Sommelier Alert! A Roundup of Swiss Wines in the U.S. Market

Great news! It seems that an ever growing number of Swiss labels will soon be entering the U.S. market, many for the first time. The best Swiss producers are beginning to look outward for validation and the smart ones are looking to diversify their markets as the Swiss consumer retreats and a flood of cheaper imports roils the market. The savvy Swiss producer has no choice but to embrace quality. This means a top-to-bottom reassessment of farming practices and even a recommitment to native varieties as a point of differentiation. All of this comes at a cost: Swiss wines are not cheap but they compare favorably with like quality wines from France, Italy, California and Oregon. They just need to be better known.

What follows is a non-exhaustive list of some of the better Swiss wines currently available in the U.S market, some of which have been reviewed in this blog. Names highlighted in blue will lead you to the corresponding business website. Those highlighted in red are linked to producer profiles published earlier.

European Cellars, a prominent American importer headed by Eric Solomon and based in North Carolina, is now importing the wines of Jean-Pierre Pellegrin of Geneva, Jacques Tatasciore of Neuchâtel, and Claudy Clavien of Valais. These three dynamic additions join Louis-Philippe Bovard of Lavaux who is already part of their Swiss portfolio. While small, this elite group represents some of the best Switzerland has to offer.

Solomon made his mark with a prescient commitment to Spanish wine in the early 1990s. He helped to resurrect the ancient but rundown vineyards of Priorat with his enthusiasm and ability to articulate its unique place in the Spanish landscape. He later married its high priestess, Daphne Glorian, owner of the iconic Clos i Terrasses and Clos Erasmus. Many here are hoping he can work the same magic for quality Swiss growers.

Equally exciting is the news that Raymond Paccot of Domaine La Colombe, Jean-René Germanier of Valais and Weingut Fromm of Graubünden have begun distribution to the West and East Coasts of the U.S. through micro-importer Schatzi Wines of New York. La Colombe’s terroir-driven wines should provide much needed context for Chasselas skeptics who doubt its special ability to translate a sense place. They were recently mentioned in a New York Times piece by Florence Fabricant. Germanier’s syrah-based Cayas will please those who like, but cannot afford, Guigal’s LaLa Côte-Rôties, which it seeks to emulate.

 

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American importer Neal Rosenthal has long been a supporter of Swiss wine, Valais in particular, including the small family winery Cave Caloz of Miège and Cave du Vieux-MoulinCave les Ruinettes and Cave des Tilleuls of Vétroz.

Robert Chadderdon’s West Coast partner, APS Wine & Spirits, imports the excellent Dézaley “Chemin de Fer” from Luc Massy of Epesses as well as an assortment of his underrated reds based on Pinot Noir and Gamay.

The spendy, ultra-luxe wines from Weingut Gantenbein are represented by the Loosen Bros. USA and distributed through Chambers & Chambers Wine Merchant in San Francisco. The wines are excellent but at the stratospheric asking price better value wines can be found in this listing.

Speaking of top-quality wines from Graubünden, Weingut Donatsch is currently in negotiations for a bi-coastal importer for their first foray into North America. This is an exciting development especially if the exotic Completer is included in the mix.

Even the peripatetic Charles Neal Selections has found time to wander over from his usual Savoie haunts to introduce San Francisco to the St.-Saphorin of Domaine Pierre-Luc Leyvraz. 

The cult biodynamic grower, Mythopia, is represented by the team at Jenny & François Selections. These are some of the most unusual, uncompromisingly natural wines to be found in Switzerland.

Williams Corner Wine of Charlottesville, Virginia shares the wines of the heroic, steep-faced vineyards of Domaine de Beudon with Sacred Thirst Selections of San Francisco. Williams Corner also imports the wonderful wines of Domaine Henri Cruchon on the East Coast and is exclusive importer of the excellent micro-producer Steve Bettschen of La Sarraz.

Two related businesses, Vinthology of Napa ((707) 224-3100) and Rising Wine Domains (no website) of Los Angeles, import the wines of Domaine de la Maison Carrée and Domaine Henri Cruchon respectively. Both producers are new to the U.S. although Kermit Lynch once imported the wines of Maison Carrée back in the late 80s.

The large importer Dreyfus, Ashby & Co. headquartered in New York is focused on larger producers such as Maison Gilliard of Sion, Henri Badoux of the popular lizard-on-the-label Chasselas Aigle les Murailles, J. & P. Testuz of Lavaux and a medium-sized producer from Neuchâtel, Château de Auvernier. This is where you will find value if not tip-top quality.

It’s been a long time coming that Swiss wine has finally escaped its borders but the news that these rare birds — already difficult to find in the domestic market — will become even scarcer will no doubt anger a few locals. So it’s in the spirit of sharing that I invite you to give them a try and be sure to let me know what you think.

If you are a Twitterer I can be found @artisanswiss.

 

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