Prologue: cycling, diplomats, wine in Spain
I haven’t been writing here much lately. This summer has been devoted mainly to three things: renovating a garden, building up physical strength following three major orthopaedic surgeries in 15 months and working on a collection of essays and another of short stories.
But there has been, happily, time for wine – as always. I’ve begun writing a monthly wine column for a Spanish magazine (in English); if you’re on the Costa del Sol you might find these wine references useful.
I’ve been promising several people that I would list some of my favourite wines from this summer, since I’ve decided not to publish wine notes on a regular basis. The context in which you drink a wine matters, as does its age. I think there is a need for wine competitions with professionals tasting them, but we consumers move too easily from that limited sampling to generalizations about the wines, which don’t always work.
Still, these are a good starting point for getting to know wines, and I’m keen to see who will receive prizes at the Grand Prix du Vin Suisse at the end of October. 2017 wasn’t an easy year for many wineries and we’ll see who was lucky with weather, who mastered making wines under difficult conditions, who simply had a moment of genius.
Next in this space: my favourite wines from recent weeks, where I had them and what was going on at the time.
Lost among the vines
A happy August 1: my husband and I joined Vins du Valais sponsored Cyclosportive, a bike ride through the vineyards with 1,100 other people. I’m an experienced cyclist, but solo, not in massive crowds, so it was a bit daunting to gently roll out of the Sion military barracks parking lot and suddenly pick up speed en masse going onto roads where security staff held cars at bay to let us pass. Chalk this up to inexperience: I managed to take a wrong turn early on because I wasn’t wearing the pink jersey, which they didn’t have in my size, and the traffic cop therefore didn’t spot me to send me down the right road. Luckily I know the area between Sion and Chamoson, so I had a very pleasant solo ride for about 20 km, occasionally texting my lost mate. Never believe organizers who say you can’t get lost when you’re with a thousand people.
After studying Chamoson’s grapes, which were starting their colour change – the veraison – I spotted a flash of pink-shirted riders and rejoined them in St-Pierre-de-Clage. I was in time for a beautiful spread, a classic Valais treat of dried meats, cheese and apricots, with endless bottles of water. I happily rode off with two women who were younger and looked considerably more fit than me, and all went well for a few hundred metres, until I realized we were climbing. The event offers options from a relatively flat 46 km ride, mine, to more daunting ones of nearly 200 km up and down the mountainsides. I waved goodbye and wandered another 20-plus km back to Sion for lunch, where Nicolas Reuse of the Cinquième Glorieuse wine gatherings introduced me to the high tech Italian design Ardea seal, used by Chamoson wine producer Jean-Daniel Favre for his Cave La Tornale wines. Our reward included yet more water, luckily, before sipping his clean and pure, mineral Petit Arvine.
Wines for diplomats
A very fun evening in Bern in mid-August: Claude-Alain Mayor, secretary general of the Mondial du Chasselas, and I presented Chasselas in particular and Swiss wines in general to a very special group, Swiss diplomats and spouses. These are the people who represent the country abroad and they often host dinners where, increasingly, they serve Swiss wines. Their familiarity with these was very variable and I was pleased with their questions. We had two very different Chasselas, for two very different prices. It surprised them all to learn that you can buy a good Swiss white wine for under CHF10. We had a lively discussion about value for money, where I argued that with wines from about CHF15-40 you’re often better off buying Swiss wines than those from neighbouring countries.
We also had a Pinot Noir and a Cornalin. One woman, who was the Mexican Consul in Canada before her marriage to a Swiss diplomat, told me that when they were newlyweds and her husband told her Switzerland had good wines she didn’t believe him. And then she tasted a Cornalin and became a convert.
Best of Swiss Wine Tourism
The second annual Swiss Wine Tourism awards were handed out earlier this month in Féchy at the close of a day-long wine tourism workshop for wine industry professionals. Ten finalists, most of whom were new to me, and a winner from Sion: the Oenoparc des Celliers de Sion. See my earlier article on the project.
Here are the other 9 finalists, with my impressions from their presentations. I am familiar with less than half of them, which to me says that there are many new and exciting developments in wine tourism. The entire country was represented as well.
Schlaf-fass.ch, Malans in Grisons
Tour the Bündner Herrschaft region and spend the night in a converted (heated in winter) 8,000 litre wine barrel which sits near vines; local terroir products are brought to you in your barrel – you can make your own fondue dinner if you like. Looks like great fun.
Oenoparc des Celliers de Sion, Sion in Valais
Two wineries have joined forces to bring together wine-lovers, education, vineyards and hiking by offering a series of visitor options lasting 30 minutes to half a day. Hike the Bisse de Clavau and learn about the famous guérites (vineyard huts) of Valais.
In Gir Par Cantin, Ascona in Ticino
Lively guided tours, bikes available,
of the wine cellars and gastronomic laboratories of the Locarno region and valleys, Saturdays from end-March to end-September.
Espace Terroir – Terre & Vin, Miège in Valais
The village decided that a key part of the renovation of its centre would be a terroir menu restaurant, visitors’ educational centre and trail focusing on terroir and its vineyards, partly as a result of a study of the canton’s wine terroirs. Grape varieties named and soil plus rock types on display along the path make this a particularly welcome way of learning about wines in the area around Sierre.
Hirschens Weinhaus am Bach, Erlenbach in Aargau
Happy partnerships between the hotel and a series of wineries, a marketing linkup that sees the hotel promoting the wineries and their products through visits, while the wineries recommend the hotel.
Genussregion Wildlingen, Osterfingen Trasadingen, Wildlingen in Schaffhausen
The region has come together with a series of events, hikes, lodging in barrels, tastings, restaurants – a well thought out wine tourism project for the area.
Cave Emery, Aigle in Vaud
Products suited to wine tourism, created by a family artisanal winery that works with local transport and Air Glaciers, for example, to come up with multiple ways for visitors to enjoy exploring wines and the area.
Sur les traces des Titans, Barrage de la Grande Dixence in Valais
Provins, Switzerland’s largest winery provides a day-long outing to the area inside the Grande Dixence dam where Cellar Master and head oenologist Luc Sermier ages his celebrated vin des Titans. Sermier himself is a celebrated mountain specialist who has won the daunting Glacier Patrol. The day includes a meal with the wine, presented by Sermier.
Creusons-nous les méninges, Château d’Aigle in Vaud
A visit to the Vaud wine museum in the chateau with a quiz to make it fun and educational, with an aperitif, organized for groups.
Opération Pintes Ouvertes Vaudoise, canton Vaud
The first Pintes Ouvertes took place at the end of 2017, with 80 restaurants in the canton each offering a menu with five 100% terroir products entirely from Vaud: Saucisson sec IGP, baguette, pain quadrille2 vaudois, Gruyère fondue and 1 dl of Chasselas wine, for CHF20.
Now that our garden is back on its feet and preparing for the summer of 2019, the world of wine will get more of my attention. Next up here: the wines I most enjoyed this summer.