If you’re at all interested in the wines of the Valais (is anyone NOT interested in the wines of the Valais?) you need to get yourself down asap to the Oenothèque of the Chateau de Villa in Sierre, in the heart of Switzerland’s largest and most rewarding winegrowing region.
An oenothèque is just a fancy name for a wine bar – except that this is not your average, run-of-the-mill wine bar. It’s The Place To Be in Sierre, especially on a Friday night when TGIF rules and chances are you’ll bump into the occasional vigneron celebrating his birthday. (This week it was the turn of star wine-grower/Parker “discovery” – except the rest of us got there first – Robert Taramarcaz, of Domaine des Muses in Sierre.) [I cut off half of him, below, to protect his anonymity…]
So what’s special about the Chateau’s wine bar? As owner/manager/wine buyer Fabrice Thorin explains, it’s a place of pilgrimage for lovers and potential discoverers of Valais’ vinous treasures. It’s a wine bar, yes, but it’s also a wine shop, a tiny deli where you can buy local specialities (cheese, sausages, air-dried meats, rye bread, honey…) and a fun place to hang out.
Thorin also makes a solera wine, a slightly oxidised creation reminiscent of vin jaune (except without the yeasty layer of flor on top), or the famous Gletscherwein from the Val d’Anniviers above Sierre. It lives in a burnished wooden vat in the cellar of treasures beside the wine bar and he tops it up from time to time with new wine. Occasionally he removes a glass or two with a giant pipette, to check up on its progress and/or to give curious customers a taste (lip-smackingly dry and lovely, quite like a fino).
Every week the Oenothèque offers a selection of 8 different wines by the glass from 4 local growers, usually a red and a white from each. Prices vary between about 4 and 8 Swiss francs. The week’s selection is posted on their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/chateaudevilla/.
The wines chosen by Thorin are drawn from 110 different winegrowers in the canton, from the very top of the valley near Visp (e.g. ancient specialities from Chanton, Heida and other delights from St Jodern Kellerei) and all the way downstream to Fully (e.g. wines meted out by the drop from legendary biodynamic grower Marie-Thérèse Chappaz). “They have to be wines that turn me on” (“il faut qu’un vin me fasse de l’émotion”), he says. I was turned on by Taramarcaz’s (aka The Birthday Boy)’s very alluring Heida (aka Paien, aka Savagnin) and delighted in a savoury, spicy, fresh and delish Humagne Rouge from St Germanus Kellerei in Raron.
The place was buzzing with people of all generations, from a chatty 16 year-old apprenticed to the local carpenter and his equally chatty mum who urged me to visit her terrific-sounding buvette (simple restaurant) called Le Petit Paradis high above the valley (next time), several women having a drink together, couples celebrating and various groups of older men…All were clearly having a ball, relishing a glass or two of local, characterful wine along with plates of cold meats cured by several different neighbourhood butchers and hunks of alp cheese made in the mountains that tower up above Sierre.
Been yet? Tempted? Time for a visit…
PS The Chateau also has a proper restaurant, whose speciality is some of the tastiest raclette cheese sourced from around 12 different alpages around the Valais, grilled/melted to perfection by a raclette-meister and served with tiny potatoes in their skins, pickles and cold meats. Another must for your next Valais visit.