The Merlot grape, which was introduced to Ticino from Bordeaux around 100 years ago, has settled in extremely well in Italian-speaking Switzerland. Today, Ticino’s top Merlots need not fear comparison with the Crus from Saint Émilion.
History and geography
Pliny the Elder, the Roman scholar from Como, writes about a Helvetic mercenary who, during the rule of Julius Caesar, returned to his homeland with grapes. Although wine has been cultivated in Ticino for at least 2,000 years, we know little about the varieties available and their prevalence. What is certain is that, before phylloxera hit, mostly American grapes and hybrids were grown, as well as the interesting Bondola variety in Sopraceneri. In 1907, Merlot began to take hold, and is now the dominant variety, accounting for 85% of all grapes grown here. Until the 1980s, Ticino tended to produce more light wines. It was only after the 80s that the full-bodied Merlot type emerged, due to moves to keep yields low and a reliance on classic mash fermentation and wooden barrels for ageing.As a winegrowing canton, Ticino is split into two sub-regions: Sopraceneri lies to the north of the Monte Ceneri pass and encompasses the districts of Bellinzona, Blenio, Leventina, Locarno, Rivera and Maggiatal. Most notably in the vineyards of Leventina and Valle Blenio, which are close to the Alps, an elegantly fruity, lighter type of Merlot is grown. Sottocenerci comprises the districts of Lugano and Mendrisio. Here, very robust and full-bodied Merlots are produced. The soils in Sopraceneri are predominantly granite and sand, while in the south of Ticino we find heavier, chalky soils with varying proportions of clay.
To the south of the Alps, the climate is already influenced by the Mediterranean. With 2,200 hours of sunshine per year, Ticino just beats Valais. However, Ticino also has record-setting annual precipitation of 1,800 millimetres per square metre. Rain and wet before and during the harvest regularly cause problems for vintners.
The dominant Merlot is bottled in various stylistics; alongside light, fruity summer Merlots, there is also the full-bodied and concentrated Barrique selection, which lends itself to laying down. The white-pressed version (Blanc de Noirs) is also impressive. Cuvées (usually with Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc) are increasingly popular, and white wines (Sauvignon blanc or Chardonnay) are considered specialities.
Merlot (850 hectares), Chardonnay (34 hectares), Pinot noir (15 hectares), Gamaret (9 hectares), Sauvignon blanc (8 hectares); Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Bondola feature, but are of lesser significance.