Swiss wine – not just for skiers

Terraced Dézaley vineyards overlooking Lake Geneva

Just in time for your skiing holiday. Above, terraced vineyards in AOC Dézaley, overlooking Lake Geneva (courtesy of Swiss Wine Promotion). A version of this article is published by the Financial Times. See also Catching up with Swiss wines.

Every year Michel Chapoutier, the Rhône Valley’s most cosmopolitan wine producer, comes to London to present his latest single-vineyard releases. He loves an audience and he loves top-quality champagne. So he sits on a platform with a glass constantly filled from a bottle in an ice bucket next to him and pontificates, while taking us through his babies from the Rhône, Alsace and Roussillon.

This year, at the Corinthia hotel, he did not include any of the M Chapoutier wines from Provence, Beaujolais, Spain, Portugal or Australia. But he did drop a bit of bombshell, or at least a bombshell in a wine context.

Because he, with his children Maxime and Mathilde, has expanded the geographical reach of his family company so markedly recently, he was asked whether he was considering investing in English wine. His response was unexpected in two respects. Yes, he said, if he were to make a move it would be to plant the Chasselas grape variety on the Scilly Isles, a group of small islands off the south-western tip of Cornwall. He famously loves granitic soils, and there are already one or two vineyards on the Scillies, so the choice of location is not so surprising, but we were all dumbfounded by his choice of grape.

Chasselas is best known as a table grape rather than a white wine grape except in one corner of the wine world. In the scenically terraced, south-facing, UNESCO-protected vineyards of the Vaud canton on Lake Geneva in Switzerland, Chasselas is considered the finest wine grape of all. Chapoutier was unbowed in his enthusiasm for this potential new project: ‘It’s more interesting to be a leader not a follower, he crowed, adding, ‘and the potential of Chasselas is amazing. It could become the British grape, not just the Swiss one!’

This rang a bell with me because I had recently, not before time, fallen for fine Swiss Chasselas at a tasting in London organised by Swiss-wine fans Simon Hardy and Jean-François Genoud, who are so enthusiastic that they represent Swiss wine in the UK, acting as a link point between Swiss wine producers and UK importers.

I spent quite a lot of my early twenties in Switzerland but knew Chasselas only by its Valais synonym Fendant, which I associated with cheap litre-bottles of extremely neutral wine on offer at mountain restaurants. At that time these basic Fendants were probably bolstered by imported plonk and stiffened by copious additions of fermentable sugar to the fermentation vat, the process known as chaptalisation that used to be routine in Switzerland.

Today there are much tighter controls on blending wine imported into Switzerland, and chaptalisation is apparently no longer routine. Simon Hardy told me, as I tasted through 79 of the Swiss wines on show, that the practice is now much more precise and is guided by the various characteristics of vintage and terroir rather than being automatic.

Nevertheless, one whiff of a Chasselas and I am immediately transported to the slopes and ski lifts. As I hope some wine-loving readers will be this month.

The wines at the London tasting were infinitely superior to my introduction to the grape, with those listed below being especially impressive. In some respects Swiss Chasselas is not unlike Sylvaner, spelt Silvaner in Germany, and, like Sylvaner, surely no one would accuse it of being showy. (Is there perhaps an analogy to be drawn with the Swiss people?) It’s innately subtle, sometimes a little saline, dry and relatively low in alcohol – rarely more than 13% – and responds well, really filling the palate, to being chilled. It is also uncannily ageworthy.

Eight years ago, I was sent six pairs of bottles of some top Swiss Chasselas from its Swiss heartland, the Grand Cru of Dézaley in the canton of Vaud. I tasted them and begrudgingly wrote, in the introduction to my tasting notes, that only one of the wines, the 1984 vintage of the delightfully named and labelled Chemin de Fer bottling from Luc Massy, knocked my socks off.

As preparation for this article, I tasted the duplicates at the end of last month and was much more impressed – perhaps partly because the London tasting had allowed me to put the wines in context, and partly because the majority of these wines – whites ranging from 14 to 46 years old – were still in such good condition. The 1976 was admittedly past it but all vintages from 1997 to 2008 were still very lively and had gained more interest from their long time in bottle. With the decidedly honourable exception of Rieslings, not many other white wines of this age would have survived so well.

It was noticeable that the white wines in the London tasting that had been made from non-Swiss grape varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay were less successful than all the Chasselas examples. The one and only varietal Completer from German Switzerland was really fine, however, and among the whites from the canton of Valais were some especially distinctive examples made from Valais grape specialities such as Petite Arvine and Amigne.

As for the reds, Pinot Noir and, to a lesser extent, the Gamay of Beaujolais dominated the tasting – except for the Merlot that is the speciality of Italian Switzerland, Ticino. The most successful Pinots were those grown in German Switzerland, where they tended to have a bit more body and flavour than those grown elsewhere. (Much to their disappointment, Messrs Hardy and Genoud were unable to rustle up any wines from the canton of Geneva.)

These wines are not cheap, but then nor is viticulture in Switzerland, and the Swiss import far more wine than they export, with Germany being the chief export market for wine (although apparently some US importers are starting to take a serious interest). But both at this London tasting and in an earlier encounter, I was seriously impressed by a Chasselas (labelled with my old friend Fendant) from the relatively large company Famille Rouvinez, which produces wines under several labels. Their Treize Étoiles 2021 can be found for well under £20, much cheaper than most Swiss wines, and would serve as a good introduction to this elusive variety.

I’m afraid I cannot guarantee that any of my recommendations will be easy to find, even for those planning to ski in Switzerland. However, I encourage any curious wine lover to have at least one taste of a well-made Swiss Chasselas or Fendant. And a bottle lurking at the back of a shelf will probably still taste fine.

Swiss favourites

All wines are made from the white wine grape Chasselas except where stated otherwise.


Les Frères Dutruy, Les Terrasses 2020 Dézaley Grand Cru 12.8%
Alpine Wines import other Dutruy wines but not this, the debut vintage of a new wine.

Dom La Colombe, La Colombe Noire Hors Série 2019 La Côte 13%
£39.09 Vida Wines & Spirits

Louis Bovard, St-Saphorin Le Méridien 2018 Lavaux 12.8%
£34.95 Harrison’s Wines of Ealing

Louis Bovard, Médinette 2016 Dézaley Grand Cru 12.5%
£36.95 Harrison’s Wines of Ealing

Blaise Duboux, Haut de Pierre Vieilles Vignes 2020 Dézaley Grand Cru (and 2016) 12.5%
About £33 for the 2011 and the 2008 from Gauntleys of Nottingham

Luc Massy, Chemin de Fer 2020 Dézaley Grand Cru 13%
£47.90 (2021) Hedonism, £47 (2016) Albion Wines

Dom de la Pierre-Latine, L’Yvorne 2019 Yvorne Grand Cru 12.5%


Rouvinez, Treize Étoiles Fendant 2021 Valais 12.5%
£15 Yorkshire Vintners, imported by The Swiss Wine Company of Penrith

Dom des Muses, Tradition Petite Arvine 2020 Valais 13.3% (relatively rare Swiss white wine grape)
£43.90 Hedonism

German Switzerland

Donatsch, Malanserrebe Completer 2016 Graubünden 14.5% (rare Swiss white wine grape)
Stock awaited at Howard Ripley

Donatsch, Passion Pinot Noir 2017 Graubünden 13.5% (Pinot Noir red)
$89.99 Flatiron Wines & Spirits, NY; stock awaited at Howard Ripley


Brivio, Riflessi d’Epoca Merlot 2016 Ticino 13.2% (Merlot red)                   
Younger vintages widely available in Switzerland.

Tasting notes and scores in Catching up with Swiss wines. Some international stockists on