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Best ski resorts for wine lovers

The finest European ski resorts offer sublime slopes and first-class hospitality. Gabriella Le Breton picks five of the best for this winter, while Robin Kick MW looks at the local wines on offer at each one

Grindelwald, Switzerland

  • Where to find it Encircled by the Bernese Alps, in the shadow of the north face of the Eiger
  • How to get there Fly to Zurich and travel by train or car to Grindelwald in about 2.5 hours

The resort

Legend has it that it was an Englishman who first skied in Grindelwald. Although, when Gerald Fox strapped skis to his feet and skied out through the front door of the Baer Hotel in 1891, locals questioned both his sanity and the future of this peculiar sport. Of course, they did come around to the idea, and Grindelwald, already a well-established mountaineering destination with peaks including the Eiger, Jungfrau and Mönch looming above it, became equally famous for skiing.

Blessed with eye-popping mountain vistas and a diverse ski area that spans three mountain ranges, two valleys and more than 200km of pistes, Grindelwald is rich with ski opportunity yet has historically been let down by slow, crowded lifts. Happily, that’s set to change this winter, as the first phase of the major ‘V-Bahn’ project swings into place. In its entirety, the V-Bahn will comprise a new gondola and railway station (opening this December) and a new tricable gondola and multipurpose terminal (opening December 2020), cutting travel times from Grindelwald to the summit of the ski area by 47 minutes and propelling the resort back into greatness.

The wines

For a small country, Switzerland offers an impressive selection of grape varieties and wine styles. Though Valais stands at the helm in terms of size, there are a number of other regions producing their share of the country’s greatest wines.

Vaud lies on the coat-tails of Valais, making it the country’s second largest wine region. Here, Chasselas rules and while one cannot deny its neutral character (it is Switzerland, after all), this variety is also highly site-sensitive, embodying various expressions of fragrance, body and acidity depending on its terroir. It is the wine that most Swiss drink as an aperitif and to accompany the country’s delicious fondue and raclette.

For those seeking Burgundy-esque wines, look no further than Graubünden. The area’s chiselled and brioche-laced Chardonnays, as well as layered and complex Pinot Noirs, are some of the varieties’ best expressions. Completer, however, is the region’s most rare, unique (and indigenous) variety, offering fresh acidity with notes of pineapple, almonds and citrus, and mineral undertones.

Switzerland’s most southern landscape, the Italian-speaking region of Ticino is home to some of the country’s most powerful, highly rated (and expensive) wines. Produced mostly from Merlot, a grape variety that thrives in Ticino’s warmer and damp climate, these bottles can be found adorning some of the country’s most exclusive tables.

St-Nicolas de Véroce, France

  • Where to find it Hunkered down at the base of the Mont Blanc massif, just above the historic spa town of St-Gervais-les-Bains
  • How to get there Fly to Geneva, then St-Nicolas de Véroce is an hour’s drive

The resort

Unless you happen to be an expert on Alpine Baroque churches, chances are you won’t have heard of St-Nicolas de Véroce. However, the sleepy hamlet’s fortunes are set to change with the launch of the unassuming yet deeply luxurious Armancette hotel. The five-star, 17-bedroom property packs serious foodie credentials, with restaurant menus by three-star Michelin chef Antoine Westermann and a 4,000-bottle wine cellar bristling with local Savoie beauties.

Life in St-Nicolas has changed little over the centuries, with mornings easing into action to the sound of cows lowing and church bells pealing, and the scent of freshly baked pastries from the bakery. The Armancette’s owners might have renovated this centuries-old bakery, yet locals still come here for baguettes and gossip.

Despite its sense of blissful isolation, St-Nicolas offers direct access to small but beginner-perfect local ski slopes, as well as access to 445km of pistes spanning six other resorts under the Evasion Mont Blanc lift pass, including big names such as Les Contamines-Montjoie and Megève.

The wines

A wine region that has been attracting more (and well-deserved) attention, Savoie offers wines with an appealing freshness and lightness. Its dispersed vineyards tend to be grouped around lakes (Geneva, Bourget) and foothills of mountains for protection from the elements. It also hosts a number of indigenous varieties, as well as a few found in other areas of France and beyond. About 70% of plantings are white, perfect for a glass après-ski.

Jacquère is the crisp, refreshing and lightly scented white variety that flourishes throughout much of the region. It can be found as Vin de Savoie or often as specific crus, such as Abymes, Apremont and Chignin. The more perfumed Altesse, known under the Roussette de Savoie AP, can evoke Viognier but with more lift, while the fuller-bodied Roussanne (known locally as Bergeron) is labelled Chignin-Bergeron. For reds, the charmingly rustic and peppery Mondeuse Noire is worth discovering.

Keen to try a Prosecco alternative? Bugey-Cerdon, a gently off-dry (and off-piste) Gamay-based sparkling rosé is the answer. From an area that lies between Savoie and Beaujolais, it makes a delicious aperitif or accompaniment to saucisson.

Alta Badia, Italy

  • Where to find it Folded into the valleys of the Dolomites, where Italy borders Austria
  • How to get there Fly to Innsbruck and drive to Alta Badia in just over two hours

The resort

Skiing in Italy is all about succumbing to dolce far niente (sweet idleness) – flattering pistes, languorous lunches and the occasional bombardino (coffee laced with brandy and eggnog) on a sunny terrace. A cluster of villages set against the granite spires of the Dolomites near the Italian/Austrian border, Alta Badia is the quintessence of this relaxed attitude to winter.

Blending the best of Italian and Austrian culture, cuisine and hospitality, Alta Badia is poised to seal its reputation as the ultimate foodie ski destination with the addition of new events to its winter culinary calendar. Highlights include A Taste for Skiing, which sees nine international Michelin-star chefs each prepare a signature dish using local produce to be served throughout the season at mountain huts across the ski area, and the Gourmet Ski Safari, where you can watch the chefs create their dishes and ski hut-to-hut with them to feast on their creations.

The Wine Ski Safari involves tastings of local wines in mountain huts, cable-car stations, gondolas and on the pistes, while Sommelier on the Slopes sees guests guided to wine tastings by an instructor and a sommelier.

The wines

Alto Adige, known locally as Südtirol, is the least ‘Italian’ of all Italian regions. Only annexed to Italy in 1919, its long history as part of the Austro-Hungarian empire is still clearly present in its language (German), architecture and street signs. The region also has almost as many Michelin-starred restaurants as Rome, so you can wine and dine very well here.

The region boasts several indigenous varieties, but also a considerable number of international ones that have adapted well to its Dolomitic soils and climate. Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco are the two most widely planted, but don’t expect light and jolly expressions like many from the Veneto. In this unique region, these grapes take on another level of character, delivering good levels of concentration and complexity. Sauvignon Blanc can also be a standout, capturing the freshness of the region but with density. This is also the place to find poised, dry Gewürztraminer.

An impressive 45% of the grape plantings here are red, and while its Pinot Noir and Bordeaux blends hit a high mark, the region’s indigenous varieties such as Lagrein, with its dark plummy core, and Schiava, with its bright acidity and wild strawberry notes, are arguably more authentic.

Zermatt, Switzerland

  • Where to find it Set at the foot of the mighty Matterhorn, only accessible by train
  • How to get there Fly to Geneva and then travel (carbon-neutral) by train to Zermatt in about 3.5 hours

The resort

With its distinctive shark’s tooth shape, the Matterhorn is one of the world’s most recognisable mountains, and skiing on its flanks should be on every skier’s bucket list. However, enjoying such a pristine mountain environment only serves to highlight the impact that travel has on our planet. It’s fitting, therefore, that the car-free town of Zermatt should be the launch-pad of a company pioneering a new approach to sustainable travel.

Taking its name from the Swedish word for ‘not too much, not too little, just right’, Lagom applies the philosophy of restraint to various elements of your ski holiday, from cuisine to toiletries. It’s up to you to make choices about the sustainability of your holiday by determining details such as the frequency of catering, housekeeping, bed linen and towel changes and whether organic toiletries, compostable slippers and sustainably sourced robes are provided.

All cleaning products used across Lagom’s portfolio of self-catered properties are plant-based, toxin-free and vegan, while the company gives 1% of its revenue to the Zermatt Summit Foundation, which works to remove litter from local mountains and rivers.

The wines

Zermatt is located in Switzerland’s largest wine region, Valais, giving it access to the country’s greatest bottles. Its vineyards lie at lower altitudes than the ski slopes, towards the Rhône river, and many are chiselled into steep, well-draining terraces.

Valais proves that mountain viticulture is not just viable; it can be extraordinary and also high-quality. The region’s unique microclimate is the driest in Switzerland, as well as one of its sunniest.

The star indigenous white variety here is Petite Arvine. Crisp and usually dry, but with notable body and character, it expresses notes of peach, lemongrass and an appealing salty tang. Though not indigenous, Heida or Païen (Valais names for Savagnin) has a personality in Valais that is far different from that in the Jura, with its ample palate and baking spice.

Fendant, aka Chasselas, delivers a gentle palate of orchard and citrus fruits and is a perfect accompaniment for the region’s artisanal raclette cheese.

For red, it is hard to go wrong with the moderately powerful and black cherry-scented Cornalin, a variety from Aosta that has found a new home in Valais. The region can also produce some impressive Syrahs, with the minerality and spice of France’s northern Rhône, but often with a bit more crunch.

Lech, Austria

  • Where to find it Set high in the Vorarlberg mountains, within Austria’s largest ski area
  • How to get there Innsbruck, the closest airport, is a 1.5-hour drive away, although Zurich (2.5 hours) offers a wider choice of flights

The resort

The nomadic Walser shepherds who founded Lech in the 14th century couldn’t have known that it would become the winter bolthole of the rich, royal and famous. Today, the picture-perfect Alpine town boasts 11 five-star hotels and some of the world’s most expensive chalets, yet regulars don’t come here to be seen; they come to ski. Among the world’s five largest ski areas, Ski Arlberg encompasses seven towns, 305km of pistes and untold acres of off-piste terrain – and Lech sits at its heart.

The latest addition to the pistes above town, the Arula Chalets have wowed even the luxury-accustomed Lech locals. Comprising two adjoining chalets and sleeping some 30 guests when taken together, Arula is the deeply tasteful winter pad that has it all. Forget Alpine kitsch: the sophisticated interiors feature vintage and bespoke designer furniture, original artworks and unique touches such as the Himalayan rock salt wall in a spa chill-out room, an outdoor ice rink, a self-playing Steinway and a garage that doubles as a nightclub, complete with graffiti by a London artist.

The wines

Austria makes some of Europe’s finest wines, and though it’s renowned for its complex, suave whites, it can also make some impressive reds, which range from elegant and fine-tuned to bold and ageworthy, as well as sumptuous dessert wines.

The country cultivates 26 different grape varieties and many of its wines are monovarietal, making the selection plentiful and arguably straightforward. The country’s most ubiquitous white variety, Grüner Veltliner, is an obvious highlight. Mostly dry in style, it offers distinctive notes of white pepper and peach. The Wachau produces the most powerful expressions, but excellent bottlings can be found in other areas too.

Riesling takes on a life of its own in Austria, producing drier wines than those from Alsace and generally fuller than dry German Riesling. Also not to be missed are the zesty and fuller- bodied Sauvignon Blancs from Styria.

Red grapes are mostly grown in Austria’s balmier southeastern areas. For a richer, more powerful red, the deeply coloured and structured Blaufränkisch is an excellent choice. Fans of Pinot Noir can seek out an appealing alternative, St Laurent, with its lifted, graceful tone. Zweigelt, the offspring of the two, presents a good compromise, delivering juicy fruit in a medium-bodied, plump style.

See also: Michelin-starred restaurants in ski resorts

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