The history of winemaking in Ticino goes back a long time but peaked in the first half of the 20th century when vineyards were replanted according to new quality-based criteria. Within the space of just a few years, the Merlot grape, first planted in 1906, radically changed wine-making in the Canton. Thanks to excellent results during the experimentation phase, Merlot soon became the most widely grown grape in Ticino, replacing other varieties unwisely selected at the end of the 19th century in the wake of untold damage wrought on European vineyards by diseases. These had inadvertently been imported from the Americas and also caused enormous damage in Italy. Grapes usually mature in Ticino towards the end of September and are medium-sized and spherical in shape with black – blue coloured skin. The fermented grapes give an intense ruby red colour to the wine with a balanced body and pronounced character. Depending on the terroir, and the winemaking process used, Merlot can accompany first courses with rich, flavoursome sauces, grilled red meat, roast or braised meat, wild boar and venison and superlative cheeses produced in the many Ticino mountain pastures. It also ages very well in small oak barrels. Merlot should be served at a temperature of 16° – 18° in large glasses. Ticino has two distinct types of terroir, corresponding geographically to the Sopraceneri and Sottoceneri districts; the types of wine produced are therefore characterised by these two areas. In order of importance, the following grape varieties are grown: Merlot (82%), Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon, Gamaret, Bondola and Pinot Nero. White grapes constitute only 8% of the total, with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Bianco standing out. Despite its rather limited surface area, Ticino produces a sizeable volume of white wine thanks to the "white" Merlot vinification process. This method ensures particularly fine wines which are also delicate. In fact, in 1997, Ticino Merlot obtained the DOC quality standard in recognition of the quality of wine produced.
By Alessandro Pesce, journalist and Daniela Linder-Basso (UCT – Unione Contadini Ticinesi)