Wine has been grown in Switzerland for 2,000 years. Yet very little is known about these wines outside of Switzerland. That is because the Swiss drink most of it, so Swiss wine is hard to find.
Switzerland is a fabulous winemaking country and one of the most wine crazy countries. In Switzerland wine is so embedded in life and land that almost everyone either is a winemaker or knows one (usually many). The Swiss also have very high expectations of quality, sustainability and ecology, which means the wines are not just excellent, they are also clean and green. The vineyard landscapes are stunning, with unique terroirs and an exhuberance of native and internation varieties. This is a wine lover's dreamland.
Being Swiss, I am able to source wines that are very hard to get - sometimes only because my parents already bought them! I have chosen some of the best representatives of Switzerland's wine scene - classic family wineries, top cooperatives and cult winemakers.
Nearly every canton (county) produces wine but the main areas are along the lakes and major rivers. In Western Switzerland along Lake Geneva, Lake Neuchâtell and the Rhône. In Eastern Switzerland along the Rhine and Lake Zürich. In Southern Switzerland in the lake valleys of Italian speaking Ticino. Start your journey below:
Another surprisingly interesting area for Syrah has turned out to be south-eastern Austria - in the hand of people like Netzl, Weninger and Gunter Triebaumer. But we haven't been able to secure some in recent years, as they sell it all to Vienna and Berlin.
Syrah is far from the easiest grape to cultivate. It has quite a high susceptibility to botrytis and mites and to an unknown disease which targets Syrah specifically ("I would too!" - Joelle). It also has a very short harvesting time when at full ripeness as it has small berries which tend to shrivel soon after that point. The slower ripening long season of the Swiss Valais is a boon when dealing with Syrah, giving a lot more ease at harvest time.
Syrah should not be confused with Petite Sirah, a synonym for Durif, a cross of Syrah with Peloursin dating from 1880. (We have one from Israel if you are curious)
Syrah produces wines with a wide range of flavour notes, depending on the climate and soils where it is grown, as well as other viticultural practices. Aroma characters can range from violets to berries (usually dark as opposed to red), chocolate, espresso and black pepper. No one aroma can be called "typical". With time in the bottle these "primary" notes are moderated and then supplemented with earthy or savoury "tertiary" notes such as leather and truffle.
There are a number of legends associated with the origins of Syrah, pretty much all of which have been disproven by the arrival of DNA testing. Despite this, they add a touch of romance to the grape. It was suggested that the grape came from the town of Shiraz in Persia (Iran), hence the use of that name in some countries. These legends differ according to whoever is telling the story but suggest the grape arrived in the Rhône in a few different ways - through traders bringing it to Marseilles (no evidence exists of any Syrah having been planted in that area), through a crusader bringing it back from the war (unlikely that he would have travelled as far as Persia from the Holy Land), brought to France by a Persian hermit, or brought to Gaul by Probus, the Roman Emperor.
In truth, it was probably born in the Rhone pre-Alps. Syrah is the natural child of Mondeuse Blanche, from Savoie and Dureza, an old and rare grape originating from Ardèche. It is a great-grandchild of Pinot and a grandchild of Mondeuse Noire as well as being a half-sibling of Viognier.
Ordered at the weekend and arrived on Tuesday. Brilliant!
As a half-Swiss I know what distinctive, quality wines Switzerland can produce. Until now, the problem has been locating them in the UK, since the demise of the Swiss Centre in Leicester Square many years ago. Keep them coming!
PS: I would like to see, and taste a pinot noir or two from the Germanic region - very distinctive from Burgundy, but more importantly from the lighter, thinner Germanic pinot.