About SwitzerlandUnlike its neighbors, Switzerland is not known as a wine nation. In fact, this neutral country makes plenty of wine, they just export less than 5% of it, keeping the rest for themselves. Vineyards do not take to the country as easily as neighboring France and Italy. Switzerland, while situated on a wine-friendly latitude, is highly elevated and most sites are just too cold to grow and ripen grapes. Vines are planted on specific plots of land, usually terraced on extremely steep south-facing slopes for higher sun exposure. Even still, many grapes do not reach full ripeness level. Until the 1990's, Switzerland imported a large amount of European wine to blend with its own wine, with the purpose of adding body or softness. Now, guided by an appellation controlée system similar to France, Swiss wines are more strictly regulated.
Notable FactsThe most important wine region of Switzerland is the French-speaking eastern sector, called Swisse Romande. About 80% of Swiss wine is produced here. Within this area are the regions of Valais, Vaud, Geneva and Neuchatel. While vineyards do cover many areas in German speaking Switzerland, Ostschweiz, and the Italian region, Ticino, the production is less and quality is lower.
The most important variety of the country is the white grape, Chasselas. It represents about 45% of vineyard land and a little more than half of the total wine production. The grape produces wines that are soft and neutral, although well-vinified, the wine can express mineral and citrus characteristics. Other white grapes include Sylvaner, Müller-Thurgau, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. For reds, most popular is the Pinot Noir grape, followed by Gamay. A Swiss practice is to blend the two, producing a wine called Dole, which is worth trying if you can get your hands on it. Merlot is popular in Ticino, and hybrids and indigenous varieties grow throughout the country.