Is this Europe’s prettiest wine making region?
A big thanks to the Swiss for another delicious and beautiful contribution to society.
Let’s face it, wine isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Switzerland. But I now know why the Swiss (much like the Austrians) like to keep their wine to themselves – because it’s so good!
The Chasselas grape is the most important in Switzerland’s wine regions, among which, canton Vaud is one of its largest producers. Nestled on the banks of Lake Geneva (or more accurately, Lac Leman), the Lavaux wine region (part of canton Vaud) is not only a beautiful corner of the world, but also a UNESCO world heritage site.
As wine regions go, it doesn’t get much prettier. But this compact 830 square-kilometre region also comes with a rich history dating back to the 12th century, when the church acquired this land. Albeit scenic, the unforgivingly steep and rocky landscape didn’t lend itself to much, so the bishop brought in monks from Burgundy to utilise it for wine farming. Years of labour turned it into a terraced hillside (there are over 10,000 terraces) where nature’s wonder marries manmade ingenuity. Today, it is an attractive tourist destination with some very unique offerings. 75 per cent of the grapes grown in this region is of the native Chasselas variety.
The terroir is very particular, thanks to the typical stone indigenous to the region (a conglomerate stone of limestone and gravel). The region also enjoys a temperate micro climate, thanks to different currents from the lake, with an annual average temperature of 18-degrees. In fact, Lavaux is also known as the land of the three suns: the actual sun, its reflection on the lake, and the reflection on the stone walls of the vineyard terraces. A combination of these factors gives the Chasselas here a very specific taste. It’s a light, mild, refreshing and (dangerously!) easy to drink wine, making it the perfect ‘apero’ beverage. In fact, a few glasses of Chasselas with cheese and nibbles is de rigeur here, on most evenings.
According to Jerome Ake Beda, the Gault & Millau 2015 guide’s wine keeper of the year, “Chasselas is the only wine that is likely to match everything – whether it’s fish or meat, or different cuisines and flavours. It’s a versatile grape that changes its characteristics, that’s why it’s also known as the chameleon grape.”
Jerome works out of the Gault & Millau listed Auberge de l’Onde restaurant in the tiny, picture-perfect village of St-Saphorin. A tour of the Lavaux region will take you through many such little Medieval villages nestled on the banks of the lake, where the winding cobblestone roads play hide and seek with awe-inspiring views of Lake Geneva and the Alps. Dotted amidst these villages, there are several vineyards with neat rows upon rows of vines tumbling precariously down the steep hillsides.
Another unique characteristic of this wine region is that there is no large cooperative, most of the wine farms are small – with sizes ranging from as little as one hectare to 12 – and have remained family-run through the generations since the 17th century or so. What this means is that within a relatively small region, you can find quite a good variety of wines.
One such winery is Christophe Francey in the village of Chexbres, which produces only eight types of wine, including some brilliant award-winners. Wine tastings and tours with the friendly owners are available for groups on request and it’s a great idea to stock up on a few bottles while there. After all, you’re unlikely to find Chasselas at your friendly neighbourhood bottle shop or duty-free outlet anytime soon; not if the Swiss have anything to do with it!Sudeshna Ghosh is a seasoned lifestyle editor, having most recently moved on from her role as Senior Editor of BBC Good Food Middle East magazine in a bid to trade the hamster wheel, for, well, wheels (or wings) of any other kind! A well-travelled ‘experience collector’ who loves discovering new cuisines and cultures, and confirmed Australia-phile (a country she visits every year), she currently lives in Dubai with her husband and two daschunds, and works as a freelance editor/writer and lifestyle blogger.