The Grapevine – Comfort Food that Brings People Together

The Swiss are a smart and pragmatic lot.  Fondue has been the national communal dish of Switzerland since the early 1930’s.  One of Switzerland’s great resources is their dairy products. The Swiss Cheese Union decided to run a promotional campaign advocating cheese consumption at home.  Could there be a better way to encourage an entire country to eat cheese than to create a pot of warm, gooey goodness in the form of melted cheese?  From a practical standpoint this was a way to use leftover scraps of cheese and bread. If there is a better example of a meal that brings family and friends together at the table than Fondue, I am hard pressed to think of it.

This delectable dish is enjoying resurgence, perhaps a symptom of a burdensome economy.  After all, the origin of this dish was a function of not wasting leftover bread and cheese.  Can you imagine a better comfort food than Fondue?

Switzerland is a melting pot of culture, with 26 cantons and four different languages.  Fondue is defined as “melted” by the French with the first recipes dating back to the 18th century.  Modern fondue recipes vary throughout Switzerland, depending completely on regional terroir and the type of cheeses that are produced and wines that are used.

During the 1950’s in New York a Swiss chef put a new spin on Fondue, chocolate and beef.  But when in Rome, or in this case Switzerland, do as the Swiss do, and just say cheese.  Crusty bread is a must for Fondue and the cheese mustn’t be too runny, just thick enough to engulf the bread.  There are a few rules that apply to Fondue as well; no salads allowed, but cured meats like those available at my favorite Italian Delicatessen Tagliare, are welcome.  Cheryl Bregen, owner of Tagliare, offers the very finest selection of cured meats, cold cuts, and cheeses.

Rule number two when eating Fondue; the wine used to make your pot of Fondue with should complement the dish but never leave a lasting impression.  This means using wine you would like to drink, not just plonk that you would use to cook with.  Rule number three; the Swiss only allow white wine or tea to be consumed at dinner with Fondue, as they believe these are the two drinks that best pair with the meal and also aid in the digestion of the cheese.  The last rule that the Swiss adhere to: if you lose your bread in the pot you’re buying a round of drinks for everyone at the table.

Fondue is an Old World dish and my favorite recipe is a blend of cheeses and an Old World Sparkling Wine from Spain, Cristalino Cava Extra Dry Brut.

Just as Fondue is enjoying resurgence in popularity so is the Chenin Blanc grape varietal.  Chenin Blanc is a grape that is made in an Old World and New World style.  What’s the difference?

Old World wines are made by design; the wine is a complement to food indigenous within the region.  Typically the wines are smooth and easy to drink and pair with the foods of the area very naturally.  Old World wines exude restraint, express subtle nuances of sense of place, are understated yet complex, and are sophisticated wines that present as simple.

New World wines are made to drink and are not made to complement foods from a given region.  New World wines pair well with food but have not been made with the same purpose or design as an Old World wine.  New World winemaking is driven attention to terroir, or sense of place.  Many of the New World winemakers that I encounter today incorporate science with Old World winemaking technique and style.

Chenin Blanc is a versatile grape produced as a standalone varietal or as a blending grape in the Old World, typically with Chardonnay.  It is dry, crisp, acidic, high in alcohol content, yet smooth and a full-bodied white wine.

Wines made from the Chenin Blanc grape are aromatic, floral, with intense notes of tropical fruits on the nose.  On the palate this grape delivers a wide spectrum of flavors and textures, expressing citrus, lemongrass, spiciness, a little bit of honey, and lush tropical fruit.

This grape is commonly referred to as the “chameleon,” because it is diverse and can be made in many varying styles.  In the Loire Valley of France, Chenin Blanc is known as Vouvray.

The Loire Valley is well known not only for its wines but is also the summer playground of the rich, famous and royalty.  The countryside of the Loire Valley is embellished with scores of elegant and enormous chateaux.

While the Loire Valley is the largest white wine-producing region in France, it is also the second largest producer of sparkling wine.  But what the region is truly famous for is Chenin Blanc.

Vouvray from the Loire Valley is offered in three different styles; dry which is known as (Sec), medium-dry or (Demi-Sec), sweet (Moelleux, m wah leuh), or as a sparkling wine.  New World winemakers strive for dry Chenin Blanc that is crisp, intense, and floral.

Old World winemakers ferment their wines at higher temperatures and age their Chenin Blanc wines in acacia and chestnut barrels.   This Old World technique produces wines that are well rounded with a greater depth of color.   Winemakers from the New World use steel tanks for fermenting and aging.   This technique preserves crispiness, acidity, and fruitiness, all desirable attributes of a well made Chenin Blanc wine.

Chenin Blanc wine pairs perfectly with Fondue.  If you visit my blog at; I have my favorite Fondue recipe that I’m sharing.  Please enjoy the wines I am recommending.

Marc Bredif Vouvray 2008 from the Loire Valley, France

This is one of the finest examples of Vouvray I have ever tasted.  Visually this wine is scintillating, presenting a gorgeous pale gold yellow.  On the nose this wine is intense with floral and fruit driven scent.  Marc Bredif Vouvray is perfectly deceptive on the entry and then reveals itself as lush and full on the mid-palate.  Crisp, lush, yet a slight tart quality with a little citrus and lemongrass.  This wine is big on flavor yet beautifully dry.  The palate experiences wonderful fruit led by exquisite pineapple and a supporting cast of tropical fruits.  The color is pale gold yellow with an intense and fruity nose.

L’Ecole N° 41  2010 Chenin Blanc – Columbia Valley

Founded in 1983, they are the third oldest winery in the Walla Walla Valley.  They focus is on terroir-driven, distinctive, and expressive wines.  All of L’Ecole’s Walla Walla Valley wines are made from grapes which are certified sustainable.

This fresh, tart and delightfully fruity Chenin Blanc shows Asian pear, perfumed honeysuckle and orange blossom aromas with flavors of apple, apricot, and grapefruit on a crisp mineral, lightly sweet finish.

These wines and other great selections are available at Liquid Planet, the very best of beverage, in the heart of Downtown Missoula  on the Hip Strip. Simply ask any of their amazing staff, and they will be sure to assist you with anything you need. Be sure to enjoy winter’s perfect meal, Fondue and Chenin Blanc.

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