pinot Noir as well.
The canton is divided into four main areas. Chablais, Lavaux, La Côte and Côtes de l'Orbe. Each is then subdivided into smaller, village level appellations (similar to the AOCs of Burgundy or Bordeaux). So although Chasselas is “the” white from Vaud it is not very well known as a variety because, as the Burgundians do, the variety is not listed on the label, just its AOC.
Vaud’s climate is heavily dictated by the waters of Lake Geneva, which alleviate the spring frosts and reduce the summertime highs to around 86°F (30°C). As the sun passes over the long, thin lake during the day, a great deal of light is reflected up to the vineyards above, many of which are terraces carved into the south-facing slopes. This temperate climate and high luminosity is the secret behind the reliable Vaud terroir, even if relatively high rainfall does dampen conditions slightly.
The vast majority of vines grown in the Vaud are owned by individuals rather than large wine companies. Many thousands of smallholders sell their grapes under contract or make wine cooperatively, and the main cooperatives are excellent, but a growing number are now motivated to produce their own wine.
Very varied, see the Chablais page
Moraine with varied soil compositions: clay, chalk and all types of minerals.
Moraine with varied soil compositions: gravel, marl and clay. Dezaley is distinguished by the presence of puddingstone.
Sandstone soil compositions of calcareous rock along with sand and clay.
Although Chasselas reigns supreme, it accounted for 5,800 acres (2,345 hectares) in 2010 which is 38% of all white vines in Switzerland. Vaud is also home to the ever popular Chardonnay .
Pinot Gris is also present, plus about half as much Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc. The northern Rhône's Viognier grape, a variety on the brink of extinction not 20 years ago, is the next most common, with its plantings here surpassed only by those in Geneva. This seems appropriate considering that Lake Geneva is filled almost entirely by the highest waters of the Rhône River.
The classic Vaud wine style is crisp, fresh Chasselas, although the precise aromas and flavours vary depending on the soil type in which it is grown. In La Côte the wines tend towards floral rather than mineral notes, while a combination of flowers and stones come through in the best and most complex wines from the central Lavaux.
Although white wines may outnumber and overshadow all others in the Vaud, there are still some high-quality reds made here, predominantly from Pinot Noir and Gamay, but also from the blending of Gamaret and Garanoir. As everywhere in Switzerland, there is after these a cornucopia of varieties used differently, single and in blends, in each winery.
Our tip. A surprising elegant style of Merlot has been developed in Vaud - don't just take our word for it, try our examples from Uvavins and Badoux Vins.
Filets de Perche: Perch was a very exclusive Victorian delicacy and it is possible that the early English tourists brought it to the attention of the Swiss, but it is now a cherished staple along the lakes.
Whether dusted with flour and fried in sweet butter à la meunière, or sautéed in a simple white wine sauce, this local fish has a ubiquitous place on every lakeside restaurant menu. The filets are small and labour intensive to prepare. There is a reason folks order it year round - when served with thin, crispy frites (alumettes) and washed down with a chilled Chasselas your taste buds will find themselves in seventh heaven.
The Swiss eat more Perch than the lakes can supply, so it is imported all the way from Ireland and the lakes of eastern Europe. Alas, it is near impossible to get small perch filets of the right kind in England.
Saucisson: Note: if you want to start a lively debate in french speaking Switzerland, ask whose saucisson is best. In Vaud (as well as neighbours Neuchatel and Geneva), sausages are serious stuff. From the traditional Easter or Pentecôte Boutefas (huge lumpy sausage) to the famous cabbage-stuffed saucisse aux choux, typically enjoyed from September to April, and many variants of saucisson of all sizes, there is a lot of it.
Papet Vaudois: A Swiss "bubble and squeak". A traditional dish in the Canton of Vaud, Papet is a mixture of leeks and potatoes (boiled to form a soft "papette"). Cream, white wine or vinegar is sometimes added. Papet is traditionally accompanied by saucisson or saucisse aux choux (a seasonal autumn/winter sausage made with pork and fermented cabbage).
Tomme Vaudoise: The melt-in-the-mouth soft cheese speciality from the Vaud canton and the Geneva region. Cheese connoisseurs appreciate the round mild taste of the young cheese and the distinctive rustic taste of mature Tomme. It has a very thin white rind and is creamy in consistency. You can find "tomme fleurette" sometimes in the UK from Kaese Swiss.
Boutefas or Botatos: A bigger saucisson. The name comes from the patois for 'Boute La Faim,' or ‘end to hunger’. The sausage has been known in the region since 1634, initially under the term Bourrifas and later Boutefas. Legend has it that the occupied Vaudois chopped up the biggest hanks of ham to avoid giving them to their Bernese rulers.
Malakoffs: The villages of Vinzel and Bursins are the best sources for a very local specialty, the Malakoff are gruyere puff pastry which is fried. These cheesy delights have always been a favourite of the Vaudois, but after the Crimean Wars they were renamed after a beloved officer who led his army of Vaud born mercenaries to victory in the siege of Sebastopol.
Desserts here are some of the best, and most unusual in the country.
Le Bouchon Vaudois: A candy shaped as a wine cork created in order to become an iconic specialty of Vaud. First created in 1948 Le Bouchon Vaudois is a registered trademark and only members of the Waldensian Society and French-speaking patron bakers/confectioners can make it. (In my opinion there are better things to try in the bakeries and chocolatiers in Vaud.)
The salée au sucre is a popular breakfast item for special occasions. This is a "cream danish" of sorts, using a yeast dough and a topping of cream and sugar.
The Carac is a miniature pie filled with dense chocolate ganache and glazed with neon green icing.
Gâteau à la raisinée or Gâteau au Vin Cuit - technically this is borrowed from Fribourg next door but it's been in Vaud so long it is now native. A pie made from a thick syrup of reduced pear or apple juice, this is a must try.
In Vaud they also make a tarte au vin - a tart where the filling is, for the most part, wine, butter, sugar and a dash of cinnamon. It can be made with red or white wine. It's a lot better than it sounds :)
Vaud has a ridiculous number of starred restaurants, and many of the restaurants in the villages serve excellent food, especially on La Côte
All of these will require reservation well in advance.
Hotel de Ville in Crissier
The restaurant was launched in 1971 by Fredy Girardet, a highly regarded three Michelin star chef and one of the founders of Nouvelle Cusisine. After Girardet retired in 1996 his protégé Philippe Rochat took over, retaining its three Michelin stars and in April 2012 Rochat himself handed over the reins to Benoit Violier, who had worked in these same kitchens for 16 years, and trained at Jamin under Joel Robuchon. Benoît Violier was nominated chef of the year 2013 - obtaining a score of 19/20 by the Gault Millau Switzerland.
It is so far one of the only restaurants (or the only?) where three Chefs in a row reached 3 Michelin stars and 19 Gault Millau points. The fourth could be well on its way.
The restaurant is on a hill in the small town of Crissier, a few miles from Lausanne (and about 2 miles from where I grew up).
Ermitage, Bernard Ravet
Le Raisin, Cully
Hotel de la Gare à Lucens
A restaurant which came recommended by no less than 10 different winemakers - with an amazing wine list if you want to sample the best of Swiss Wine. We enjoyed our visit and plan to go back. Lunch is a bargain!
Every vaudois has strong opinions as to where the best are, and asking around will get you friendly and animated around. It changes, as popularity can ruin a place quick, but places once dismissed can surprise you. Perches is not that hard to do right if you are good and not too greedy. In Lausanne, we were recently very pleased at the Restaurant du Port, which I used to dismiss as "for tourists"
La Plage, Aubonne - consistently good and so quiet straight on the lake. In villages, we like the Auberge de Bursinel.
Wine Harvest Festivals - in every town, with the most famous being Morges and Lutry.
The Wine Harvest Festival in Lutry equates to three days of feasting in the old town with its wine vaults and cellars wide open. Sunday is set aside for the famous parade: over 600 children in fancy dress costumes parade before the eyes of an audience won over.
Vineyards of Lavaux: The first vineyard to be given UNESCO World Heritage status. Take the little train, walk a bit, and visit the vinorama
Tramping with Charlie Chaplin: Vevey commemorates its celebrated citizen in bronze at its lake rose garden and has a museum in his honour at his house in Corsier.
The grape escape: From La Côte to Chablais, vineyards and wine cellars allow you to taste and explore Swiss wines.
Lausanne: Its cathedral, its old town with its bustling squares and narrow streets, and numerous museums. Stop at Place de la Palud to watch the clock of independence, with metal clockwork animation and, of course, a song about winemakers.
Montreux: On the sun-drenched Riviera, with its magnificent backdrop of the Alps and the famous Château de Chillon. Its restaurants, its stores and its casino have plenty to offer you if you like entertainment, good food or shopping. Obviously, also, the unmissable Jazz Festival each July. But also, go upward, as these steep "pre alps" are gorgeous and you can take the train up three different ways.
Medieval cities/market towns: Fortresses and citadels in la Broye (Orbe, Payerne), or Roman ruins in Avenches, with its superbly preserved amphitheatre.
Cruise: Take a romantic cruise on one of the CGN paddle steamers that ply their way across Lake Geneva, some of which were built way back at the start of the 20th century (La flotte Belle Epoque).
Steam Trains: Climb aboard the Vapeur du Gros-de-Vaud, a genuine steam train that chugs across the Vaud countryside for 30 kilometres between Lausanne, Echallens and Bercher. Or climb from Montreux to the Rocher de Naye.
Aigle Castle: The Vine and Wine Museum highlights the winegrowing culture. If you are into illustration, the wine label collection alone is worth wasting an hour or two in.