Big Ben Club

Valais Wines

It would be fair to say that the Valaysians like their booze, it is a big wine producing area. The main production of wines in Switzerland is as follows:

GrapeProduction in CH
Pinor Noir - red30%
Chasselas (Fendant) - white
Gamay - red
Merlot - red
Müller-Thurgau - white3%

Dole is a light-hearted Valais wine that is the offspring of the two most widely planted red grapes in Valais, Pinot Noir and Gamay.

Together they account for 85 % of the vines, with Pinot Noir the majority grape variety. Other red grapes may be included in the blend: Gamaret, Garanoir, Carminoir, Ancellotta, Diolinoir, Merlot and Syrah are all used.

Some add colour to the wine, others give structure and tannins while yet others add a touch of aromatic fun. The ever-present Valais Dole is capable of a multitude of expressions, reflecting the terroirs and producers. Each one is a new discovery.

In the wake of elegant Dole, winemakers have gradually developed other white and red blends. These are wines clearly designed by producers whose creativity is centred around the complementary aspects of different grape varieties. Robust, powerful, ambitious and original: these wines are often matured in oak and are very good with hearty, well-flavoured dishes.

Serve at 14°-16°C

Gamay, like Pinot Noir from which it is a genetic mutation, was introduced into the canton during the major restructuring that went on in the 19th century.

Its excellent reputation in the Lower Valais, around Fully and Martigny, is linked to the presence of granite, much as is the case with grand cru wines from Beaujolais.

This is a variety that is moderately vigorous and that ripens early. It gives purple-coloured wines that are very aromatic and high-spirited, with notes of red fruits and spices; it is fresh and very drinkable. Vinified on its own this is the flavourful par excellence wine of good cheer.

Blended with Pinot Noir, it becomes dole, known as a lively and fresh wine, intensely fruity.

Serve at 12°-13°C

Pinot Noir is the most widely planted grape in Valais.

It was introduced in the middle of the 19th century by the canton’s governing council in order to regenerate the wine industry, which was going through a period of transition. Long reflection had led to this move, which resulted in a spectacular increase in the area planted.

Note that Pinot Noir, an early harvest variety that supports both dryness and cold, was bound to succeed in Valais: it gives birth to very varied wines, reflecting the enormous diversity of the terroirs. Pinot Noir is particularly successful in the area around Salgesch Salquenen and Sierre, with their very active chalky soils. It has also succeeded admirably on the left bank of the Rhone where the time needed to mature is somewhat longer, perfect for the development of this grape’s complexity and fresh aromas.

It provides structure, classiness and elegance to doles when it is blended with Gamay. Thanks  to ambitious vinification, Pinot Noir has provided some magnificent wines in recent years, especially if matured in oak when the yield has been mastered.

This has become one of the best red Valais wines whose best vintages are capable of aging well (five to eight years).

Serve at 14°-16°C 

Chasselas is not a particularly Swiss grape nor is it specific to the Lake Geneva region, but when grown in Switzerland.

It gives a wine that reflects this grape at its most subtle and complex.

It is called Fendant in Valais because of a particular feature of the ripe grape: the skin
and pulp melt when pressed gently between fingers. The wine’s popularity rose dramatically
in the middle of the 19th century thanks to government support. Today it is the second most
planted grape variety, after Pinot Noir.

An early and vigorous plant, Chasselas is noted for its ability to adapt to many soils and micro-climates, bringing forth the subtlety of each terroir.

The aromatic profile—discreet, sharply clear—leaves room for the many nuances (floral, fruity,
mineral) provided by the vines’ environment. Fendant is often very slightly bubbly, always
playful, light and easy to drink, all of which makes it the perfect aperitif wine and just right for
any occasion when people get together.

Serve at 8° -10° C

Sylvaner, known as Johannisberg in Valais, is the second most widely planted white grape variety in Valais.

It originated in Austria but has been planted mainly on the banks of the Rhine in Germany. It came to the Rhone valley in the middle of the 19th century.

It is sensitive to disease and cold, but is nevertheless a vigorous plant. Sylvaner is so at home on soil that is light, shistose and gravelly, in particular on dejection cones, that cantonal legislation dictates where it can be planted. It is ready to harvest slightly later than Chasselas.

The wine has notes of infused flowers over a base of orchard fruits and almonds. In mouth, it has good vinosity yet it remains a voluptuous wine. Its potential for aging and for developing greater complexity are startlingly good—well beyond 20 years!

Serve at 8° -10° C
Chardonnay was introduced to Valais during the 1920s and for a long time it was grown in
order to have a wine that is full-bodied, ripe and slightly sweet in the mouth

Over time tastes changed and drier wines became popular; Chardonnay was gradually picked earlier in order to create wines that are fresh, with notes of white fruits and infusion flowers. These wines are often matured in barrel, as is done in Burgundy.

Chardonnay has another role in Valais: it is used as the main grape in bubbly wines.

The grape needs less time to ripen than many other varieties, which means it can be grown near the tops of slopes in some areas.