Over the past 20-30 years Ticino's red wines have become of international caliber and during contests they appear as some of the best in the world. The most widespread vine in the Italian part of Switzerland (82%) is precisely that same Merlot that distinguishes the production of Bordeaux, and can also be made into whites with excellent results. To understand the relationship Merlot has to Ticino, we suggest an itinerary that will take you to the places where the first stumps of this variety were planted over a century ago and a visit to the "Casa del vino" which stocks 200 Ticino vintages.
The Ticino grape, that generally ripens at the end of September, gives the wine an intense and sharp ruby red tinge with a balanced body and pronounced character perfect for maturation in small oak barrels.
Ticino presents two distinct types of terrain that geographically correspond to the South and the North of the canton and which distinguish the wines produced. According to the terroir of origin and to the wine-making methodology employed, the Ticino Merlots can accompany main courses with rich and flavorful sauces, grilled, roasted or braised red meats, game and excellent cheeses produced in the numerous regional mountain pastures.
The history of wine in Ticino
The introduction of the Merlot wine in Ticino dates back to approximately a century ago. Its farming, that gradually superseded native varieties, was strongly promoted by the government after the Ticino vineyards were destroyed, like those of most of Europe, by the grape phylloxera, a disease originating in America.
In Ticino the wines produced with the Merlot grape took a long time to assert themselves. Some wine cooperatives and some firms started to promote this production towards the end of the 1900s. It was especially the Matasci company from Tenero to introduce the Ticino Merlot North of the Alps, with its Selezione d'ottobre still very popular today.
However, Ticino's oenological revolution dates back to the '80s and is connected to a group of Swiss-German intellectuals with an academic background, that chose Ticino as their adoptive homeland attracted by the climate and the Latin culture. It was this group, lead by Christian Zündel, Daniel Huber, Werner Stucky and Adrian Kaufmann, that innovated the canton's oenological world and proposed wines influenced by the Bordeaux tradition. Simultaneously, some "fathers" of Ticino's modern oenology - Fabio Arnaboldi, Luigi Zanini, Cesare Valsangiacomo, Claudio Tamborini and Sergio Monti - also followed the same direction and went to study at the University of Bordeaux. Today a growing number of youth, after having studied oenology, choose to return to Ticino to setup a winemaking business with their own grapes.
Stimulated by about ten important cellars that produce excellent wines, the Swiss-Italian wine-making business has yet to face a crisis. It’s currently thriving, having taken the right course by choosing quality over everything.
Tightly bound to wine production, also that of spirits is a blooming activity in Ticino. Highly appreciated are the grappa (especially the one from American grapes), obtained through the distillation of marc after the pressing, and brandy, resulting from the distillation of pressed and fermented grape. A specialty typical of this region is the so-called “nocino” (literally meaning “little nut”), a very fragrant liquor obtained by putting nuts to macerate into the grappa when they are still green, with the addition of sugar and spices.
Casa del Vino
Forty one cellars, representing 90% of the canton’s production, offer 200 different Ticino vintages at the "Casa del Vino" (house of wine), an establishment inaugurated in March 2017, in the romantic spaces of the 17th-century Mulino del Ghitello in Morbio Inferiore (Chiasso motorway exit). Dedicated to promoting the very best Ticino wines, this location represents all of Ticino’s finest wineries. Its expert staff are always on-hand to offer visitors assistance and help them discover the multiple facets of Ticino wines. Tastings are accompanied by a selection of gastronomic products that typify the excellence of Ticino’s local offerings.
Opening Time: Thursday-Saturday 11am - 9pm, Sunday 11am - 6pm
If you have more time…
Itinerary 1: Back to the Origins of Merlot (2h, see map)
The proposed itinerary retraces the greatest periods of the history of Merlot in Ticino. Named the Tracce d'uomo (Human traces), the course unravels around Castelrotto, a region with a strong wine-making culture. It was here, at the beginning of the 1900s, that Giovanni Rossi first performed experiments with the Merlot variety after the phylloxera epidemic wiped out the canton's vineyards the previous century. Today, the multiple award-winning Tamborini wine cellar opened a B&B with a restaurant and wine-tasting/sales point. The walk goes by the commune of Beride, where two pioneers of the Ticino wine renaissance of the1980s, Christian Zündel and Adriano Kaufmann, make wine.
The circular itinerary starts from the Lüsc school, where you may park. Proceed on foot for some hundred meters along the road towards Castelrotto and then, following the signs for Tracce d'uomo, you will climb on the left, up to the church (12th century). Once you've reached the fountain in the village centre and after a hairpin bend on the right, go up a stairway located to the left of the street that leads to the entrance of the Villa Orizzonte, the home of Giovanni Rossi to whom the introduction of Merlot in Ticino has been attributed. It was exactly in these vineyards, behind the elegant villa from the 1800s that the Merlot adventure came to life in the canton. Today these same vineyards are kept and farmed by Christian Zündel.
Continuing along the little street you will arrive at the Vallombrosa Estate. Even here the first vineyards were planted by Giovanni Rossi for his experiments. Today they are managed by the Claudio Tamborini wine cellar that in 2012 was awarded the best wine of Switzerland.
Return to the fountain and take the street following the indications for Ronco. In the vicinity of a bridge, turn right while following the Tracce d'uomo signs. You enter a forest, firstly coming across a small cellar and then an old abandoned dairy. Not far from there you climb up a gravel road to reach an area with a beautiful view and with vast vineyards, owned by Zündel and Adriano Kaufmann. Once you reach the intersection, go down towards Ronco to continue the itinerary, whereas to visit the Zündel or Kaufmann wine cellars (only upon reservation) you have to go up to the village of Beride. The Zündel wine cellar is located behind the church while Kaufmann's is in the opposite direction, about 200-300 meters along the road that leads to Bedigliora.
After the detour of the two wine cellars, return to the intersection and, following Tracce d’uomo, go down towards Ronco. Along the course two other detours are indicated. The first, the so-called giazzera, a glacier, or rather a ditch 4 meters deep, that was filled with pressed snow and used for food preservation. The second, nearby Ronco, leads to the mist net built at the end of the 1700s, used to catch birds in transit. Through the luxuriant chestnut woods you finally return to the departure point.
Itinerary 2: Wine Trails in Mendrisiotto (3h)
Alternately, the second trails winds through Mendrisiotto, at the extreme south of Ticino. This magnificent region, with its hills, vineyards and old towns reminiscent of Tuscany, is the richest wine-growing area in Ticino. Thanks to its Mediterranean climate and favorable position, its vineyards produce grapes of the highest quality.
The circular trail starts from Seseglio, a small town lying at the foot of the Penz hill. In the Moreggi area, the ‘sosta dei fungiatt’ (T.N.; meaning ‘mushroom seekers’ stop’) pays homage to the hill’s abundant mycological treasures, with almost 500 different mushroom species.
While strolling amidst vineyards and woods of broad-leaved trees you will reach the southernmost point of Switzerland, an area known as "Laghetto" (T.N.; meaning ‘small lake’), although it does not actually have a lake. A little further on, you will come to a belvedere offering a panoramic view over the houses and areas below it.
The trail is further enhanced by the picturesque village of Pedrinate and the small, historical church of Santo Stefano, which is set apart on a small hillock and not usually open for public viewing.
An anecdote: along the path you will notice a row of birch trees. According to legend, at night, their white trunks served as a guide for smugglers.
Along the path, excursionists will find lots of information panels offering facts about grafts and viticulture, the vegetative cycle of vineyards and disease protection methods.