Geneva doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. It’s often used as a first port-of-call on a ski holiday, but with a swan-dotted, marbled blue-green lake – one of the cleanest in Europe; epic views of the Jura mountains and Mont-Blanc; and a quaint cobblestoned old town, this charmingly international city of Michelin stars and hyper-local wine should be more than just a quick pitstop.
Like its neighbours, Switzerland produces great wine. But unlike its neighbours, that wine is rarely exported, making the country – and each of its cantons – exciting for oenophiles and approachable for novices. ‘Only around 2% of Swiss wines ever leave Switzerland,’ says Mikaël Grou, chief sommelier at Beau-Rivage Genève, a historic hotel with one of the largest wine cellars in Geneva, dating back to 1865. ‘It’s even rarer to find the wines of Geneva exported outside the canton because in the other cantons they prefer to drink their local wines.’
Out of the country’s six wine-growing regions, the canton of Geneva is the third largest and is surprisingly diverse.
‘The most produced grapes in Geneva are Chasselas for white and Gamay for red. Historically, those are the easy-drinking wines,’ says Grou.
While Gamay and Chasselas remain the most popular with the locals, especially the older population, ‘international’ varieties like Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Merlot are also now commonly grown in Geneva, as are the ‘newer’ Swiss varieties.
‘In the 1970s, the Swiss started thinking about creating grapes resistant to disease, and they created Gamaret and Garanoir,’ says Grou, both crosses of Gamay and Reichensteiner but with their own distinctive characteristics.
The Swiss tend to drink their wine young (Grou attributes this to historical low-quality production, which changed in the 2000s when entry-level competition from countries like Italy and Spain forced improvements), so it’s not common to find bottles in shops or on menus more than a few years old.
‘There is no cheap Swiss wine, but it’s rare to find hugely expensive Swiss wine,’ says Grou, citing a range of roughly £13 to £37 per bottle. Interestingly, there is no major mark-ups in restaurants because producers essentially keep the price the same for everyone.
‘You will more or less pay the same as in a restaurant, which is something very particular for Switzerland. Maximum, there will be a 20 per cent difference,’ says Grou.
Where To Try Genevan Wine:
Le Caveau de Bacchus
Le Caveau De Bacchus has three wine boutiques in Switzerland; however, its Genevan location is the most extensive with a separate spirits shop; a chic wine bar with over 40 wines by the glass; and labyrinthine, stone cellar packed with Swiss, French, Italian and Spanish finds. Le Caveau de Bacchus’ sommelier consultant Emmanuel Depreux recommends picking up a bottle of the slightly smoky, fruit-forward Garanoir Cuvée Albertine from the nearby women-led Domaine de la Vigne Blanche.
Le Blanc Valet
There’s no shortage of wine bars in Geneva. New to the scene is Le Blanc Valet, a warm and lively pick for Swiss and French wines. There are about ten wines available by the glass, but they change every two weeks, so it’s best to ask for recommendations. While you’re working your way through the multipage wine list, dig into hardy sharing plates of duck confit parmentier and bubbly tartiflette, and end the night with an aromatic prune eau de vie from Distillerie Morard Le Bry in the hills above Montreux.
Les Perrières Cave & Domaine
As one of Switzerland’s largest estates with over 100 hectares, the award-winning Les Perrières has been in the Rochaix family for eight generations. ‘We say we produce vin de cepage, wines that are true to the grape,’ says Frédéric Rochaix of the 17 wines on offer at the postcard-perfect laurel- and wisteria-fringed estate in the village of Peissy. Les Millerands Chasselas de Peissy is a true-to-character, approachable Chasselas with notes of pear and white flowers (pair this with gruyère and vacherin, the two cheeses commonly found in fondue in Geneva), but for something special try the Coteau de Peissy 1er Cru, an interesting blend of Viognier and Pinot Blanc. ‘No French winery would make this blend,’ says Rochaix.
Domaine De La Planta
Spearheaded by twin brothers Frédéric and Jean-David Gaillard, Domaine De La Planta is a midsize winery with 12 hectares and 29 wines. Grab a bottle of their oak-aged Lili Garanoir (‘a favourite of Michelin-starred restaurants,’ according to Jean-David), and go for a picnic among the vines.
Beau-Rivage & Le Chat-Botté
With sensational lake views and an elegant, old-world aesthetic, the antique-filled Beau-Rivage is not only one of the oldest and most luxurious hotels in Geneva, it is also the place to stay for wine-lovers thanks to its dizzyingly impressive wine list and candle-lit wine cellar, the largest of any hotel. It is linked to their Michelin-starred restaurant Le Chat-Botté by the impressive Chef Dominique Gauthier, a master of regional products like pike—pulled right from the lake—and perfumed honey from his own hives. Start the night with a cellar tasting with Grou before heading upstairs for dinner. Grou’s recommendation: pair Gauthier’s rich and juicy pork belly with a Gamaret from Domaine des Balisiers for ‘a bit of vivacity and a bit of tannins.’ The hotel also hosts special wine dinners throughout the year featuring different winemakers and estates from around Switzerland and the world.
Launched by two Christie’s alums, the prestigious Baghera Wines is best known as a fine wine auction house with over £81 million in sales since its inception in 2015. Recently, the outfit expanded to include an exclusive boutique and an even-more-exclusive private members club (with just 20 members), housed within Beau-Rivage. While you can’t get into the club without an invite, swing by the bijou boutique for a peek at the rare wines, including some hard-to-find aged Swiss bottles like a 2005 Comtesse Eldegarde Cabernet Franc.
Geneva Airport is only 20 minutes from the city centre. There are over 160 weekly flights from the UK via Swiss Air, with fares starting at £54. Semi-private aviation company Aero has also recently started to fly to Geneva from London Farnborough. Travellers can book seats on an ultra-luxe bespoke 16-seat Aero aircraft with rates starting at £1,200.
The famous Swiss efficiency and precision applies to the Swiss Travel System: Pick up a complimentary Geneva Transport Card at your hotel, which grants free city transport including rides on the Mouettes Genevoises, the canary-yellow ferry boats. For more information on Switzerland and Geneva visit the national and local tourism sites.