Aperitif time in southern Spain, Andalusia: sherry and Regañõs, little simple dry olive oil crackers that are perfect for sea-gazing at dusk after a dip in the pool.
Food & dining
We forgot that 15 August is a holiday, so our cupboard was barer than expected. Nevertheless, we managed to have a fresh fish dinner – pan-fried – with a mix of wild rice, rice and quinoa. The plan to add a green salad from the garden fell through when the skies opened and there were no volunteers to pick greens in the rain.
A nice enough supper, but bland enough to make us long for a bit of dessert or … ? Rummaging in the cupboards I found a bottle of apricot liqueur, just enough for 2 small glasses. But too warm to drink and, alas! no ice cubes in the freezer (a week of poor planning).
Luckily, I picked and froze several bags of raspberries, excellent ice-cube substitutes, and nice companions to the end of some 2013 Valais apricots.
I spent an afternoon this week at Taste of Italy, an event in Geneva that brought in two dozen premium food suppliers from Italy, a kind of matchmaking fair for wholesalers, retailers and the restaurant business.
My idea was to learn more about Italian regional products in order to better understand Italian wines.
Wine and food don’t simply go together; where you have good terroir wines you always have local foods that fit, and vice versa. France is one very good example of this, but I am inching over to the side of the Italians who say good food and wine from Italy can’t be beat.
Good food can teach us much about wine because we’re obliged to pay close attention to our senses to understand why some pairings work and others don’t, what the nose and mouth of a given wine really are like. My list of combinations to try is growing longer and longer. A pleasant challenge lies ahead.
From Monday’s notebook:
Of pigs and lard and sausage
Lard: time to re-discover the beauty and goodness of this food item
My mother used lard for basting when I was a child in Iowa, which at that point had more hogs than people (perhaps still does). She continued to insist on its value in the kitchen even when lard became a nasty word in a more weight-conscious world.
Pigs raised in fine cuisine regions are another matter. And black pigs, like the Iberian pig in Spain and the Nebrodi black pig of Sicily, provide the ultimate in flavour in sausages and dried meats. They are closer to wild pigs than their larger white cousins and they take longer to put on weight. Kin to these delicacies are those made in northern Italy from the black pig of Parma. I sampled some beautiful meat from Salumificio Pedrazzoli and Isaf Salumi.
But my favourite was melt-in-mouth lard from Marchisio Salumificio south of Torino, presented here as a delicacy made with a lacing of lightly salted herbs (sage, rosemary, parsley), no chemicals or preservatives. Served slivered as an aperitif with other finely sliced dried meats or wrapped around a filet before cooking. A lively discussion about what wine would do it justice and vice versa took us from reds (maybe) to a late harvest wine. I came home with lard; I’ll let you know once I try it with different wines.
Cheeses of Italy
I could taste only a handful, but my favourites were: Fontina from the Haut Val D’Ayas just over the border in Val d’Aosta, and a spicy Pecorino from the Casera di Martinelli in Almè, near Bergamo, although the whole lineup of wine/spirits cheeses by Gigi, from Da Gigi, northwest of Bergamo, was impressive.
Naples savory snacks
Breadsticks seem simple enough until you have some that leave the competition way behind. Malafronte Ciro in Gragnano, near Naples, makes fantastic breadsticks from various grains – I loved the spelt ones – with several flavourings. After nibbling on a few samples I mentioned that they would be perfect with a glass of wine and out came an information sheet about Gragnano wine, a famous sparkling red from the region.
Panettone’s date with dates
I love panettone with dried fruits, but the sourdough one that I sampled, made with Egyptian figs, should be a Hollywood star. What class! Fraccaro, northwest of Venice, likes to point out that its panettone is Slow Food certified.
The slippery surface of olive oils
I had a tour of a wonderful olive oil producer’s place in Montecucco in southern Tuscany last month, where we discussed which regions in Italy produce the best oils. Getting an unbiased opinion from an Italian on this subject is well-nigh impossible, so this week I heard from a southerner that Puglia clearly has the best, and from a producer at the fair in Geneva that their oils, from the small family operation in Sabina near Rome, are the best. The ones I tasted were fruity and aromatic and certainly very good.
The only solution is to keep tasting and comparing.
Coffee, caffeine, to sugar or not
Great news for anyone who isn’t a coffee expert but loves the stuff (me): espresso has less caffeine than larger coffees, a caffè americano, for example, where the coffee is not so much diluted as it spends more time in contact with the water – similar to steeping your tea longer. This was the explanation I was given by the man from Artisanal Italian Food in Geneva, who insisted I try 2 espressos: one with and the other without sugar. Both were excellent, the result, he explained of their approach to blending, where they always test both versions to get the blend exactly right. I am convinced – both were very drinkable.
Salty or sweet, jam is a treat
I almost missed this stand, because jam isn’t what comes to mind when I think of wine, but what a mistake that would have been. Mes Confitures, south of Mantua, makes extraordinary jams, 2 lines of salty or sweet, as they describe them. The salty ones can be served with meat or fish, but they are primarily designed to be served as part of an aperitif plate with cheeses and cold cuts. A tiny spoonful of these magical, unusual blends opens sensory doors that made me long to try them with various wines. Three of my favourites were very different, a beetroot and coffee jam, one from beetroot with capers and anchovies, and another from candied mandarins.
For months I’ve been planning to bring my knowledge of the wines at La Cave de Genève up to date. I have tasted the improvements in the canton’s wines, and given that this winery is the largest one, producing about one-third of the wines, I wanted to understand what is going on.
Yesterday I finally spent the day there and I came away enchanted and feeling a bit foolish that I hadn’t made the time for a winery visit earlier.
Talk about change, and for the better!
If you’re planning to spend Saturday (28 May) exploring Geneva’s cellars during the Open Wineries Day, be sure to include this one. My personal inclination is usually for smaller, more artisanal wineries, but you’ll find this is a good starting point: the quality is good across a wide price range, the collection of wines is interesting and you can learn a lot about how wine is made if you ask a few questions (yes, they speak English).
About the winery
Some of the basics: It was created in 1994, but the roots of this cooperative go back nearly 90 years. The canton’s – and this winery’s wines – went through an unhappy patch from about 1970-1990 and developed a reputation for mediocre wines. If anyone suggests this is still the case, tell them to wake up!
Note that the web site has just been redone, and the English version of it will be up in a week or so.
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The winery receives grapes from about 50 growers, with some 320 hectares under contract (for 3,000 tons of grapes), and it works very closely with them throughout the growing season to ensure quality grapes, the key to good wine. An important change took place last year. Growers are required to harvest as early in the morning as possible, delivering grapes before 10:00, bringing them in new trailers that are specially equipped to keep grapes “inert”, in other words fresh, and to hold off urban air. This is especially important for those who must trek from the Left Bank across the city, about 20% of the grapes harvested take this route, and depending on traffic it can take up to 1.5 hours to reach the winery. Those from Satigny can make it to the cellar in minutes, but it’s crucial for all the grapes to remain equally fresh.
In 2007 La Cave de Genève moved from the centre of Satigny to the nearby industrial zone in Geneva, better equipped for the kind of investment and expansion that was planned. It’s too long to get into here, but if you have a chance to visit the winery do so, to see the cutting edge technology that required a huge investment: gigantic (10 m tall) new stainless steel fermentation tanks with their watering and temperature regulating systems, and specially designed closed tanks to make the Baccarat brand sparkling wines, which are one of Geneva’s best-kept secrets (actually, quite popular), a smart barrel storage room that represents an investment of half a million francs for the 500 barrels alone.
The winery has been rebranding its products, always a tricky business if you don’t want to lose old customers who have their favourites, but necessary if you have a lot of products that you want the larger world to discover. The group of brands and the labels make sense, but the winery has added special stickers with the old labels, so no one will get lost during the rebranding process.
The range in prices is CHF6 to 145; very few Swiss wineries produce good wine in the lower range – these are perfectly acceptable table wines for everyday drinking.
I was invited to visit Thursday for the launch of a new brand, the Belles Filles line, which is the cellar’s mid-range wines, in the CHF12-15 bracket. Earlier in the year Les Trésors was launched, good wines at CHF14-19, and a beautiful oaked line, up to CHF25, has been rebranded Clémence.
The Baccarat sparkling wines are very good value for money and if you want top quality and are willing to pay for it, you can buy the wines developed with Philippe Chevrier, owner-chef of Domaine de Châteauvieux, one of Geneva’s top restaurants.
The wines I tasted
The Belles Filles wines, all 2015, are fun and easy to drink. The Chasselas has a lovely nose but it’s a bit hot in mouth, meaning I could feel the alcohol, although it is 13.5, not too high. The Riesling-Sylvaner was a favourite for me, with a subtle yet clear nose (some grapefruit), very clean and slightly round. Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay are both well made, with the first a shade sweet for me and the second very crisp, with the fruit evident – nice. The only one I wasn’t keen on was the Gamay rosé, but I very much liked the other rosé, an Oeil-de-Perdrix from Pinot Noir grapes – lovely fruit, good acidity. The three reds were all good.
Two of us asked if we could try a Trésor wine, to get a sense of the difference. We had a Gamaret Syrah blend, 2015, which was bottled just two weeks earlier. It’s a lovely wine, all spices and fruit, if too young. I loved the finish and would happily try it in a few weeks or months.
Clémence wines with lunch: now we’re talking
The small group of us who were invited for the Belles Filles launch then went to lunch at Domaine de Châteauvieux, where we had a long and fantastic meal served, not with the chef’s own line of wines from La Cave de Genève, but with the Clémence line of wines. The food was paired with the wines. Here are the photos from lunch, where we could really see that serving these oaked wines with the right food made all the difference. My favourites:
Chardonnay “Baccarat” bru Blanc de Blancs, a sparkling wine with a lovely colour, tiny bubbles that go on forever, and remarkable freshness. Fruit, but also flowers. A delight.
Viognier, which has all the perfume one expects from this grape (pears and citrus fruits for me), with an elegance in mouth, where the oak’s role is very subtle.
Cabernet Franc, where I loved the spices and tobacco and the very long finish. It was perfect with the ris de veau de Simmental, meat that melted like butter in my mouth. A heavenly combination!
LOCARNO, SWITZERLAND – Thursday evening I gave a talk to a sellout crowd at the Anglo-Swiss Club in Locarno on unusual and rare Swiss grape varieties. We then tasted five of these wines. Here are some brief notes on the wines, with contact information for the wineries. All of these wines are produced in limited quantities.
Räuschling, white wine from Zurich
We began with the very delicate Räuschling from Weinbau Schwarzenbach Reblaube in Meilen, on Lake Zurich, the family winery long known for producing some of the best wine from this grape. I’ve previously done vertical tastings of this wine, with the Mémoire des vins suisses group, and the capacity of these wines to age well is surprising and impressive. The 2015 we had Thursday has only recently been bottled so we’re talking about a typical, very young wine, with all the crispness and lemon notes you hope to find were there. Elegant, fresh with real zing, perfect with lake fish. Details on its production, in French and German.
Rèze, white wine from Valais
We followed this with another white with high acidity, this time from canton Valais, the Rèze that – like Räuschling in Zurich – was once so widespread in its home canton. Along came phylloxera and vineyards were replanted with safer, but also easier grapes. These are now making a comeback thanks to some hard-working producers. Serge Heymoz at Cave Les Sentes above Sierre let me take three of his last six bottles from his tiny but well-respected production from 2014, in part because he was busy bottling the 2015 the day I came by. He says his wine should be treated as a “discovery” wine, given that it is not easy for today’s consumers to immediately appreciate its qualities – dry, tart almost to the point of bitter, but clean and plesasant for those who don’t insist on too much fruit in a wine. A small number in the group said it was their favourite wine. Remarkably long in mouth.
Completer, the monks’ ancient white from Graubünden
Completer, an elegant wine with a higher alcohol (14°) content than some, is easier for most people to understand. The 2013 version we had, from the Donatsch winery in Malans, Graubünden, spent some time in oak. The clarity of the robe is remarkable and beautiful. The nose is all elgant fruit with underlying mineral notes – we easily found quince and honey, with plum notes in mouth. This was a big favourite, a wine that needs food and that promises an evening of pleasure with a meal. Another wine that has a beautifully long finish.
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Servagnin, Vaud’s special red, an old clone of Pinot Noir
The origins are lost somewhere between myth, historical legend and more recent DNA analysis. It doesn’t really matter, for this particular clone of the grape, reportedly brought to St Prex in Vaud in the 14th century and more or less unchanged since, has a story we love and a smooth Pinot Noir profile that you can’t help but like. We felt that while the 2014 we tasted was very good, it was still a bit young, almost austere in mouth with tannins that are still too closed, but that in two years it would come into its own. There are nearly 20 wineries that produce it, under the terms of a strict quality charter. Ours was from the award-winning Ville de Morges winery.
Cornalin, a beauty from Valais
Our very special wine of the night was the 2013 Cornalin from Denis & Anne-Catherine Mercier in Sierre. It is the flagship wine of this small winery, known as one of the top producers of this grape that nearly died out, a native of Valais whose official name is Petit Rouge. Reminder that this is not the same as the lesser Cornalin grape from Val d’Aosta. The typical rich black cherry and griotte notes were very clearly present, a pleasure for everyone to find them easily. The mouth is pure velvet. A “rustic” wine that has nothing rough about it. The wine is ready to drink but will also be good later – best at two to five years, says the producer.
Good news for his Cornalin fans: the winery is planting a bit more Cornalin and building a new underground oaking cellar and will use it for the 2016 harvest. Cheers and here’s to more of this beauty in the future! Note that you need to contact the winery directly (see link above) as they do not have a web site.
We ended the evening with a book-signing for Vineglorious! Switzerland’s Wondrous World of Wines.
A word about Locarno and wine, for other visitors. If you’re in a position to take the Brig-Locarno train that goes via the Centovalli, do so. It’s a slow train but the 3 hours 10 minutes is faster than by car, and you have time to look at the striking scenery – waterfalls, naturally green lakes and rushing rivers, steep mountainsides, charming hamlets.
I was a guest of the club at the Belvedere Hotel, a four-star hotel I happily recommend, with one of the best hotel breakfasts I’ve had in a while. For those on tighter budgets, there are numerous country inns near the city and plenty of B&Bs in town. This is a rainy area on the edge of Lago Maggiore, compared to southern Ticino. The light is extraordinary when the sun is shining and even on a damp day I enjoyed a stroll around the edge of the lake, with scores of cyclists and people walking.
The tourism office is helpful, with a desk at the main train station. Note that if you are taking the train to or from Brig, it is at the Locarno FART station, on the uphill side of the main station.
I visited the Matasci winery, a worthwhile stop for wine-lovers. Ask about tours (French, German, Italian). Some 800 grape growers in the area send their grapes here; Matasci, which has nearly 40 employees, produces the wine, accounting for 20% of Ticino’s total output. The shop has two sections of wines from Ticino and other countries (as well as Matasci’s own, of course), one for good but more ordinary wines compared to the pricier top-level wines upstairs. The family is also known for its contemporary art collection, most of which is at Riazzino, 6km from Locarno.