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Switzerland - Chardonnay - Chasselas - Traminer / Heida

Switzerland - Chardonnay - Chasselas - Traminer / Heida

Switzerland You are exploring our Swiss wines.
Chardonnay is an international grape variety that originated in eastern central France, a natural cross between Pinot and Gouais Blanc. It is an immensely versatile and phenomenally popular variety. And for me it shines brightest in our cool climate.

Chasselas is the typical white wine in Switzerland. If you've been for drinks on a terrace on lake Geneva, in Zurich or in a ski resort, chances are you were offered Chasselas.

Swiss Wine - Small and Perfectly Formed

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.

Find your wine in the list below, or jump to the regions and keep reading.

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Swiss Wine Regions

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:

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Vaud

Vaud is a wine tourists paradise in Western Switzerland.

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Valais

Valais is the uncontestable champion of Swiss wines.

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Neuchâtel & Trois Lacs

Pinot Noir, Oeil de Pedrix and lively whites

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Ticino (Tessin)

A land where Merlot thrives.

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Eastern Switzerland

Zürich, Schaffhausen, Aargau, Thurgau, St. Gallen.

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Geneva

Huge diversity and a perfect short food and wine break.

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Graubünden

Pinot Noir land extraordinaire.

Chardonnay is an international grape variety that originated in eastern central France although there have been claims that it comes from Lebanon. These claims can be disproved since DNA testing has identified Chardonnay’s parents and neither have ever been cultivated in Lebanon.

Chardonnay is a natural cross between Pinot and Gouais Blanc. It is therefore, the sibling of Melon, Gamay Noir, Aligoté and many others. The three named are significant because Chardonnay has been known under variations of their names at times in the past. In Switzerland, Chardonnay has been crossed with Chasselas to produce Doral.

Fendant

"Fendant" is the name used now in the Valais for Chasselas-based wines. It is derived from the French verb "fendre", meaning "to split", which is exactly what the golden Chasselas grape does if squeezed between thumb and forefinger, rather than becoming squashed.

A typical Fendant is fresh and fruity, with a refreshing prickle. It will normally be quite dry, with delicate fruit and racy mineral flavours, often with hints of smoke and gunflint on the nose and an exquisite bitterness on the finish.

The Chasselas grape used for Fendant is highly expressive of terroir and there are some quite notable differences between wines grown in different parts of the Valais. Wines from around Sion are fresh and rich, those from Ardon and Vétroz stimulatingly dry while those from Martigny have a fragrant bouquet. Perhaps the best come from the areas around Sierre, Chamoson and Saillon, which combine fruit and an exquisite bitterness on the finish. Good examples age well, and after 5 years or so will lose their youthful character and can develop complex nutty and honeyed flavours.

Ideally, drink a bottle of Fendant on the day you open it (not much of a hardship!). It will keep in the fridge for a day or two once opened, but will lose the slight C02 prickle, an integral part of the character of the wine.

History

Although the Chasselas’ history is a controversial subject, it is supposed to be one of the most ancient grape varieties cultivated by man. Theories place its origins in the Middle East, in Egypt and in France. However, with DNA testing being able to identify the lack of Chasselas in certain areas, it is generally accepted that it comes from Switzerland by the shores of Lake Geneva. Today, the Chasselas is the most widespread vine in Switzerland. Its basically neutral character allows its wines to express fully the differences in soil compositions and the diversity of climatic conditions. From there comes the enormous variety of Chasselas wines found in the French-speaking area of Switzerland, which constitutes its principal ground.

Origins and Connections

The origins of this grape are not without debate. It most likely began in north east France and south west Germany, though some believe that it is from Egypt and others, with no botanical proof, say that it is not from Vitis Vinifera but from Vitis Aminea or even other strains of Vitis.

Heida is the parent or grandparent of an impressive line-up of offspring, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Silvaner, Neuburger, Grüner Veltliner, Verdelho and Traminette, among many others. It is related to Pinot but the parent/offspring relationship cannot be defined.

In Switzerland

In Switzerland it is grown only in the Valais, principally in the vineyards around Visperterminen at an altitude of some 1100 metres above sea level, where the Föhn, a warm southerly wine, helps ripen the grapes. This is a truly old variety. The first written records date from 1586 when it was referred to as "Heyda", but it has been in use much longer. Indeed, the name Heida itself is local patois for "ancient" or "from an earlier time" and the French name "Païen" descends from "Pagan", i.e. before Christianity.

Plantings today are still limited with just some 15 hectares in commercial production. In the vineyard, Heida's grapes are small and compact and are yellowish and aromatic. It ripens mid-season, later than Chasselas, but before Petite Arvine. Heida makes, in my view, some of the best Valaisan white wines which can be complex and powerful, with exotic fruit flavours including quince. Heida ages quite well and should last 5 years without problems. They can also be versatile when food matching, going well with many vegetable dishes, cold meats and fish.

In Austria

Most Traminer in Austria is either Roter Traminer or Gewurtztraminer. There is, however, a rare grape called Gelber Traminer. Do not expect to find any Traminer on our website. Have a look at the details for each wine and see what it really is!

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