Katie McElveen 2017-09-06 01:27:52
The stunning ancient wine region of the Lavaux on Lake Geneva can be explored in one inspired day. There are two things every visitor to Switzerland’s Lavaux region notices right away: its beauty and its wine. Arranged in terraces built on steep hillsides overlooking Lake Geneva, the vineyards create a patchwork of green hemmed by ancient walls scattered among medieval villages. Chasselas is the primary grape grown in this region, and it produces a low-alcohol, minerally white that can range from bright and crisp with floral overtones to rich, ripe and full, with a hint of nuttiness. It’s been cultivated in the region for centuries, but, since it rarely travels more than a couple of miles from where it was grown—the Swiss drink 95 percent of what they produce—it’s a new experience for most Americans. HILLSIDE HAVEN Many believe it was the ancient Romans who first discovered that the region’s tall, sun-drenched slopes created a perfect microclimate for growing wine. Hundreds of years later, in the 11th century, monks improved on the system, building stone walls and more than 10,000 terraces into the steep limestone hills. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, the Lavaux Vineyard Terraces today comprise seven appellations, two of which—Dezaley and Calamin— have been given Grand Cru designations. Unlike many wine-producing regions, which tend to sprawl for miles, the Lavaux, at right around 2,000 acres, is compact enough to be explored in a day. The best way to take it in is to stroll along the pathways that wander from one end of the region to the other for about 6 miles. If the weather’s clear, you can just make out the 12th-century ramparts of Chillon Castle to the west; gaze south, into France, beyond the town of Evian toward Mont Blanc where the Alps rise in the distance. The region is accessible, too: walk, cycle or take the local train from the Swiss towns of Lausanne, Montreux or Vevey. Some villages are snug against the lake; others require a bit of a climb, but come with sweeping views of the vineyards as they tumble toward the turquoise water. Don’t worry about loading up on bottled water; in nearly every village you can drink from public fountains, which bubble with cool water, courtesy of the ancient aquifers. THE REGION’S FINEST Located at the western tip of the Lavaux, the market village of Lutry sits on the lake about 3 miles from Lausanne. A marked history trail leads past a 16th-century castle and the town’s 11th-century church; there’s also a pretty town square set with cafes. Taste wine from several producers at Terres de Lavaux or stop along the trail to sample creations from Domaine du Daley, Domaine Mermetus or Alain Chollet, a fourth-generation winemaker. Or make it easy and hop aboard The Lavaux Express, a trolley that chugs through the vineyards for about an hour, stopping several times along the way for views, sips and photos. Located in Cully, Louis Bovard is one of six area winemakers honored by Gault et Millau as an icon of Swiss wine. Among the notable wines produced at the chateau are a Grand Cru with grapes from the Dézaley appellation, a pinot noir-merlot blend and, in a first for the Lavaux, chasselas aged in oak. Winemaking in Riex is so much a part of the culture that the village’s 15th-century church was named for St. Théodule, the patron saint of winemakers. Not surprisingly, the village’s cooperative tasting room is tucked under the church’s clock tower. Another cooperative, the sleek Les 11 Terres, is located just up the hill in Epesses. Besides tasting a plethora of wines, you can pick up local cheese, honey, chocolate and other delicious Swiss treats. From there, it’s an easy stroll to the village of Chexbres, where you can sit on the sunny verandah overlooking the lake at Domaine Bovy and taste a variety of roses, whites and reds, all paired with cheese and charcuterie. Be sure to visit the cellar, where the large aging barrels were hand-painted with Swiss scenes by the winemaker’s grandfather. THE PERFECT PAIRING It’s often said that the best way to taste wine is to enjoy it with traditional food from the region. One place to put this advice to the test: Café du Raisin, a small, rustic restaurant in St. Saphorin that serves plates of perch caught just yards from the restaurant and sauteed in brown butter. The simple dish is a perfect match for chasselas, which clears the palate with every sip, but with the salinity to complement each bite. Work off lunch with a walk through the hilly town to the medieval church; if the door is open, make your way to the back and down the stairs where you’ll find the ruins of a house built during Roman times. Will chasselas ever take the place of chardonnay or sauvignon blanc? Probably not. But bring a couple of bottles home with you anyway. You might be surprised at how it makes you smile when you open it in a couple of months and recall your day in the Swiss sunshine. CHASSELAS IS THE PRIMARY GRAPE GROWN IN THIS REGION, AND IT PRODUCES A LOW-ALCOHOL, MINERALLY WHITE THAT CAN RANGE FROM BRIGHT AND CRISP WITH FLORAL OVERTONES TO RICH, RIPE AND FULL, WITH A HINT OF NUTTINESS.
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