Swiss Wine Tasting!

One of the things you learn about Switzerland when you move here is that there are a surprisingly very large number of wine producers within the country. Not a lot is exported, and international wine critics don’t spend much energy researching the various appellations, but it’s a fairly big business all the same. Partly due to there being so many producers, there are also a large number of wine festivals. Around Geneva, the Caves Ouverte in late spring is probably the biggest, but there are a handful of others within half an hour of the city that occur sporadically throughout the summer and fall. This weekend, the towns of Luins, Bursins, Vinzel and Begnins had their annual festival, so we hopped the train and headed out.

The good news this weekend was that we had an “in” with one of the wineries. Although we only have a handful of Swiss friends, one of them happens to be the niece of a producer in Vinzel. She introduced us to the vigneron who gave us a tour of the facilities and talked to us about his wine-making process, after which we tried the different wines they produce. The added benefit was that they were quite good, especially by Swiss standards.

Another bonus is that the countryside between the Jura mountains and Lake Geneva is very pretty at this time of year, so it was great seeing all the trees and vines covered in red and yellow leaves. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t cooperative, and it rained most of the day, but not enough to bother us. Buses were running between the four villages, so we could hop on and off as needed, although we mostly stayed in Vinzel, since there are five wineries there and that’s more than enough for a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon.
So now that I’ve been to a handful of Swiss wine festivals, I might as well give my thoughts on Swiss wines. They’re actually ok, but they’ll never do well in the international market. The reason for this is partly due to the quality, but moreso it’s probably the cost. Even in Switzerland, where the government imposes very protectionist policies, Swiss wines are still more expensive than comparative wines from France or Italy. It just costs too much to produce wine here, from owning land to hiring people. As far as quality, well, I’ve come to more or less like the Chasselas grape, which is the backbone of the Swiss whites, as I think it’s a nice, simple grape that does a good job of cleansing the palate. However, the taste is kind of bland, and doesn’t have the smoothness of more famous grapes, and after you’ve had it a few times you start to wonder why you’re wasting your time still drinking it. A lot of producers do try to use grapes that are more familiar in other markets, such as Pinot Noir, Merlot, Chardonnay, and others. However, I’ve found these to be very weak in most cases, lacking in both body and flavor, and not nearly as good as the versions put out by other regions.

That said, there are some pretty solid wines made here, if you know where to look. It’s just hard to find them and experiment, due to the fact they’re so expensive. Trying a bunch of French wines for $8 a bottle is a lot easier to palate than trying a bunch of Swiss wines for $15 a bottle. Plus, there are a lot of truly bad Swiss wines, which makes experimenting with them even more risky. It’s one thing to be stuck with a bottle of wine over dinner that is simply ok; it’s another thing to be stuck with a bottle that is downright awful.

These tastings are good for this kind of thing, though, as we were able to try a handful of styles and ultimately came away with a couple of good bottles. It helps you in identifying the few good producers, and you can then stick with them. Plus, wines always taste better when you’ve seen the vines they’ve come from and met the people who’ve made them.

On Sunday, we still had a full day of the weekend left, so there was no way I was going to waste it sitting at home. One of our friends told us there was a chocolate festival going on in Divonne, and while earlier chocolate festivals have been severe letdowns, the plan also involved stopping at the Divonne market and eating oysters. I’ve never considered oysters to be a French thing, and in truth they probably aren’t, but during the winter all the French markets serve them, and they’re really good. We also got some king crab legs and prawns, which were among the best I’ve ever had; fresh seafood rules! Way better than Red Lobster.

And the chocolate festival? Well, it was in a building, and was just a bunch of booths rented out by different chocolate vendors, and while the chocolate was very good, the vendors weren’t very gracious with their free samples, even though there was a cover charge. We did manage to snag a couple of mint-infused dark chocolate bars, so at the end of the day, that was a win in and of itself.

Next weekend: Thailand!