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Switzerland: expand your wine horizons

When you think of travelling through Switzerland, images of breath-taking natural scenery and exciting cities full of art and culture no doubt come to mind. But do you also picture stopping at cellar doors to taste world-class wines?

If not, you need to expand your Swiss horizons, because this diverse country is home to over 200 types of vines, at least 40 of which are indigenous and have histories dating back to ancient times. What’s more, with only extremely limited quantities made, you’ll only find 1-2% of Swiss wines outside their homeland.

There are seven wine regions throughout German-speaking, French-speaking and Italian-speaking Switzerland: Eastern Switzerland; Geneva; Lake Geneva Region; Three Lake Country; Ticino; Valais; and Graubünden.

Heritage haven

For winelovers who like a dose of history with their tastings, the Lake Geneva region is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Lavaux Vineyard. Dating back to the 11th century when Benedictine and Cistercian monks called the area home, this fascinating site features 14 kilometres of terraced vineyards stretching above Lake Geneva. These incredible vines are still producing wine, with Chasselas, a full, dry and fruity white, the most common.

For keen walkers, two routes wend through the region, both taking around two hours and starting at Grandvaux station with one finishing at Cully and the other at Lutry. For a more sedate tour, there are also two miniature train excursions on either the Lavaux Panoramic or the Lavaux Express.

In the glass

As well as Chasselas, a visit to the Lake Geneva Region will see you sampling unique expressions of Gamay and Pinot Noir. Further south-west in Geneva itself, you’ll also find Chardonnay, Riesling-Sylvaner (Müller-Thurgau), Pinot Blanc, Aligoté via Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris through to Gewürztraminer and Viognier Gamaret, and in the reds, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

For another lakeside wine experience, the Three Lake Country will see you again savouring Chasselas, as well as Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Home to the highest vineyard in Europe at 1,150 metres above sea level, Valais is another region that sees Chasselas at the top of its whites list, while Pinot Noir is the most common red. However, you’ll also find varieties here that few outside the area have heard of, including Petite Arvine, Amigne, Humagne Blanc, Humagne Rouge and Cornalin.

Heading further east and south of the Alps is the Italian-speaking Ticino region, where 90 per cent of the wine produced is Merlot. They even make a white called Merlot Bianco. Less common red varieties include Bondola, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and in the whites, Chardonnay, Chasselas, Sauvignon and Semillon.

“Great things come in small packages” is the motto of German-speaking Switzerland where Pinot Noir and Riesling-Silvaner are the most common varieties. Local specialties include Räuschling and Completer, along with Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc.

A GOURMAND’S DELIGHT

Given its German, French and Italian influences, it comes as no surprise that Switzerland is a melting pot of diverse cuisines. Of course, there are also Swiss favourites we’ve all come to love including fondue, raclette, rösti, birchermüesli, chocolate and cheese.

However, it’s the regional specialities that really make Swiss cuisine unique. In French-speaking Romandie, there’s the unfortunately named, but wonderfully flavour-filled cholera, a vegetable tart. Or seafood lovers will find heavenly dishes of powan, perch and trout.

In Appenzellerland, you have to try their famous gingerbread pictures, while in St Gallen go for the OLMA bratwurst, but make sure you hold the mustard and allow the meat’s full aromas to shine.

There’s more meat on show in Bern with the Berner Platte of various meats including beef, smoked pork and beef tongue, smoked belly of pork, smoked pork chops, pork shoulder, knuckle of pork, tongue sausage and pigs ears or tails. There’s also Haselnuslebkuchen (hazelnut gingerbread), but don’t be fooled by the name, it’s quite unlike any gingerbread you’ll have tried before.

In Basel you’ll be treated to Basler flour soup, cheese and onion tart, suuri Lääberli (sour liver strips) and sweet Basler Leckerli (more gingerbread). Zurich is famed for its wafer biscuits including Hüppen and Offleten and the sweet theme continues with Zuger Kirschtorte, an indulgent cake featuring kirsch and plenty of butter cream.

Cheese is the main them of Central Switzerland with Älplermagronen (macaroni, potatoes, cheese, cream and roasted onions) being the most famous. Then there’s Luzerner Chügelipastete (a vol-au-vent filled with sausage meat balls in a white sauce), stews such as Hafenchabis (lamb or pork stew with cabbage) and Stunggis (pork and vegetable stew).

In Ticino, chestnuts are the stars, served hot in winter, as well as in bread, pasta and praline chocolates. Small Italian macaroons called Amaretti will satiate the sweet tooths and can be washed down with Gazosa, a sweet fizzy lemonade.

Grison dishes are rich and hearty and include Pizzoccheri (stew with buckwheat pasta, vegetables and cheese), Capuns (rolls made of chard or cos lettuce and filled with Spätzle dough), Maluns (grated potatoes mixed with flour and cooked slowly in butter), Churer meat tart and Birnbrot (a thin layer of bread dough filled with a mixture of fruit, nuts and dough).

GETTING AROUND

An ideal way to take in the wine, food and scenic highlights of this wonderful country is by following the Grand Tour of Switzerland. A self-drive and rail extravaganza, it takes you to the country’s most famous destinations and reveals hidden gems off the beaten track.

For more information on Switzerland and other experiences on offer, visit myswitzerland.com

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Cycling the Clare Valley Riesling Trail
Words by Elliot Watt on 6 Nov 2017
Discover the fun of cycling the Clare Valley Riesling Trail with Wine Selectors Membership Consultant, Elliot Watt, as he shares all his tips for touring through this spectacular wine region . Exercise and wine don’t usually go together, but, when you think about it, it's actually a genius combination. You are essentially cancelling out the damage done by one with the other. Well, in theory, anyway. Now a word of warning. We’re in no way suggesting you empty a bottle of wine into your drink bottle and hit the gym. There are far more attractive and much more appropriate places to achieve this symbiotic activity. A leisurely two-hour drive north of Adelaide will see you in Australia’s epicentre for Riesling , the Clare Valley, where you’ll find the Riesling Trail. This 35-kilometre-long cycling and walking track follows the path of the old rail line that sliced through the hills before it was irreparably damaged by the 1983 Ash Wednesday Bushfires. Today, the trail takes you past some of the region’s finest Riesling producers, so get ready to sip, sweat and cycle your way through the Clare Valley.  Clare
It all begins with a visit to the Riesling Trail Bike Hire to collect your trusty steed. Kent will size you up with the perfect bike and give you the local lowdown on the trail. Once in the saddle, an easy 12-minute ride north on the trail will take you to your first destination, Knappstein Enterprises Winery and Brewery . Originally established as the Enterprises Brewery in 1878, the current winery was installed by Clare Valley icon Tim Knappstein in the late 1960s. In 2006, 89 years after the original taps went dry, the brewing of beer started up once again in this heritage building. For Riesling lovers, definitely look to the Single Vineyard range, which is a perfect expression of the diversity in Clare Riesling. However, if you prefer a beer, then the delicious Knappstein Reserve Larger will quench your thirst and replenish the tank for the next leg of the journey.  Sevenhill and Penworth
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Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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