Appears in
Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

Switzerland, small, alpine country in central Europe beginning to look outwards into the greater world of wine. Annual wine production is steady at more than a million hl/26.4 million gal from about 15,000 ha/37,050 acres of often spectacular vineyards. The majority of these are in the western, French-speaking part of the country, Suisse romande. There are also extensive vineyards all over eastern, German-speaking Switzerland (or Ostschweiz), and many vineyards in Ticino, the Italian-speaking south of Switzerland (or Svizzera italiana). The country is divided into 26 cantons, of which all produce some wine (see map). For many years, Swiss wine labelling lacked the discipline applied to the north in Germany or the controls imposed to the west in France, but from the early 1990s a controlled appellations system was applied with increasing rigour, initially in French-speaking Switzerland. Since controls on wine imports were relaxed in the mid 1990s (and disappeared altogether in 2006), the Swiss wine industry has been forced to up its game, replacing much of the light, white, and relatively neutral wine that was once the norm with serious offerings of both colours. chasselas is the principal white grape variety and, when well vinified, it can express well the country’s diversity of soils and climates. The Valais has a clutch of interesting indigenous varieties and some increasingly sophisticated red wines are made in all Swiss wine regions, particularly Ticino and Graubünden. Switzerland is able to supply only 40% of domestic consumption; 60%, mainly red wine, has to be imported.