Wine Tourist Magazine recently spent time in old town Zurich, which lies on the western bank of the Limmat River. The river flows through the center of the city and separates old town from the more affluent Bahnhofstrasse with its big banks and designer boutiques. Instead of grand boulevards, the neighborhood’s narrow, crowded streets are tightly packed with small shops and restaurants. It is a district that exudes a postcard-worthy European charm.
We stopped for lunch at Wirtschaft Neumarkt, an eatery tucked away at the eastern end of Neumarktstrasse. It was in the bistro’s shaded rear garden that we sat down with wine writer and entrepreneur Seyma Bas, who organized a special tasting of Swiss wines.
Aside from very upscale shops in major cities, Swiss wine is nearly impossible to find in the United States. For that matter, due in part to limited production, few Swiss wines are exported anywhere. So this tasting event offered something outside the mainstream; even more so because the wines poured were made from obscure grapes that are grown primarily in Switzerland.
Bas introduced us to Sommelier Alexandre Hannemann. A native of Brazil, Hannemann has lived in Zurich for the past twelve years, where he has become a part of the city’s small but influential wine community. Part of his goal at Wirtschaft Neumarkt has been to add variety and quality to the restaurant’s wine list. This included finding unique wines of Swiss origin.
The lineup selected by Hannemann allowed us to tour multiple Swiss Cantons without leaving our table. The six wines included four whites and two reds. The French, German and Italian speaking regions of the country were all represented.
The majority of the wines were from the French-speaking cantons in the southwest. The first two wines were both made from the Chasselas grape, which is the most common variety in the French-speaking regions. The grape is often considered to make less remarkable wines. That may be true, but was not the case with the examples we tasted.
We kicked things off with a Chasselas from Domaine La Colombe in the Vaud Region just west of Lausanne. Done in stainless steel, it was a crisp and balanced white wine with bright citrus notes. It was a perfect accompaniment to my pasta.
The second was produced in Sierre by Domaine Denis Mercier. This is in the Valais Region, which lies in the alpine upper-Rhone Valley 50 miles southeast of Lausanne. This Chasselas was done in oak, which muted the acidity and provided a richer mouth feel. It was an interesting contrast to the first wine.
We were then introduced to Savagnin grown in the Chamoson region of Valais. The grape is found throughout Europe and is known by a variety of names that include Formentin (Hungary), Traminer (Germany) and Gentil Blanc (Franche-Comte). In this Swiss region it is called “Paien.” The Cave Simon Maye & Fils example, produced from fruit grown in the high-altitude vineyards, was slightly aromatic with good levels of acidity.
We later tasted a red wine from the Valais Region. The Domaine des Muses offering was produced from Humagne Rouge. This ancient grape’s origin is Northern Italy, where it known as Cornalin, but today is far more widely grown in Switzerland. Its nice structure, black fruit and hint of pepper paired well with the Oso Buco.
Among the white wines was one produced near Zurich by Schwarzenbach Weinbau. Räuschling is a grape that was historically grown in the German Rhine Valley and is experiencing a small revival in Switzerland. It makes a very food-friendly, balanced wine with citrus notes and bright acidity. It was a perfect wine to accompany lunch on a warm late-summer afternoon.
Our last stop was in the Italian-speaking region of Ticino and a red wine from the Bondola grape made by producer Azienda Mondo. This is another ancient variety and was once the region’s most important grape, but today is being edged out by Merlot. Deep red, fruity and a with just a hint of acidity, it was not a very complex wine, but it was easy to drink and perfectly rounded out our meal.
Over a long lunch, we were able to traverse several of the Swiss wine-producing cantons without leaving our table. While we were in excellent company and the food at Wirtschaft Neumarkt was simply amazing, we felt that further exploration is necessary. A future trip to Switzerland will certainly include a physical excursion to these lesser-known regions.