Holiday and gift-giving time is not far off, and this year you should consider some good books for wine fans. My four top choices, three of which are in French, are:
- Cepages Suisses, histoire et origines, by José Vouillamoz, out this week
- Gault & Millau Guide Suisse 2018, published in October
- Guide Bleu 2017/18, published in March
- and the English version of Chandra Kurt’s (with Louis Bovard, Cully winemaker) Chasselas – from Féchy to Dézaley, out in September.
Chasselas is to Vaud as cheese is to Switzerland
Chandra Kurt, working with Louis Bovard, wrote a book that makes sense of Chasselas wines for those who did not grow up with them. It appeared in German in 2013, with a later French translation; the English version is now out (note: I translated it to English, a project I very much enjoyed).
The first part of the book recounts the story of these wines, which are so much a part of canton Vaud’s wine heritage and culture: the grape’s birthplace is the lake Geneva region. I especially love the section on the 19 varieties of Chasselas, a detail few drinkers of this eponymous wine were aware of until recently.
The book is beautifully illustrated with photos by filmmaker Patricia Von Ah and woodcuts by Swiss artist Paul Boesch, from 1935. For a change, we have here a wine book printed on non-glossy paper, which works particularly well with Boesch’s illustrations.
The second part of the book makes it quite special and even after 30-plus years in Switzerland I learned quite a lot. It is a collection of traditional Vaud recipes that call for or simply work very well with Chasselas. But not just any Chasselas – wine consultant and writer Chandra Kurt is well-known for her WeinSeller guides to buying supermarket wines in Switzerland, and in the Chasselas book she pairs recipes with specific wines. I have tried several of the combinations and each time, I tip my hat to her for making a great choice.
Chasselas – From Féchy to Dézaley / A voyage of discovery through the treasures of canton Vaud’s vineyards (hardback), in English
CHF 39 / €30
publisher Werd & Weber Verlag AG, Gwattstrasse 144, CH-3645 Thun/Gwatt
The truth about Swiss grapes
José Vouillamoz is the uncontested expert on Swiss grape varieties, thanks in part to the background as a geneticist and DNA researcher that have also made him one of the world’s foremost grape DNA specialists. He is well-known as a co-author with Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding of the definitive tome, Wine Grapes, which serves as my bible for details on grapes around the world.
He is also a friend whom I know as a perfectionist, certainly as a writer and wine specialist, so I was not surprised to learn that he wrote Cépages Suisses in part to set the record straight. Where information is lacking, folklore often comes to the rescue. Since the 1990s offered us the feasibility of carrying out DNA studies much of what we know about grape varieties has changed. Misinformation, or at least outdated information, continues to circulate.
Switzerland is an extraordinary little country when it comes to grapes for making wine: more than 250 varieties for a mere 15,000 hectares of vineyard, which the author says is “probably a world record”. Alsace, for comparison, has more vineyard and 13 grape varieties.
Of Switzerland’s massive collection of grapes, 80 can be considered indigenous, 59 are recently designed crossings and 21 are spontaneous crossings that have been created over time in vineyards, according to Cépages suisses.
The book has a wealth of information about Swiss heritage grapes as well as crossings and hybrids. It is well organised, pleasant to browse and to read – and in the hands of an author who is also a teacher, the subject matter is explained clearly. The 158 pages of dense information (happily well illustrated) might overwhelm Swiss wine beginners but for anyone who is interested in this country’s wines, it will quickly become a key reference tool.
Cépages suisses, José Vouillamoz
15 x 23.5 cm, paperback
160 pages illustrated in colour, in French
to order: Editions Favre, Lausanne
ISBN : 978-2-8289-1630-5
Where oh where to eat and drink?
Two well-established guides to wining and dining in Switzerland prove their worth again this year, and if you have the time and budget to eat out, you should have both of these in your library. The hefty Guide Bleu / la suisse gourmande showed up at my house first. It is only the second year for this guide to 680 eateries, but it fills a gap by pointing to both top-end and more affordable popular little dining spots. The Guide Bleu points you to 10 categories, with prices ranging from CHF400 up to under CHF50 per person, wine included. You can search by canton, city, price, type of restaurant and ones that are open on Sunday or Monday (yes!). In short, an eminently useful guide for those who love to eat out, especially for anyone traveling around Switzerland – but it’s not a pocket book, so check out your options before you leave home.
Guide Bleu / La Suisse Gourmande
688 pages 15 x 21.5 cm softcover, in French
from Editions Attinger
Gault & Millau Suisse 2018 Edition romande is a slimmer paperback, but don’t let that fool you. Inside the covers are details about 380 of the country’s best restaurants. Considering that Switzerland has more top-level restaurants per capita than anywhere in the world, this is no small feat. Newcomer chefs and restaurants, changes at each dining heaven, upgraded wine menus – all are described in mouth-watering detail. Gault & Millau is more than a restaurant reviewer with years of experience; it is also a key player in the food and wine business in Switzerland. The 100 best wineries in Switzerland that are included in the book are a selection that is keenly awaited each year.
I spoke yesterday with Knut Schwander, who is responsible for the French-speaking Switzerland edition and he was enthusiastic about a new and important change this year. Publisher Ringier Axel Springer has developed a very good web site that is a partner to the book, with news and reviews of restaurants and much more, included recipes from chefs who appear in the guide. If you’re into the best of food and wine, the web site will appeal to you – richly illustrated by this publisher who also produces Illustré and several specialty magazines.
- Gault & Millau edition romande (French-speaking areas)
- format 13.5 x 21 cm, in French / CHF29.90 + shipping
- Buy from the publisher
Last but not least, the perfect book in English on Swiss wines
And here is a little plug for my own book on Swiss wines.
Read the reviews for Vineglorious! Switzerland’s Wondrous World of Wines, published 2014 and still selling well! The perfect holiday or travel gift.
ellenbooks price: CHF24 plus handling and shipping
- 144 pages
- 300 illustrations
- 52 grape varieties described
- weighs 540 grams