What a pleasant surprise to discover that one of the special offers at the Coop is a wine that enchanted me last July – and that it’s just as good in winter as in summer.
The Bonvins are a large clan in Valais and not surprisingly, many of them do indeed make good wine. In this case we’re talking about the Charles Bonvin et fils in Sion, who in 2008 have been celebrating their 150th anniversary.
Their Fendant Sans Culotte would be remarkable if for no other reason than its name. I created a bit of a stir when I visited the Bonvins last summer by asking how it got its name. I would translate it as “without underpants,” although you could probably find a more elegant translation (no breeches?). No one seemed to know and the possibilities were stirred around without an answer surfacing.
How do you give a wine such a name and not jot down the reason in the history book? But then, last week I wrote that no one remembers who exactly called the first computer mouse a mouse, probably because no one thought the name would be around a billion mice later.
Sans Culotte is a Fendant just the way I like them: sharp and very slightly bubbly, with a wonderful nose of flowers and mineral that brings to mind the gravelly terraces in the heart of Valais wine country where these grapes grow.
There are strong and wonderfully pleasant notes of citrus fruits, particularly grapefruit. I found it hard to keep my nose out of the glass.
This is a delicately pale gold wine, but it does a fine job of reflecting the world around it, in my case the first good clementines of the season, a bowl of them cheering the evening room when dark comes too soon outside.
It’s the perfect bottle to serve with a flourish when guests come by, an excellent classic Swiss white. And it is a classic, made here since before the railroad arrived in Valais. The Bonvins pride themselves on having the oldest wine commerce in the canton. Charles-Marie Bonvin registered his company in 1858 and played a key role in the development of the canton’s wine industry in its early days.
I thoroughly enjoyed the wine last week with a beautifully steamed fish, but it has enough character to be drunk with other, more flavourful foods and it is very good with cheese with a touch of sharpness, well-aged slivers of cellar-dried raclette, for example.
Enjoy it now – it’s a wine happily drunk young. But make sure you have another bottle in the summer, on a warm sunny day. Here’s how you do it: take a hike along the bisse de Clavau walk and stop at La Guérite de Brûlefer, a large hut and balcony among the vines, overlooking the Rhone. Food and wine are on offer, from simple snacks to heartier fare. One hot day, one cool glass of Sans Culotte and a spectacular view: it doesn’t get much better than this. Unless you have a second glass, of course.
Worth viewing, the family’s online photo exhibit, with images from the 19th century.