Swiss Wine Week 2014

PrintIf you love Swiss wines and are living in or near Switzerland (or even planning a visit in the next ten days), there’s a treat in store. From the 20th to the 30th of November, it’s Swiss Wine Week. Which means what, exactly? It’s a joint initiative by Swiss Wine Promotion (whose new logo is featured left) and Sierre-based Swiss wine event organisers Vinea. The aim is to shake Swiss restaurant-goers and winemakers out of their usual - dare I say boring? - habits and cajole them into tasting wines from some part of Switzerland other than their own.

vineyards above Chamoson, ValaisIf you know this tiny country well, you’ll be aware that when eating out in - for example - the Valais, top of any wine list will be sundry Fendants, Doles, Pinot Noirs and Syrahs from that rugged, sunbaked, mountainous region. In neighbouring Canton Vaud, you’ll be offered Chasselas from some of those stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site vineyards above Lake Geneva – Saint-Saphorin, Dézaley, Epesses, Aigle & Company.

Further north in the Bündner Herrschaft villages of Graubünden, lucky diners can count on an impressive array of local Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays (or even a Completer). Down in the Italian-speaking part it’ll be an expressive Merlot del Ticino from the vineyard visible from the window of the Osteria. And so on – you get the picture.

The Swiss are faithful to their own regions and to their local wines. Nothing wrong with that (France, where I live, is the same, or worse – if you count this a sin). But it’s also fun to branch out occasionally, take a look at what others are doing, either with the same grapes or with quite different ones.

This is where Swiss Wine Week comes in. For the next ten days, around 200 participating restaurants up and down the country are offering their customers either a three-course menu where each course is paired with a different, non-local wine; or simply a suggested match for three of their à la carte dishes, each with a wine from another Swiss region.

Below are some of the wines tasted today at the Restaurant Loetschberg in Bern, which they will be featuring during Swiss Wine Week (okay, it’s ten days, but that just gives you more time to try them out.) And check out the list of participating restaurants, some of whom have outlined the menus, dishes and wines they will be serving. For those living in or near Basel, these include the Schlüsselzunft, Bon Vivant and the admirable Hotel Krafft, and there are plenty more.

Have fun, make some discoveries – and be sure to share your findings with us.

Vacherin Mont d’Or – an Autumn Treat

vacherinmontd'or-1

a Swiss Mont d’Or from Hauser in the Jura

Autumn signals open season for one of the greatest cheeses known to woman: a wondrous, washed-rind, cow’s milk cheese that comes on the market every September, made in small dairies in the Jura mountains, on both the Swiss and French sides of the border. Continue reading

Bistrot la Cave, Saint-Louis

1-2-IMG_9919It’s a well-established fact that you’re never going to go hungry – or thirsty – in Alsace. At one end of the scale there are good-to-great places (L’Auberge de l’Ill inter alia); at the other there are decent enough Winstubs (wine bars with a über-trad dishes of the choucroute, tarte a l’oignon school). But then in the squeezed middle, that bit where I’m always hoping to find interesting, fun food with a smidge of creativity, at sensible-not-silly prices and quirky wines by the glass, there’s a socking great hole. Continue reading

Savouring Sicily

Chiesa San Giuseppe, Ragusa Ibla, SicilySeptember is the moment to savour Sicily. The skies are still deep azure (think Quink royal blue), which shows off to perfection the sparkling white of Baroque jewels like Scicli, Modica, Ragusa and Noto. The sea is reliably warm, the midday sun delicious but not impossibly dazzling, the evenings balmy, the nights agreeably cool. Best of all, the crowds have flown north again - to Rome, Milan, Paris, London – leaving you the pick of hotels, B&Bs and villas. And as in any place that’s annually steamrollered by summer crowds, the local people are learning to smile again, they’re more chilled in this back-season, whether in the mercato, trattoria, gelateria or cantina. Continue reading

Crown jewels: venison liver, kidneys AND heart

1-autumn walkIt’s dusk on a dying summer’s evening and the doorbell rings. Our local chasseur (hunter) is on the doorstep, wreathed in smiles. He’s just been out in the woods checking up on the deer and wild boar population (as he is contracted to do by our commune) and he’s shot a roe deer. It will take him a little while to butcher the beast, but would I like him to set aside the liver for me?

I love game and I’m very partial to the Fifth Quarter (aka offal or organ meats), but I’ve never tasted venison liver. What’s clear from his body language (he’s wriggling and grinning like a delighted spaniel with a prize bone) is that this is quite an honour, and that the liver constitutes something of a trophy. After the merest moment’s hesitation, I tell him yesssss, I’d love it. He disappears to do his butchery, giving me just enough time to pull down from the shelf my fave book on game, Nichola Fletcher’s Ultimate Venison Cookery. On page 199 I read: “Venison liver is one of life’s great gastronomic treats.” Continue reading

Weingut Dr Heger, Ihringen, Baden/Germany

1-IMG_6533

Vineyards around Durbach in the Ortenau region of Baden

One of the [many] perks of living here astride three borders (France, Germany, Switzerland) is that we’re within striking distance of some fine vineyards, each with their own distinctive grape varieties and winemaking styles.

When stocks of Riesling, Gewurz or Muscat dip below danger levels, we head up to Alsace’s Route des Vins. To top up on the Pinot family (Blanc, Gris and Noir, aka Weissburgunder, Graubunder and Spätburgunder) we cross the Rhine to Baden. And when we get homesick for Swiss wines (Petite Arvine, Cornalin, Humagne or even Chasselas), the lack of world-class vineyards in the Basel region is amply compensated by the trusty Coop, which has a good selection of all of the above (go armed with the latest ed. of Chandra Kurt’s Weinseller).

The best way to discover what makes a winery tick, how/where the wine’s grown and how it was made is – of course – to meet the wine maker and taste his/her wines sur place. This is easy around here. For some you can just fetch up on the doorstep; better still, ring to make an appointment. Others have open days when you can taste the full range. Continue reading

New Workshops for Autumn/Fall

1-1-capo2Time to get cooking together again! Bettlach workshops will start up again soon and I’ve scheduled four sessions, from Savouring Sicily in September to a full-on Middle East Vegetable Feast in October. In November we’re back closer to home with some New Tastes of Switzerland for a possible future re-edition of my book A Taste of Switzerland, in print continuously since 1992. And finally, December will bring a workshop entitled Christmas is for Sharing, a selection of snappy little holiday bites to tempt even the most jaded/overfed palates. Go to the Workshops page for the full schedule. Continue reading

A Different Kind of Tarte Tatin

1-5-IMG_0770Tarte tatin doesn’t have to be made of pommes (aka apples). It can also be made with pommes de terre (aka spuds). Here’s a wicked recipe from Geoffroy Vieljeux, erstwhile host at one of the world’s most stylish B&Bs, Mas Parasol near Uzés, now sadly no longer functioning.

We’re talking an upside-down potato tart here. For this you need a bunch of firm, waxy potatoes, a cake tin, olive oil and a salty dough a bit like Salzteig. You arrange said potatoes in said cake tin, drizzle with olive oil, cover with the salty dough and bake. And here’s where we veer away a bit from the real Tarte Tatin, for the crust is completely inedible. Its sole purpose is to imprison all the goodness and flavour of the potatoes beneath and to season them gently the while. When the tatin is ready, you turn it out to reveal the by-now-gently-golden spuds, sitting up and begging to be speared with a fork. Here’s how: Continue reading

Blackcurrant Ice Cream – The Business

1-1-IMG_0732Redcurrants have their uses but – full disclosure – blackcurrants are streets ahead on flavour. If you like sorbet cassis, you’re going to love this recipe. Store-bought sorbet (even from Picard) is fine, but home-made blackcurrant ice cream is the business. Here’s how to make your own (and you don’t even need an ice cream maker):

 

First you cook the fruit briefly, sieve it and let it cool. Next you make a sugar syrup, boil it to the thread stage (not nearly as scary as it sounds, see the recipe), pour it onto egg yolks and beat like crazy. Separately (OK, so you do use a few bowls for this recipe but it’s worth it, I promise) you whip up some cream. Finally you combine all three (purée, yolks + sugar and whipped cream) and chuck it in the freezer. Sorted. Continue reading