By Mark Middlebrook
In the spirit of scientific inquiry and the pursuit of a swell evening, a hungry herd of Market Hall employees and customers recently participated in a Rockridge raclette-fest and Alpine wine tasting. We stocked up on Raclette cheese, gherkins, and Speck from the Pasta Shop, small potatoes and mushrooms from Market Hall Produce, and a bunch of bottles from Paul Marcus Wines. A subsequent tally of the empty bottles revealed these as the Alpine wine winners:
The département of Savoie in eastern France makes Raclette (the cheese), raclette (the dish from the cheese of the same name), and white wines that go well with both. Château de Ripaille's Vin de Savoie 2005 ($9.99) is an excellent example. This wine is made entirely from the grape variety called chasselas, which also is popular in the wines of Switzerland (where it's called fendant). Château de Ripaille's vineyards sit a stone's throw from Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) and not too far from Geneva itself. The wine is medium-bodied, fresh, and moderately fruity, with a mineral twist.
Domaine Jean-Pierre et Jean-François Quénard Chignin 2005 ($9.99) is another inexpensive find from Savoie. This wine comes from the southern part of the département, near Chambéry, and is 100% Jacquèrre, the principle grape variety of Savoie. It resembles the Ripaille wine, with a slightly lighter touch and a bit more crisp acidity.
Northwest of Savoie lies the département of Jura, source of some of the most distinctive wines in France. Jura winemakers traditionally allow their white wines to oxidize, in the manner of a dry Sherry. André & Mireille Tissot Arbois 'Sélection' 2002 ($24) is a gentle introduction to traditional Jura wines. It's a blend of Chardonnay and Savagnin (a local grape variety - not to be confused with sauvignon) with the pungent, nutty aromas of an oxidative wine but plenty of fresh fruit flavors and vibrant acidity on the palate. It was a stylish and unique companion to the earthy components in the Raclette cheese.
Over on the Italian side of the Alps, the spectacular Dolomites tower above equally spectacular vineyards in the Alto Adige region. The region is called Südtirol in German; this area was part of Austria until after World War I. German remains the first language of many of the winemakers - and many of their wine labels. They may not make raclette there, but as in Switzerland, cheese, potatoes, cured meats, and all manner of other stick-to-your-ribs food are central to Südtirolese cuisine.
So it's not surprising that we found Abbazia di Novacella Valle Isarco Sylvaner 2005 ($17) a happy white wine match for our raclette-fest. This is classic mountain wine: racy, mineral, and clean, but with plenty of body for hearty fare. It's like drinking a glacier, as well as a piece of history. Wine has been made in this abbey ("abbazia") for eight centuries now.
While white wine is the traditional accompaniment to raclette, light-bodied, high-acid reds work, too. Georg Mumelter Griesbauerhof St. Magdalener 2005 ($13.99) certainly worked for us. St. Magdalener is a traditional blend of indigenous Alto Adige grape varieties: 90% schiava and 10% lagrein. The flavors are bright red cherries framed in plenty of mouth-watering acidity - perfect for cutting through the richness of cheese.
The Savoie wines confirmed the wisdom of "if it grows together, it goes together." But Jura and the Alto Adige suggest a less strict adage that can be just as delicious and fun: "With mountain food that's fine, try an Alpine wine."
Edible East Bay
This issue includes an article by Mark tracing the mad adventures of Don Bigote and his enigmatic sidekick Wry One in search of tapas in the East Bay: Tapeo by the Bay.
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Food and Wine Notebooks