When you think of Switzerland, fine wine is probably not the first, or even the last thing that springs to mind, but you may want to think again. In recent decades, Switzerland has become an increasingly important player in viniculture, and with good reason. Here’s a primer on Swiss wines.

Switzerland has, in fact, been an abundant wine-producing region for hundreds and perhaps even thousands of years, with grape seeds dating back as far as 3000 BC having been unearthed in Neuchâtel. It seems even Bacchus was present and had the Romans cultivating grape vines for wine production in what are now the most common wine-producing regions of contemporary Switzerland. The Godly pursuit of winemaking continued through the Middle Ages under the influence of Cistercian monks, the very same monks who brought us Chardonnay amongst their other specialities, which included architecture, calligraphy, science, and mathematics.

{ Worthy of Note: Switzerland’s latitude, lying between 45 and 47 degrees pitches it well with the crown jewels of wine production, Burgundy and Bordeaux }Switzerland’s latitude, lying between 45 and 47 degrees pitches it well with the crown jewels of wine production, Burgundy and Bordeaux, which both also lie within this range. So it fits that Switzerland is home to a number of indigenous grapes resulting in a diverse selection of wines including Amigne, Petite Arvine, Rèze, Humagne Blanche, and Humagne Rouge. Add those to your tasting list. Despite the generally high altitude, the better wine-growing regions receive so much sunshine annually (up to 2,500 hours in some years), and such moderate temperatures between day and night, that certain varieties of grapes thrive even up to an altitude of over 1,000 meters (3,280 feet).

Although Swiss wine production declined dramatically from the turn of the 20th Century through the 1950s, primarily due to the high cost of harvesting Swiss grapes on steep hillsides wine_article-inset Vineyard in Valais and competition from cheaper imported wines, the industry has made a strong comeback with emphasis on high quality product, as one would expect from the Swiss. The result has been greater concern on the country’s appellation controlée regulations, which apply to each of the country’s wine-growing cantons, the most successful of which are Valais, Vaud, Geneva, and Neuchâtel.

By far the most common grape variety in Switzerland, and one argued to be native to Switzerland, is Chasselas (or, Gutedel in German). It produces a full, dry but also fruity white wine that is often paired with raclette. While Chasselas accounts for nearly 60% of the country’s total wine production, there are other notable whites including Sylvaner, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sémillon.

If red wine is more to your liking, then you don’t want to pass up Switzerland’s beloved Pinot Noirs. This variety, famed for the world-class French Burgundies it produces and one of the three essential varieties for making Champagne, is notoriously difficult to bring to harvest as you may well remember in Paul Giammati’s ode to Pinot in the movie Sideways. Swiss Pinots, which come primarily from Neuchâtel, Schaffhausen, and St. Gallen are delightful and widely available throughout the country. If a studier red is on call, ignore actor Paul Giamatti’s “I am not drinking any f***ing Merlot” — the canton of Ticino produces a great example.

Prost!