January 23, 2013

Swiss Wines - Lavaux, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to the 11th Century

Switzerland is a beautiful country full of mountains, lakes, rivers, glaciers, picturesque villages, exciting mountain roads, interesting cities - and vineyards. Everywhere you travel there are vineyards, often planted on the sides of sweeping hills at an angle so precipitous it's difficult to imagine how the grapes are harvested.
Swiss wines are not often found outside the country, purportedly because most of it is drunk in the country, but there are some very interesting and tasty wines being produced in Switzerland, so a  visit there should definitely include some vineyard exploration.
One of the most planted grapes in Switzerland is Chasselas, called Fendant in the Valais, a region which produces about 40% of all Swiss wines. Chasselas wine is the perfect accompaniment to any rich cheesy dish like fondue, raclette and such like. It is also the perfect wine with which to make that aforementioned cheese fondue.
The LCBO has three Swiss wines on the books and they're all Chasselas, under $20. Currently, they're all available at Rideau/King Edward, as well as a few other stores.
If you're interested in unusual grape varieties, look no further than Switzerland where the following are grown - Sylvaner, Humagne, Arvine, Savagnin (also called Traminer, a mutation of Gewurztraminer), Cornalin, Ermitage, Lafnetscha, Himbertscha, Reze, Durize, Eyholzer Roter, Diolinoir, Gamaret, Plant Robert - to name a few! Add to that more well known varieties like Syrah, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Gamay and more, and the country is a veritable tasting paradise.
The Valais wine route is about 60kms long and offers multiple itineraries between Martigny and Leuk. Further north west, on Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) lies beautiful Montreux, home of the famous jazz festival, where I spent a week in October. With its micro climate and abundance of floral delights, it's an extremely picturesque place to visit.

Heading west towards Lausanne, along the north shore of the lake, lies the brilliant area of Lavaux, a UNESCO World Heritage site, with a wine history dating back to monks in the 11th century. From Montreux, I took a local bus and a short mountainous train ride into a tranquil area covering 40km along the lake shore, and including 14 villages and small towns, nestled among vineyards plunging down to lake level. Here, one can walk  for miles, in absolute peace, through ancient pathways and medieval villages. At harvest time I was intrigued to see what looked like a funicular pulley system being used to bring baskets of grapes from higher slopes. Things were buzzing in the vineyards and wineries, but it didn't stop one of the winemakers from handing me a bunch of chasselas grapes to munch on as I wandered around taking photos.
Tastings are available at many of the small wineries, but also at the Lavaux Vinorama in Rivaz, down at lake level, where Sandra Joye and her team delight in instructing and leading tastings of some of the 200 or so wines of Lavaux.
I popped in to the Vinorama and tasted some wines with Luis from Portugal. Among the more unusual wines tasted were..........
  • A 2010 Chemin de Terre blend from Luc Massy Epesses in the village of Dezaley. This was an improbable blend of Pinot, Gamay, Merlot, Cab Sauv and Syrah. Very tasty, with lots of fruit, spice, minerality and good balance, but at over $50 a bottle, (about $40 at the vinorama), I thought it was a tad overpriced.
  • A 2009 Alumisence made from Plant Robert (grape variety)  and produced by Jean Christophe Picard, Le Daley, near the village of Vilette. Luis told me that Plant Robert is a natural mutation of Gamay, possibly ancient and only growing in Lavaux. It reminded me of a Beaujolais Cru; the nose was nicely perfumed, with liquorice, black fruits and violets. It was rich and spicy on the palate, with good structure and balance. This was around $27 at the Vinorama.
  • A 2010 Humagne Rouge (grape variety) from Chateau de Glerolles in Saint-Saphorin. A bit unbalanced - still tannic, but not enough fruit and acidity. Humagne Rouge is a another Gamay mutation. Around $38 at the Vinorama.
The wines from Lavaux are unique but not inexpensive. However the area is beautiful and wonderful to walk through.  It's well worth a  visit!

Cheers! Sante!