Saturday, 15 June 2013

The Swiss gem

What a treat to be invited to a Swiss wine tasting lunch a few months ago. It was an intimate gathering of just eight of us, including couple Damien Fleury and Cissy Li, owners of The Swiss Wine Store. Damien, from the French speaking part of Switzerland, is keen to bring the artisan wines of his home country to this market.

We all have our Swiss indulgences: cheese, chocolate, watches and, for some, even bankers; but Swiss wine? Well, it’s not surprising that not many are available in Hong Kong. The total vineyard area in Switzerland is 15,000 ha. To give you some perspective, that is only half the size of Burgundy, or 1/8 of Bordeaux, and equivalent to a mere 15% of Hong Kong's total land area. Its production—0.4% of the world total—is mainly consumed within the country, and we outsiders have to share just 2% of its production, about 3 million bottles for the whole world outside Switzerland.

As in other European countries, wine making history in Switzerland can be traced back to Roman times. There are about 50 varieties planted nowadays, including around ten indigenous varieties which have very small planted areas. As I have mentioned before, I always have a soft spot for native varieties as they reflect the culture and soul of the place, and I was not let down by the Swiss ones at all.

We had four whites, two made from Fendant (Chasselas), the symbol of Swiss white wine representing nearly a third of the total area under vine. It is a neutral variety and so can be expressive of the ‘terroir’. In Valais the wine has a herbal and spicy nose and a smoky finish; it made a great accompaniment to our Swiss cheese and air dried beef aperitif.

I was particularly impressed by the Petite Arvine from the Collection Chandra Kurt, a powerful wine with citrus and ginger notes supported by lively acidity. There is a story behind this collection. It is a collaboration between Madeleine Gay, Swiss winemaker of the year 2008, and Chandra Kurt, a swiss wine writer who first visited Valais, the country's biggest wine region, some 20 years ago. The Collection has six wines made with indigenous grapes and aims to showcase the traditions and history of Valais. Well, I always love wine with a story behind it!

The two reds we tried were Humagne Rouge—yes, another indigenous variety. It is lively with cherry, violet aromas and smooth tannin and reminded me of Dolcetto. It went pretty well with the duck leg confit.

With such a small production, Swiss wines are not cheap (from HK$380 up). But luckily, like all pricey Swiss products, they are backed by quality. They would be perfect for a celebration or just to savour with some like-minded friends. With only 65ha under vine each (0.4% of total Swiss wine production), Petite Arvine and Humagne Rouge might well be more exclusive than a Bordeaux First Growth!

Wines we tried, available from The Swiss Wine Store:

These six wines are from Jean-René Germanier
1. Fendant Balavaud Grand Cru AOC Valais 2011
2. Arvine Réserve AOC Valais Reserve 2008
3. Humagne Rouge AOC Valais 2011
4. Humagne Réserve AOC Valais 2009
5. Amigne de Vétroz 2 Bees AOC Valais 2011
6. Mitis, Amigne de Vétroz AOC Valais Reserve 2008

7. Luc Massy Dézaley Chemin de Fer Garnd Cru AOC Lavaux 2011
8. Provins Valais ‘Collection Chandra Kurt’ Petite Arvine du Valais 2011 (The entire collection is available in Hong Kong)

Also a big thanks to Fishful Season Restaurant (Reservation: +852 2590 0690) in Tai Hang. If you are looking for a cosy private party for 10-12 people, this is the place.

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