It’s during a hasty wine tasting session at Chateau De Villa in the sunshine town of Sierra in the Valais region of Switzerland that I discover something profoundly disappointing about myself.
I am destined never to be a professional wine taster.
The idea of spitting out simply does not sit comfortably with me and never less so than when the contents of my glass are from a 25 Swiss Francs bottle of Valais fendant. But as the wine waiter moves along the row and arrives at my elbow, my one and only white wine tasting glass is still a quarter full, I have a choice; I can either hang onto my golden Heida, or I can pour it away and make room for the elegant bottle of Petite Arvine. With a heavy heart and a slight wobble of the hand, I pour the Heida into my spitting bowl and hold my glass out for the Arvine.
There are 643 wines from 140 growers in the cellar of the magnificent 17th century Château de Villa and I am currently speed-tasting four of them because my Swiss Grand Tour is running late.
Think of Switzerland in gastronomic terms and you tend to think of fondues, Raclettes and chilled white, aperitif wine from the Chasselas grape, a winning combination after a day on the piste (no pun intended). Naturally therefore, our tasting session at the Château begins with a bottle of Fendant (as Chasselas is known in Valais).
As we sniff, swill and contemplate our Colline de Daval 2012, we learn about how the Chasselas grape is actually sold as a table grape in France and Italy. But here, amidst the mountains and glacial movements of the Valais, the grape is transformed by the terroir, producing a beautiful wine with a clean, crisp, dry body and an almost sparkling quality.
Moving swiftly on, I drain my glass as the 2012, Heida arrives. Originally from Visperterminen, a magnificent village of vineyards rising to 1150 metres above sea level at the foot of ice clad mountains, the vines were planted, tended and harvested entirely by hand. Although this particular bottle was produced by Provins, the largest producer of Swiss wines, this is still a craft wine to be savoured, its hint of melon and its bitter-sweet aftertaste bringing thoughts of spring meadows to mind. Unfortunately, I pondered too long on the meadow and had to pour the rest of the glass away as the Petite Arvine arrived.
A speciality of the region, the Petite Arvine grape is exclusive to Valais and the canton is rightly proud of it. Its rich golden hue, floral nose and rhubarb essence provide adequate compensation for the loss of the Heida and with our final tasting switching to red and a clean glass, the good news is I can savour it as slowly as I like.
I have always been a red lover which makes the Diolinoir we are tasting doubly welcome. The grape is a hybrid, created from a blend of Pinot Noir and Rouge de Diolly or Robin Noir, and is usually only used for blending, so trying a bottle of the single variety is rather special. The deep, blackcurrant colour tastes less dominant than its colour might suggest and it has the body of a young Rioja. It’s very easy to drink and I could happily settle down with a bottle in front of a log fire and the TV on a Friday night.
Château de Villa is a beautiful building in a picturesque corner of the Valais, a canton which has more sunshine hours than just about anywhere else in Switzerland. If you’re a wine lover, treat yourself to lunch, a tour of the Chateau and a wine tasting seminar, you’ll come away realising that there’s a whole lot more to Swiss wines than a glass of white with your après-ski Raclette. You might also discover that thoughts of an alternative career which you’ve secretly been harbouring are never going to bear fruit.
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+