Robert Mason has fallen for Swiss wine and wants us to too. See this guide to all the entries in our travel writing competition that have been published so far.
In amongst the lavish window delights in decadent avenues reminiscent of Milan or Paris and the luxury of five-star hotels, fromageries and chocolate shops lie great oenological delights just waiting to be discovered. Geneva is inter-continental and multi-cultural, and this is very much reflected in its wine. Geneva is a city of wine, for wine lovers. The love of the grape runs deep in this part of Europe. The airport alone has vines growing wildly on fences and up walls. From the moment you set foot on to the tarmac things start to point to a city obsessed by all things vinous.
Since 2013, my heart was captured. Back then, I was courting my now wife, travelling constantly between LGW and GVA. How was I to know that I would also develop a profound affection for the great grapes of Geneva and its environs? Now we are firmly settled back in the UK, but Geneva is still a place that we try to visit whenever possible.
In the centre there are many restaurants, bars, cafés and hotels in which to take a welcoming summer sip or winter warmer but here are just some of the best must-visit wine bars around:
Tour du Molard, 1204, Place du Molard 2, 1204 Genf (pictured)
Situated on the south side and on the left bank of the river Rhône is this picturesque chocolate-box tower at the foot of the Old Town. Spanning many levels, this wine bar offers great-value local wine from the Genève canton such as the light and fresh white Fendant (aka Chasselas) and local rosés, perfect for enjoying views over the city and the Jet d’Eau of Lac Léman on a summer’s day.
Le Rouge et Le Blanc, Quai des Bergues 27, 1201 Genève
On the opposing right bank, a short walk from the lakeside Four Seasons Hotel, is Le Rouge et Le Blanc. Run by a true oenophile, this is where to go if you want to indulge in the best wines of Europe or some older, limited vintages of local wines. Regular wine tasting options are available paired with an array of homemade treats such as foie gras and smoked salmon. Or simply pick a bottle from the extensive list of fine wines on offer. It can get pricey so be sure your eyes are not bigger than your wallet! That said, it is well worth a special treat if you can manage to squeeze a bottle or two within budget.
Bar Qu'importe, Rue Ancienne 1, 1227 Carouge
Just a short tram ride to the south is the fashionable district of Carouge. Bar Qu’importe is surrounded by Italianate townhouses and gastronomic delights in its many restaurants and bistros. This stylish haunt for locals serves up classic Italian cocktails ranging from the super-refreshing Aperol Spritz to the warming and cosy Negroni. Alongside the great cocktail menu, the wine list is a thing of beauty. Carefully-selected bins of local wines with a smattering of French and Italian treats. Local gems include wines grown around the city of Geneva and from the shores of the lake, ranging from AOC Vaud and AOC Valais Villages wines to a select few from the best vineyard sites. This is serious Swiss wine. Not just the light and airy Fendant or Petite Arvine. On this list you will find Chasselas in forms akin to the steeliness of Chablis to the buttery honeyed Meursault style; bright Gamays not unlike those of Fleurie; sensuous spicy Syrahs with the intensity of the roasted slopes of the northern Rhône, all the way through to local crossings Gamaret and Garanoir – both juicy, bright and fresh. Finally, Pinotphiles are also well catered for. With Swiss Pinot Noir not to be ignored, the terroir of the slopes of Lac Léman can be beautifully evident, offering depth, purity and minerality in spades.
Soleil Rouge, Boulevard Helvétique 32, 1207 Genève
Stepping in from the busy street to this little Spanish oasis in the heart of the city, the weary traveller is welcomed by a wall of wine ranging from robust Ribera del Duero to unctuously soft Utiel-Requena. All regions of Spain are covered with hearty tapas to match. Wander in to enjoy a glass or two during the day or wait for the Hispanic hedonism to come alive at night. Alternatively, happily take-away your favourite wine to enjoy on your travels. Or if visiting in warmer weather, take a bottle of your favourite Verdejo to chill in the lake while soaking up the sun on the Baby-Plage near the Jet d’Eau. Both a retail wine emporium and a lively wine bar, Soleil Rouge has it all.
If you are staying longer than a short weekend and happen to find yourself in the city in May, it is thoroughly recommended to sign up to the annual Caves Ouvertes Vaudoises (Open Cellars of the Canton of Vaud) just a 40-minute train journey along the side of Lake Geneva. Enjoy the double-decker trains, comfy seats and absorb the breathtaking views of the alps, the lake and the many hectares of vines surrounding it. It is truly the best way to immerse yourself in the Swiss wine culture, production and philosophy. You would be hard-pressed to leave the country without taking away a share of the national love of Swiss wine. Included in the price of a day ticket is free transportation from winery to winery, your own Caves Ouvertes tasting glass, a three-bottle cool bag rucksack and a full list of the 300+ participating producers.
Due to the varied and vastly nuanced styles of Swiss wine, it is impossible to give a complete view of the Cave Ouvertes in its entirety but here is a snapshot of two vastly different, yet exceptional, wineries currently not exporting to the UK, located near the town of Morges:
Domaine Henri Cruchon, Route du Village 32, 1112 Echichens
A Grand Cru family-run domaine making hauntingly high-quality Chasselas. Look out for the unfiltered Sur Lie: biscuity, bready, nutty, complex and upheld by a vein of fresh minerality. If you were blindfolded, a Chablis Grand Cru would easily come to mind. State-of-the-art winemaking equipment, generations of family knowledge and a deep understanding of the terroir helps create these stunning wines.
Les Tilleuls, Rue de Village 22, 1125 Monnaz
This altogether humbler operation produces a good range of colours and styles. Of particular note is the quality of rosés on offer. The most-consumed category of wine among the locals is rosé so quality must be upheld to the highest Swiss standard.
The variety of Châteaux and Domaines opening their doors is notably diverse. From the Disney-esque dramatic Château of Domaine de la Balle to the ‘blink and you miss them’ micro-wineries in the garages of the village of Monnaz. Local grapes dominate always. Look out for Amigne, Doral, Humagne Blanc, Charmont and Rèze amongst the more obscure white offerings. Gamaret, Garanoir, Cornalin, Humagne Rouge and Plant Robert among some of the best red varieties grown locally. Amid all this superb produce, vignerons are making some seriously good wine from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and even Grenache in some of the toastier corners of Vaud.
I hope that the next time you are thinking of where to visit in the wine world that you will take some time to consider the charms and mysteries that are nestled within this little corner of the alps. Outside Switzerland, Swiss wine can often appear to be palid and insipid. It is only when you go to Geneva and the appellations surrounding the lake that clarity forms. You begin to see why the locals tend to keep the best for themselves and it becomes apparent that this is completely justified. I just hope that this local guide to the delights of Swiss wine is enough to whet your appetite for discovering these glorious gems.