Our German correspondent Thomas Skandalis heads over to Switzerland to discover more about the Valais region and its lesser -known wines
A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Swiss Valais. This sun-drenched canton, which has 300 sunny days a year, is ideally situated to produce the best wines.
But it turns out to be difficult to establish Valais wines as a permanent fixture on the international market. This is hard to understand as 59 of more than 250 Swiss grape varieties thrive in Valais and account for 40% of the country's wine production.
However, the area where the wine is grown is not an easy one. This, together with the fact that only 1.2 kilos per square meter and per vineyard is allowed to be harvested, also pushes up the price. For that reason the majority of the wines produced in Switzerland are also consumed there.
Hundreds of years ago about 1800 kilometers of water pipes were installed as an elaborate system to transport glacier water from the torrents into the dry valleys. But nowadays most of these pipes are no longer needed.
After a pleasant flight and an even more pleasant ride with the train, we started in the beautiful town of Sion. Here we had the most famous aperitif wine of the region, a glass of light and fresh Chasselas.
7000 years of history make this small town, with almost 35,000 inhabitants, the oldest city in Switzerland and the capital of the canton. Sion lies on both sides of the Rhône, which rises from the Rhône glacier and meanders 267 kilometers through Switzerland into France.
Due to the mineral-rich, blue shimmering water of this river and of course the ideal weather conditions, grapes can thrive optimally. In Sion alone you can find 420 hectares of vineyards, out of a total of 5100 in the area.
Our tour took us into the historic old town past the “Cathedral of our Lady”, also called Cathédrale Notre-Dame du Glarier, to the underground excavation site of the former Roman thermal baths. Old graves have also been discovered under the town.
We went a little higher up afterwards, to the Tour des Sorciers, which was built in the 14th century. Inside this “Witches tower”,which is still a silent witness and landmark of the former city wall.
Here alleged criminals were tied up with their hands behind their backs and were winched up until they confessed their “guilt". You can only imagine how quickly they confessed to everything the prosecutors wanted to hear.
We tasted light, pleasant wines in both locations and with a certain morbid thrill - if you look closely you can see a skull at the excavation site.
After a short stroll through the old town, we found ourselves at the Vinotec Le Vérre a Pied. In addition to a 2015 Merlot, which felt powerful but still soft on the palate, we were served a typical and delicious Valais plate called “Apéro", from the Fromageire de Grenette.
This consisted of several varieties of ham, sausages and cheeses of the region. With this we finished the first part of our journey and we went to the Hôtel-Restaurant Elite, where our first day ended with a glass or two of that lovely Chasselas wine.
Early next morning, we left for the old town again and on to the largest market in western Switzerland.
Sausages, cheeses, breads, spices, but also numerous non-food articles, find new owners here. Then we walked along the Rue de Chateaux up to the Valère Basilica, where one of the oldest playable organs in the world can be found, dating back to the 15th century. Looking down at Sion, framed by the snow-cowered mountains, the view is breathtaking and it´s definitely worth a visit.
After lunch at the La Croix Fédérale, we went by bus to the Celliers de Sion. The Varon and Bonvin wineries merged in 1992, and in 2017 an impressive presentation and tasting area was created directly at the foot of a vineyard, and became the first Oenopark (derived from the Greek word “inos" for wine) in Switzerland.
In tanks, or in French oak barrels which are used a maximum of 3 times for maturing, the wines mature between 18 to 36 months. Depending on the wine, it can be consumed after 5 and up to 10 years old.
Amongst other wines, the previously mentioned Chasselas, is also being cultivated and produced here. The house of Bonvin also produces the multifaceted and powerful Cuvée shown here, which was presented at the 150th anniversary of the region’s winegrowers.
A light, flowery wine awaited us high up on the vineyard, where also a cozy terrace is set up and where travelers can enjoy wine and a snack, as a break from the walk along the steep vineyard.
During our visit the weather was fine - 27 degrees and bright sunlight. Along with the magnificent view we were offered an easy-to drink wine without asperity, an undemanding Fendant called Brûlefer, which fitted perfectly and was very refreshing.
Our second day ended at the B&B Zum Schleif. This was by far the best place we spent the night during our tour.
It’s located in the small village of Varen, with just 625 inhabitants at a recent countThe 200 year old building was lovingly rebuilt and practically furnished on the initiative of regional wine producers in 2016.
Besides the view, we particularly liked the fact that there was no TV in the room. So, after a long day exploring the vineyards, you can relax and enjoy the absolute tranquility.
If you’re lucky you won’t wake at 5 o'clock in the morning. This is when the church bells start to chime their wake-up call. A tradition from days long gone to get the people up for work, a tradition which is still being maintained.
More next time