Zürich is a wine-obsessed city with an innovative approach to production and consumption. On its eponymous lake, experiments in maturation take place within specially designed buoys, while the medieval guild house-turned-restaurant Zunfthaus zur Waag has an outdoor fountain that spurts wine (sadly, mostly reserved for weddings).
On Lake Zürich’s sunnier side, the hills are braided with vines – including Blauburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Räuschling – but only a fraction of wine is exported. It’s the same story for the rest of Switzerland, with only top winemakers such as Domaine Donatsch, Studach, and Gantenbein having some bottles escaping to cellars beyond the sky-scraping Alps. The Swiss love their wines and so will you (especially if you’re partial to Pinot Noir).
While Switzerland’s largest city is best known for its financial centre, it’s also a cosmopolitan metropolis with areas — such as Langstrasse and Europaallee — that recall hipster pockets of Berlin or Stockholm. Whether you’re intent on exploring the city’s best cellars in its cobblestoned Old Town or popping into a natural wine boutique while wandering the art deco streets, Zürich has you covered.
Five top spots for wine lovers
The heart of Zürich hospitality resides in the Wystube Isebähnli — a creaking wood-clad corridor of a restaurant on the edge of the Old Town. In 2008, this 200-year-old former wine bar was taken over by Yücel Ersan, who has established it as a destination for the in-the-know gourmand. Its stainless-steel mousehole of a kitchen plays host to guest chefs serving up frequently changing tasting menus. And while the French-inflected cuisine is exquisite, it’s the wine list — spread across several 800-year-old cellars in the vicinity — that is Yücel and his sommelier sister Ebru’s true passion. At the restaurant, you’ll be given a list that’s short and to the point, offering wines from their collection that are at their absolute peak. If you’d like to explore deeper, ask for the full wine list in advance. Isebähnli has a focus on rarities with vintage depth from Bordeaux (1910-2020), Burgundy (1959-2021), Piedmont (1990-2018), Tuscany (1982-2020), Rioja & Ribera del Duero (1954-2019) and California (1994-2018). As the pair knows most of the Swiss winemakers personally, this is also the place to dive deep into the national wine scene.
Down a quiet lane off the shopping mecca of the Bahnhofstrasse, the Carlton inhabits the lower levels of a revamped Belle Epoque hotel. Its Art Deco interior is the ideal setting for monthly Gatsby parties that run late into the night and take advantage of its superb cuisine and 900-strong list. With a focus on Swiss and French (particularly Bordeaux) producers, you’ll find tantalising selections from Domaine Romanée-Conti as well as New World treasures such as Californian cult winery Sine Qua Non, among many others. On the à la carte, crowd pleasers such as Wiener schnitzel and beef wellington dominate, while chef Philipp Heering’s creativity is expressed in dishes such as the tangy and sweet strawberry gazpacho with basil and chilli, or the sea bass with salted lemon and avocado. For the full Heering, opt for Carlton’s five-course tasting menu with wine pairings (225 CHF per person).
The Gamper Bar’s tall windows and red leather banquettes upholster a corner of the trendy Langstrasse area with a hint of Spain thrown in. The bar is attached to a restaurant of the same name and this popular pairing is the brainchild of owner and chef Marius Frehner, formerly of three-Michelin-star El Celler de Can Roca. His staunchly sustainable outlook has created a 100-strong wine selection heavily weighted towards organic and natural wine from Europe. It also features a Champagne list, ideal for cutting through the richness of small plates such as oysters or burrata with smoky lardo and caramelised fennel seeds. However, should you wish for something more substantial, you can try for a table next door and discover Frehner’s ‘Surprise Menu’ of vegetable-forward courses.
The Landolt ancestor who began making wine in the early 1800s, so the story goes, had been preparing for a life of the cloth. When he discovered how profitable wine could be, he ditched theology and built up what would become the largest wine-grower in the city. Using six of Zürich’s 13 available urban hectares, the winery is best known for its Schiterberger Himmelsleiterli Pinot Noir grown on its original terroir – the steepest hill in the Zürich canton. The Landolt Weine Vinotheque showcases its 30-strong range, which includes popular Swiss white Räuschling, as well as wine produced through the unusual Austrian technique of Gemischter Satz (traditional field blend). If you’d like to see the vines after a tasting, it’s fifteen minutes on foot from the shop to the closest Riesling plantings. Alternatively, book in for one of Landolt’s five-hour guided wine hikes through the city (129 CHF per person).
With its tell-tale chimney marking it out beside Google’s Zürich HQ, Hotel B2 inhabits the industrial shell of what was once one of the largest breweries in Zürich. Today, however, the focus has switched to wine thanks to the family of oenophiles that bought it in 2012. This is why the hotel’s centrepiece, like a sophisticated student fantasy, is its 20-shelf-high wine library containing 33,000 books (not all about wine, unfortunately). The wine list – more focused than the bookshelves – is curated by local wine hero and TV personality Beat Caduff, with everything sourced from within a 250km radius. Plenty of Italian and German wines make an appearance while travelling the least distance is a selection of Swiss winemaker Erich Meier’s 2021 Pinot Noirs. Rarities, predominantly Burgundian and Piedmontese, are enticingly displayed in a glass cabinet. Adjoining the hotel is a sizeable spa with a rooftop pool (half-price entrance for hotel guests), while in the stylish suites you’ll find a copy of wine journal Schweizerische Weinzeitung.
Things to do
If you’re an outdoorsy person, Zürich’s charms are instantly decipherable. Lace up your hiking boots and walk the forested pathways of the Uetliberg or seek solace from the summer heat in the limpid waters of Lake Zürich and its many lidos.
A lively burst of food-focused festivals is on offer (check dates before travel). Food Zürich has its hub of food stalls, bars and cooking demos located in trendy Europaallee. Accompanying this is an itinerary of both paid and free activities that in the past have included things such as multi-day sourdough workshops and free drop-in wine tastings.
Back at the lake, wine festival Expovina sees an armada of boats host walk-on wine tastings, with workshops held throughout the city.
How to get there
Zürich Airport is half an hour by public transport from the city centre. You can access 160 weekly flights from the UK to Zürich through Swiss Air. Upon arrival, purchase a Zürich Card and benefit from unlimited second-class travel on all public transport across the city as well as a host of other benefits.