LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND – Your starting point should be the GenevaLunch news story on the event, with some real changes this year that promise to make it easier, more fun and a great way to learn about Switzerland’s often excellent local wines.
You’ll get the most out of the visits if a) you spit out the wine after you’ve tasted it, in the small buckets provided for this and b) you ask questions, without worrying that you sound like you know nothing. Here are some pointers that I’m reposting from my piece on the Valais wine days, followed by suggestions for types of wineries you might want to visit, from ones with great views to ones with sublime wines.
How to decide what wineries to visit, how to get there
Select the village(s) you want to visit, based on how you’re planning to get around. The advantage of having a car is that you can buy and pack bottles in the car as you go. The disadvantage is that even if you spit out the wine most of the time, strongly recommended, you have to be careful about the amount you consume: Switzerland’s legal limit is 0.5, the equivalent of one glass of wine (please note that it was recently incorrectly reported on a radio programme to be 0.8).
Most wineries will ship to you, with next-day service via the post office. This means that if you’re using one of the shuttle options you can carry home that one bottle you think you must have for dinner and leave the rest to show up later in the post. Wineries’ policies vary, but the shipping cost is not high and if you buy more than 6 or 12 the postage is often free or discounted.
The CFF Railaway offer is a good deal: 20 percent off to get there and back, another 20 percent off on the Mobilis regional public transport system and 20 percent off for the CHF15 “passport” glass that gets you in to all the wineries.
The tasting process, from white to red as a general rule
A good general rule is to start with whites and move on to reds. So how do you do this when you’re visiting several wineries? My approach is to select, for example, three wineries whose white wines I particularly want to try, then six whose reds interest me. I allow 30-45 minutes per winery, which gives me a chance to taste the wines, ask other visitors what they like and why, talk to the owners – and relax a bit. This means that I can realistically fit in three in a morning, take time out for lunch and do another three in the afternoon. Or two, lunch and four post-lunch.
That said, at the press conference for the Vaud Open Days, where journalists I tasted a red with some strong cheese and before moving on to the dessert wine with chocolate I had the first wine offered, a Chasselas designed to be drunk as an aperitif. It also made an excellent palate-cleanser between courses.
Village restaurants are one option for lunch, with several offering special Open days menus, and several of the wineries offer meals. Keep in mind that many of the wineries also offer excellent snacks, so some people simply snack their way through the day!
Suggestions for varied approaches
These are a handful of wineries I personally like, but the most fun involves exploring and visiting new places, so be adventurous. You won’t always find wines that are magical, but you’ll learn while looking for them. The complete list/map is on Caves Ouverte’s web site. I’ve put an *asterisk where I know they speak English.
Wineries with great views
Cellars in Vinzel, Begnin, Mont-sur-Rolle, Bougy-Villars and Fechy, for the stretch between Nyon and Rolle, as well as the higher altitude wineries in Lavaux and, at the eastern end of Vaud, Aigle. Particular favourites for this: Caves des Rossillonnes, Vinzel, Caveau de Langins, Riex, Chateau Maison Blanche in Yvorne – but the list is far too long! We are spoiled for spectacular views from wineries, in Vaud.
Organic top wines
*Domaine La Capitaine, Begnins (see below)
Cellars with sublime wines
*Domaine La Capitaine, Begnins, *Chateau Le Rosey, Bursins, *Domaine La Colombe, Fechy, Domaine Louis Bovard, Cully
Wineries along La Cote that are special for other reasons
*Les Dames de Hautecour, Mont-sur-Rolle (guaranteed warm welcome and rare Chasselas violet), *Cave Cidis, Tolochenaz (don’t expect a romantic setting, but there is a huge selection from this excellent cooperative, for a good idea of what Vaud wines are all about, with knowledgeable staff)
Weather forecast: highs of 19C Saturday and 21C Sunday, with some showers replaced Sunday by haze: take an umbrella and sun cream.