Category Archives: Swiss wine

White Wine from Red Grapes?


2016-09-07-12-06-12We’re all familiar with wines made from Merlot – not surprisingly, as it’s the 2nd mostly widely planted wine grape variety in the world after Cabernet Sauvignon.  It’s, perhaps, best known as one of the key red wine grapes of Bordeaux, but at least a dozen countries have major plantings of the variety and, despite the views of one of the principals in the film “Sideways”, it’s often responsible for some excellent red wines.

Yet, as I mentioned last time in my Bristol Wine Blog, in Switzerland’s Ticino region, where Merlot represents 80% of the plantings, they don’t just use it for red wines in a number of different styles, but also for a little rosé and even some white wines.  So how does that work?

Pick up any wine grape and squeeze it and, with very few exceptions, the juice will be colourless (even if the skin is black).  So, by separating the juice quickly from the skins and fermenting it alone, you can easily make white wine from dark skinned grapes.  Perhaps the most famous example of this is Champagne where 2 of the grapes used – Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – are both dark-skinned.  But, leave the juice from black grapes in contact with the skins for a few hours and you get rosé, for a few days or longer and the result is red wine.  So, in theory, white Cabernet Sauvignon or white Shiraz is quite possible – although I’ve never seen one – but white Merlot: in the Ticino, certainly!

And the taste?  The white Merlots we had were refreshing, pleasant quaffing wines; interesting as novelty value, but no more.  Clearly, the character of Merlot comes from the skin-contact and the red wine making process.  But, if that’s the grape variety you grow, it makes sense to make the most of it.

By the way, if you’re wondering about red Chardonnay or Riesling, don’t!  They’re both light-skinned varieties, so there’s nothing to tint the juice red.

Not Another Wine Festival!


We’ve just come back from a short break in Lugano and our visit coincided with ‘La Bacchica’, the local wine festival organised to celebrate the grape harvest.  Funnily enough, last year we were in Saumur for a few days at around the same time of year and the same thing happened!  My wife is starting to think that I’m getting inside information!  But, honestly, the first I knew of either festival was when we arrived at our destination – although, of course, it’s quite natural for any wine growing community to want to mark the end of a year’s hard work.


Lugano may not be that well-known as a place for wine but this is the heart of Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Ticino region and wine is as much a part of the culture here as it is over the border in Italy.  Even so, I’ve rarely tasted anything from the region – or, indeed from any part of Switzerland (very little is exported) – so some careful research was needed: what to look out for, the names of the best producers – and no less important: what to avoid!

The first thing I discovered was that 80% of the plantings in the Ticino are of the same grape variety.  And not, as I might have guessed, one of the Italian natives such as Sangiovese or Nebbiolo; instead, to my surprise, it was Merlot.  Made in all styles from light and fruity for easy quaffing through to more serious with oak-ageing and suitable for laying down, occasionally blended with other varieties but more commonly, just on its own.  And, if you were looking for something different, there was Merlot Rosé, even some white – about which more next time.

And how about the quality?  Generally high, although, sadly, with prices to match – inevitable, perhaps, when growing grapes in such a mountainous (but beautiful) area.