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A Quick Trip To Switzerland

January 19, 2021 Leave a comment

Switzerland might be one of my most favorite countries in the world. Considering the travel-deprived state of mind I could, of course, say this about almost any place – but here my logic is very simple. I’m going by the number of happy memories just a mention of the place induces – and Switzerland is definitely on top of that list.

I don’t even need to close my eyes to imagine a slow walk around Lake Geneva, wandering around the streets of Zurich looking for a place for an authentic meal, or 3 hours lunch ending in the grappa shots with an owner.

How do you travel to Switzerland when travel is not a thing? On this blog, it is easy. You have three quick travel options – 1. wine, 2. food, and 3. combination of both. For today’s trip, I’m going with #3 – food and wine.

What food would you typically associate with Switzerland? This is not even a fair question, as Swiss food differs depending on where you are – around Geneva, you will mostly find French influence, Zurick – German, and Lausanne – Italian. While my idea of quintessential Swiss food can be regarded as cliche, it is nevertheless my first association – Fondue. I’m talking about classic cheese fondue, which to me is not so much food, but more of the lifestyle element. I have no idea how fondue is regarded in Switzerland and if it is relegated to the level of tourist attraction only, but for me, fondue equals a pleasant evening with friends, a slow conversation about nothing next to the gently crackling fireplace.

For the new year’s present, I got a classic fondue pot, courtesy of the kids. We followed the recipe enclosed with our SwissMar fondue set – I used California Pinot Gris from Field Recordings as a wine base and a mix of freshly grated Emmentaler and Gruyere cheeses. The result was not amazing, but good enough – however, I think we will look for different cheeses for the next time.

To call Fondue an experience, it must be accompanied by wine. When I discovered fondue first in the US, ways before my first trip to Switzerland, our choice of wine pairing was Sherry with some nice residual sweetness. I later learned that typically Fondue is served with local dry white wine, often made out of Chasselas grape.

Switzerland makes lots of great wines, but those are practically unknown outside of the country, as the majority of the wines are consumed locally (only about 1% of the total wine production is exported). While some of the grape varieties in Switzerland are generic, such as Pinot Noir and Gamay, there are many grapes that are quite unique in their popularity and origin, such as Chasselas, Arvine Grosso, Petitte Arvine, and many others.

One of my best memories of Switzerland is a dinner in the winemaker’s cave at the winery in Bursinel. We were served local ham, which had a superbly delicious garlicky crust. I still remember (10 years after) that it was melting in the mouth and disappearing faster than the refill was able to arrive. Accompanying that ham was Chasselas, roughly 30 years old, which showed some oxidative notes but otherwise was fresh, round, and delicious. After that dinner I got a bottle of Chasselas to bring home – 2008 Au Grand Clos Le Coeur de le Cote Bursinel AOC (12.1% ABV).

When you have only one bottle of wine, deciding when to open it is missing impossible, especially for the undecisive oenophile like myself. But I was really craving Fondue for a while, and this Chasselas was a perfect choice to maximize the authenticity of the experience and have an overflow of memories and positive emotions, so the cork was pulled – well, actually, I’m lying – the wine had a screwtop.

I was expecting oxidative notes to show up, but they didn’t (screwtop?). The wine was perfectly fresh, crisp, clean, with a good minerally-driven nose, and good creaminess on the palate to perfectly compliment the cheese. I didn’t even need to close my eyes to imagine myself in Switzerland. A superb experience. And the usual regret of bringing home just one bottle instead of a case.

My quick trip was a definite success, so now I need to decide where I’m going next. How about you? What were your successful [virtual] travels lately?

An Evening With Friends

January 7, 2020 Leave a comment

What is your favorite part about wine? Is it the taste? The buzz? The sheer appearance of the bottle sometimes resembling the work of art? The joy of owning an exclusive object? The coveted status symbol?

My answer will be simple. My favorite part about wine is the ability to share it. Take a sip, reflect, have a conversation, preferably a slow-paced one. Friends are the best pairing for wine. Opportunity to share the experience, pleasure, and joy. Sharing makes it all worth it.

New Year celebration (the main holiday for anyone with the Russian upbringing) is a multi-step process for us. We like to celebrate the arrival of the New Year as many times as possible – the evening before the New Year, a midnight Champagne toast, the New Year’s day dinner, and more dinners shortly after (this is when the bathroom scales are the worst nemesis). Some or all of these dinners have to include friends – and it is the best when friends share your wine passion.

Such was our dinner on Saturday, bringing together a group of friends who truly enjoy what the wine world has to offer. We all contributed to the evening, both with food and wines, to make it fun and interesting. Below is the transcript of our wine extravaganza, with highs, lows, and surprises.

While we were getting ready to start our dinner, our first wine was something unique and different – how many of you know what Piquette means? It appears that Piquette is yet another type of sparkling wines. The story of Piquette goes back to 18th century France when the whole wine industry was in full disarray. Piquette is literally made by converting water into the wine – using water to rehydrate grape skins left after the wine production. We had 2019 Field Recordings Tang Piquette Central Coast (7.1% ABV, Rehydrated skins of Pinot Gris and Chenin Blanc) which was made using this exact process – grape skins were hydrated in well water for a week, then pressed, after which a little bit of the table wine was added, and the wine was bottled with leftover yeast and sugar to continue fermenting right in the bottle. To me, the wine was reminiscent of cider – light fizz, fresh apple notes, cloudy appearance of a nice unfiltered cider. Would I drink this wine again? On a hot summer day – yes, why not, but this is not the wine I would actively seek.

It is difficult to assess the “uniqueness” of the wines. There can be many reasons for the “unique” wine designation – small production, wine not produced every vintage, the wine which is no longer produced. There are, of course, many other reasons. How about spending 10 years to finally make about 200 (!) bottles of a drinkable wine? Don’t know about you, but this is unquestionably unique in my book. And so there was 2017 Olivier Pittet Les Temps Passés Vin de Pays Romand Switzerland (14.2% ABV, Arvine Grosso). Petite Arvine is a popular white grape in Switzerland, producing nice, approachable white wines. On another hand, Petite Arvine’s sibling, nearly extinct thick-skinned Arvine Grosso (or Gross Arvine), is a nightmare to grow and to work with. This was the Arvine Grosso which took about 10 years to restore the plantings and achieve a drinkable result. The wine needed a few minutes to open up – then it was delicious, fresh, with a touch of underripe white plums, bright acidity and full-body, similar to Marsanne/Roussanne. I wish this wine would be a bit easier to procure and not just through a friend who lives in Switzerland…

I was happy that Stefano brought a bottle of 2008 Berlucchi Palazzo Lana Satèn Riserva Franciacorta (12% ABV) – I love Franciacorta sparkling wines, they always offer a playful variation of the classic Champagne. Berlucchi is the founder of the Franciacorta sparkling wine movement. This wine was also a Satèn, a unique Franciacorta creation, which is specifically made to be a bit gentler than a typical Champagne with the lesser pressure in the bottle. The wine was soft, fresh, delicate, and admired by the whole table enough to disappear literally in the instance.

The next wine was as unique as only inaugural vintage can be. Christophe Baron is best known as Washington Syrah master, with his Cayuse, No Girls, and Horsepower lines. But Christophe’s roots are actually in Champagne, so it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that he decided to embrace his heritage. The first bottling, with a promise of many more, was as unique as all Christophe Baron’s wines are – pure Pinot Meunier, vintage, and bottled only in magnums – 2014 Champagne Christophe Baron Brut Nature Les Hautes Blanches Vignes Charly-Sur-Marne (12.5% ABV, 100% Pinot Meunier, 1613 1.5L bottles produced). I made a mistake of slightly overchilling the wine, but it came to its senses shortly after it was opened. The wine was nicely sublime, with all the Champagne traits present – the acidity, brioche, apples – everything balanced and elegant. This was definitely an excellent rendition of Champagne, but to be entirely honest, at around $300 it costs considering tax and shipping, I’m not sure it was unique enough to justify the price. Oh well… definitely was an experience.

Before we move to the reds, a few words about the food. The New Year celebration is a special occasion, which is asking for a special menu. Our typical New Year dinner menu is heavy with appetizers and salads. Our staple salads are “traditional” – Olivie and “Herring under the fur coat”. For the appetizers, we had red caviar, bacon-wrapped dates, stuffed Belgium endives, different kinds of cold cuts and cheeses, tiny prosciutto/pecorino sandwiches, and I’m sure some other stuff. Tea-smoked duck and delicious lasagna comprised the main course, then finishing with loads of baked goods and candies. Yeah, don’t even think about dragging me onto a bathroom scale.

Let’s get back to wine.

The next wine belongs to the “interesting” category. NV Channing Daughters Over and Over Variation Twelve Long Island (12.5% ABV, Merlot, Dornfelder, Syrah, 208 cases produced), a multi-vintage wine which is produced using Ripasso and Solera methods. The name “Over and Over” is emblematic of the production method of this wine – there are many manipulations which I will not even try to describe – you better read it here. I’m all for the fun and complexity, but my problem is that I tasted the standard vintage Channing Daughters red wines which were literally identical to this Over and Over wine. It is great to play with your wine, no questions – but only if the end result is different, and better than the individual parts. The wine showed very youthful, with fresh crunchy fruit and cut through acidity – but it was lacking complexity. It is not a bad wine, but I was not moved by it.

Next up – 1996 Château Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc AOC (12.5% ABV) – this was a happy wine. The cork came out easily in one piece, and the wine was perfect from the get-go. The perfect minty nose of Bordeaux with a touch of cassis, some hints of mature fruit on the palate, but only the hints – still good acidity, solid core, excellent balance – the wine to enjoy. Yep, was gone in no time.

Of course, the duck on the menu is calling for the Pinot Noir, and what can be better than the Burgundy? 2007 Louis Jadot Grands Echézeaux Grand Cru AOC (13.5% ABV) was our designated match for the duck. The wine opened up beautifully, with succulent plums and a touch of smoke, a delicious, classic Burgundy. However, the joy lasted in the glass for about 10 minutes or so – next, all the fruit was gone, and while you know you are drinking wine, this wine had no sense of place of origin. I don’t know what happened – the wine closed up, needed more time, or was already at the last stretch of its life? Don’t know, and don’t think I will ever find out. Well, there is always another bottle, right?

Now, let’s talk about surprises. No, not the Chateau d’Yquem, which you would assume should qualify as a surprise – the 1999 Finca Villacreces Crianza Ribera Del Duero (13% ABV) was a real surprise. I heard the name of Finca Villacreces as one of the venerable Ribera del Duero producers, but I never had it before. When I was able to score this wine at the Benchmark Wine, I was very excited. The New Year’s celebration seemed to be a perfect opportunity to open it, especially as nobody had it before and we were all looking forward to getting acquainted.

The cork came out easily, in one piece with no sign of any issues. Once I poured the wine into the glass, on the first whiff, the scary thought instantly showed up – the wine might be corked. I tasted the wine, and it seemed just a touch off – it didn’t feel unquestionably corked, but the fruit was not coherent and the wine had sharp, raspy undertones which in my experience are associated with the corked wine. We moved the wine into the decanter and continued tasting it throughout the evening – it stayed practically unchanged.

This was not some random bottle I can get replaced at any store, so I really couldn’t just pour it out. And I’m an eternal optimist. So I used plastic wrap to cover the top of the decanter and left the wine standing there overnight. The next day, about 22-23 hours since the wine was opened, I decided to check on it. Oh my god. The wine completely changed. The hint of the musty cellar was gone. The mighty fruit appeared on the palate, layered, present, velvety and powerful, covering your whole mouth and making you extort “ohh, this is good”. I thoroughly enjoyed the wine after 24 hours in the decanter, and even the next day the tiny leftover was still drinkable. How is this possible? What has happened? I don’t have any answers, but if you have any ideas, please share.

We finished the dinner on the high note – 1988 Château d’Yquem Lur-Saluces Sauternes AOC (13.5% ABV). I’m you sure you don’t need any introductions here – Château d’Yquem is the Bordeaux legend, an absolute hallmark of the Sauternes region, with every other Sauternes wine simply measured against the Château d’Yquem. A perfect pop of the cork from this bottle was music to my ears. The nose and the palate of this wine were in full harmony – it was all about apricots. Fresh apricots, dried apricots, candied apricots – the taste kept moving round and round. The apricots were supported by clean acidity, which became more noticeable as the wine had an opportunity to breathe. Well, this was a short time window in any case, as this half bottle was simply gone in the instance. This 32 years old wine was truly an experience and a perfect finish to our great evening with friends.

That’s all I have for you, my friends. How 2020 started for you? What did you have a chance to discover over the last few days? Cheers!

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