Review: Vignerons, Vins et Cuisine
Gabriel Tinguely published a book just before Christmas that is one of the handsomest, most interesting and honestly new books on Swiss wines to come out in a while. It’s available in French and German, but even if your language skills are weak, this is a good addition to your wine library. The German title is Winzer, Wein und Küche. The price is a bit above a really good bottle of Swiss wine and like one of these, it is good value for money.
In the rush of the holidays I didn’t sit down to read it immediately, and now I’m pleased I left it to savour in a quieter time.
I love the book for several reasons. The first, which jumps out at me, is that visually and physically, this book is a joy. It has rich black and white closeup portraits by Remo Ubezio of the winemakers; you want to meet each one of them, so finely has he captured them. The paper is elegant and in a day of cheap commercial books, it is a reminder of how special a printed book can be. The theme is finding that precise point where wine, food and some of the most creative Swiss winemakers come together and suddenly soar for our greater pleasure. These are people who are making wines that are perfect marriage partners for beautiful foods and good company.
Who could not love that?
His selection of 44 producers is also refreshing – this is not yet another rollout of the (yawn) 90 or 100 or 125 best Swiss winemakers, the same lists that keep appearing and that overlook the more interesting layer of very, very good winemaking going on in this country. Apologies if this sounds like a complaint about those lists: they are important for good wineries, for their sales, and some of the guides do what they set out to do very well (GaultMillau and Thomas Vaterlaus’s Vinum guides). However, it’s now too easy for authors to simply borrow what is already out there in the hope of publishing commercially successful sure-bet lists that are labeled guides.
The problem with this is that wine is alive and so is the world that produces it, especially in a country of artisans who make crafted rather than industrial wines. Switzerland is exactly this, so today’s list won’t be tomorrow’s, if you’re a writer who does your homework. Tinguely knows the world of Swiss wine inside out, and he did his research, giving us a book that will provide a backdrop to Swiss wines in general for many years.
The story behind the book is a fascinating one. Tinguely lives in Bern, is multilingual and travels the country regularly to see wineries and taste wines. He created a Swiss wine database, Weinlandschweiz (Switzerland – country of wine) a few years ago after he realized that cellars in Geneva and Zurich, among others, were working on similar projects but without being aware of each other’s work.
This massive project filled an information gap but seeing some of the most fascinating new work going on left him wanting to expand on the digital information. Talking to a small group of artists at the “cultural pole” of Vidmarhallen in an industrial zone in Bern, where he works, the idea took root to invite people to a monthly “Swiss wine producers in workshop” meal. The producers would bring some of their bottles to the studio of photographer Ubezio, the restaurant Le Beizli would create dishes and 12 tables of people from all corners of Switzerland would sample, eat, debate the pairings and life.Architect Pascal Perren, who wrote a beautiful introduction about these meals and the role of Swiss wine in the culture of the country, notes “During these hours they let themselves be carried away to different Swiss wine-producing regions. We learned about history, philosophy and, of course, these winemakers’ wines. We raised our glasses to the successes, we talked about the fatalités, and visions were put forth.”
The real reason I love this book is that it has a soul and a vision. Gabriel is someone I’ve worked alongside for several years, meeting up regularly at events for wine journalists. He is a perfectionist, a careful researcher and a hard worker with a daunting amount of energy; he is editor and production manager for “Hotellerie Gastronomie Zeitung“, a key weekly for the Swiss food and wine industry. Weinlandschweiz is a private venture. The book brings together his love for fine cuisine, terroir foods and a slow food approach to cooking and eating, plus his clear vision of what Swiss wine can be.
Each producer has a photo portrait followed by a page that recounts the journey to making top wines today. Some are well known, others will be new to you. Then we have a recipe and to my great relief, these are not the exotic dishes starred chefs like to share, but things we can make at home. Another page gives us solid descriptions of the wines – not notes, which you’ll find in the online database, but information that helps us understand what this person is trying to achieve. Instead of photos we have real labels over sketched bottles (applause for Lisa Ubezio, artist and designer), which add to the warmth of the book’s page. And this is followed by a one-page essay on a pertinent topic; here, Tinguely’s journalistic skills and understanding of the landscape of Swiss wine are on display.
Truly a gem of a book to consume in moderation, 3 or 4 pages at a time, as with all these wines and food in order to fully appreciate them. Available to order online or in the store at Orell Füssli and other bookstores, CHF81.90