Switzerland

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Switzerland, a secret gem

Get ahead of the rest by discovering the hidden treasures of this peaceful alpine nation. Whether from steep stone-walled terraces or rolling lakeside slopes, Swiss winemakers are producing wines to tempt any enophile, and visitors are welcome.

Most articles about Swiss wine published in the Anglophone world tend to run with a similar theme. The headlines say it all: The greatest wine region you’ve never heard of; Europe’s surprising wine star; Switzerland’s great hidden vineyards. The point here is that most people outside the country itself are not really all that familiar with Swiss wine—if they know that wine is produced there at all.

All of this is fair enough when you consider that Switzerland exports a mere 2 percent of its annual production. But the very fact that the rest is consumed so enthusiastically by residents of the country’s 26 cantons rather indicates that there is a Swiss wine culture just waiting to be discovered.

That it also happens to be among the most beautiful wine-producing countries in the world only adds to the impression that those headlines are right. With many of the vineyards planted on precipitous rocky slopes—the most efficient way for some producers to transport their harvest is via helicopter—this is winemaking at its most dramatic and difficult. But it can also be homely and intimate—producers here tend to be small, and if you make it to a cellar, you’re likely to meet the vignerons themselves rather than a guide.

There are certainly plenty of cellars to visit. Wine production spreads to all parts of the country—from the German-speaking east, to the Italian south of Ticino—though by far the largest area given over to vine is in the French-speaking west. It’s in the latter, in southwestern Switzerland, where you’ll find the regions that are best set up for tourism. Principal among them is the Valais, Switzerland’s largest wine region (it accounts for between a third and a half of the harvest each year), which, with its patchwork of small vineyards, their dry-stone-walled terraces cut into vertiginous south-facing slopes, is a magical spot in which to spend a few days walking, tasting, and eating. There are many thousands of smallholder-growers here, but a growing band of vignerons-récoltants, too. The excellent free Swiss Wine app from Vinea (available from iTunes) and the website www.swisswinedirectory.com both feature extensive A–Z directories of producers to visit.

Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Chasselas are the main grape varieties in the no-less-beautiful Vaud region, whose three subregions of La Côte, Lavaux, and Chablais, set in the stretch between Lausanne and Montreux on the northern side of Lake Geneva, again features swooping terraces and a picture-postcard cluster of medieval villages. The extensive network of well-signposted walking trails is the best way to navigate the hundreds of small producers here. One highlight might be to enjoy a tasting in a vineyard hut, or Capite (leaving your payment in a box); some are even set up for visitors to spend the night. Alternatively, you can enjoy a quite different experience of hospitality amid the vines of Lavaux overlooking Lake Geneva at the luxurious Le Mirador Hotel & Spa (www.mirador.ch).

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Agriturismo Il Roccolo

In the midst of vines in the Italian-speaking Muggio Valley,  a converted hunters’ turret is now a charming holiday home ideally suited for touring the vineyards and nature trails.
Via Valle di Muggio 2, Agriturismo Cantina Cavallini, 6834 Morbio Inferiore | +41 7 99 51 84 87

Beau Rivage Hotel

Stellar five-star hotel near the center of Neuchâtel, with a superb restaurant devoted to Swiss seasonal ingredients,  in the perfect location for exploring the small producers of the tiny Neuchâtel wine region. 1 Esplanade de Mont-Blanc, 2001 Neuchâtel | +41 3 27 23 15 15 | info@beau-rivage-hotel.ch | www.beau-rivage-hotel.ch

Le Mirador Hotel & Spa

Another excellent five-star hotel with lakeside views, this time on the Swiss Riviera between Lausanne and Montreux on Lake Geneva, Le Mirador is ideally situated for tours of the stunning Lavaux wine region.
Chemin de l’Hôtel Mirador 5, 1801 Le Mont Pèlerin | +41 2 19 25 11 11 reservations@mirador.ch | www.mirador.ch

L’Auberge du Raisin

Much-loved, elegant traditional restaurant with stylish modern Swiss food and a tranquil hotel by Lac Léman,  with an atmospheric cellar given over to tastings of its fine stock of local Lavaux wines.
Place de l’Hôtel-de-Ville 1, 1096 Bourg-en-Lavaux | +41 2 17 99 21 31 | info@aubergeduraisin.ch | www.aubergeduraisin.ch

Château de Villa

A 16th-century château in the heart of Valais wine country in the village of Sierre, Château de Villa offers a fine traditional restaurant, as well as a vinothèque with an extensive range of wines by the bottle and glass.
Rue de Ste-Catherine 4, 3960 Sierre | +41 2 74 55 18 96 | info@chateaudevilla.ch | www.chateaudevilla.ch

For more restaurants with award-winning wine lists click here.

Domaine des Muses

This well-regarded Valais producer is beautifully positioned, nestled at the foot of two hills in the village of Granges near Sierre. Book in advance for tastings of its Pinot, Chardonnay, and local varieties.
Ile Falcon, Rue du Manège 2, 3960 Sierre | +41 2 74 55 73 09 | info@domainedesmuses.ch | www.domainedesmuses.ch

Domaine Blaise Duboux

The Duboux family has been making wine for 500 years, and the atmospheric old cellars are based in beautiful surroundings at Blaise Duboux’s home in the Lavaux village of Epesses.
Sentier de Creyvavers 3, 1098 Epesses | +41 2 17 99 18 80 | info@blaiseduboux.ch | www.blaiseduboux.ch

Vignobles et Vins de la Ville de Lausanne

With five domaines covering 33ha (81.5 acres) around Lausanne, this publicly owned producer has five centuries of winemaking history for visitors to discover.
Route des Corbessières 4, 1000 Lausanne 23 | +41 2 13 15 42 30 | www.vinsdelausanne.ch

Cantina Kopp von der Crone Visini

In the village of Barbengo, south of Lugano, one of the best producers in Italian-speaking Switzerland offers tastings and tours of its charming, small domaine and cellars.
Via Nog 2, 6917 Barbengo, Ticino | +41 9 16 82 96 16 | info@cantinabarbengo.ch | www.cantinabarbengo.ch

Donatsch

A fifth-generation family estate in the German-speaking Bünder Herrschaft, making top-flight Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and welcoming visitors to its cozy, wood-paneled wine tavern.
Sternengasse 6, 7208 Malans | +41 8 13 22 11 17 | info@donatsch-malans.ch | www.donatsch-malans.ch