Swiss Wines 101

If you are one of the 99.99% of the world’s population that know little or nothing about the elegant wines of Switzerland, read on.


The reason that there is so little known about Swiss Wines is that fully 98% of the close to one million hectolitres produced annually is consumed by the locals. In addition, most of the 2% that is exported goes to Germany. Production is almost equal parts red and white. Four grape varieties, Pinot Noir (Blauburgunder), Chasselas (Gutedel), Gamay and Merlot, represent over half of the area under vine. There are six defined wine regions. Geneva, Three Lakes, Ticino, Vaud, Valais and the aptly named ‘German Speaking Switzerland’. We’ll focus on Merlot from Ticino representing the wines featured in this Cellar.


Ticino DOC is geographically, linguistically, and viticulturally unique. It is isolated from other wine growing regions by mountains, its official language is Italian, and 90% of its wine production is from Merlot (both red and white wines). This obsession with Merlot has resulted in an exceptional expression of this varietal. The climate and terroir of Ticino can be separated into north and south. The northern vineyards receive less rain than the south and there is a noticeable difference between the day and night-time (diurnal) temperatures. The northern soils tend to be granite and gneiss-based and are therefore more acidic than the richer and heavier soils of the south. 


While comparisons can be dangerous, they can also be helpful. The differences described above result in more Bordeaux style wines in the north, and more Burgundian style wines in the south. The Brivio wines that you will find on page 47 are from the south and, as a result, have soft and round tannins and mouthfeel.


If you find yourself at the southern tip of Switzerland, be sure to visit Gialdi Vini in Mendrisio. A highlight of your trip will be to see the cantine mendrisiensi. These are dramatic, naturally ventilated cellars with vaulted ceilings that have been carved out of the Monte Generoso mountain. They are filled with French oak barrels where the wine gently ages before bottling.