First, think slow cooking. Really slow cooking. Second, a word of friendly advice: to taste wine the alpine way, don’t use Icewine. No, no, no, no, no. Don’t leave the grapes on the vine until they freeze, pick them before the sun comes up and squeeze them before they thaw. Leave that to the advertising gurus. Most of the water gets left behind, and what remains is concentrated, fruity, and rich … and tastes a bit like grapes left way too late on the vine and hurt by the world. If they were in the fridge, you’d have chucked them out in a Sunday cleaning weeks back. Save your $100 and do this a gentler way. Call this the Method of the Celts. They were doing it long before the Romans took over, and the Romans, and then the Swiss (who are the Celts) had the good sense not to mess with it. What you do is plant early-ripening grapes at 1300 metres altitude, under, say, the Bietschhorn, in the Jungfrau Group, in the Southern Alps, and let the altered climate do the work for you.
The Highest Vineyards in Europe, Vispertermine
That’s the Bietschhorn (3934 m.) in back. Its glaciers cool the intense southern sun. Italy is just a few minutes away.
And what if you’re not living in the old Celtic valleys of the Alps? No problem. First, remember that in places like British Columbia, winemakers are chasing the sun. They think they’re in California or Tuscany. You don’t want their wine for fondue, either. A few who are cleverer are chasing the cold. Those are the ones. They’ve moved farther north. Here’s the Larch Hills Semillon I use for a fondue base. Here’s the man who makes it, Jack Manser. Next door to his winery is a ski hill. That’s the way. Another winery producing excellent wines this manner is the Sunnybrae Winery on Shuswap Lake, far north of any common thinking on winemaking sanity. Don’t be fooled. This is very sane wine, better than most in the hot Okanagan to the south.
Suynnybrae Vineyard, Sunnbybrae
If you don’t have a glacier nearby, then let the continental cold chill your grapes, and let the mountains hold the sun to temper it.
Yes, the recipe is coming! First, the preparation. This is the Sunnybrae way:
Siegerrebe Grapes, Sunnybrae
Another way to balance the seasons in the early prep for making fondue looks a little stranger:
This grey fungus, Botrytis cinerea, concentrates grape juices in a similar manner to ice wine, but matures them at the same time. The best late harvest white wines of the world are produced in this way. Compared to them, icewine is just marketing schtick.
Again, one plays with season length and light levels in this way. This kind of wine was invented in the Rheingau, at Johannisberg, but is also popular here, at the southern entrance to the Rhine Gorge, at Ehrenfels…
The Schlossberg from the Bingen Ferry
These late season grapes shedding their leaves in the November fog of 2010 are edging towards a fine late harvest and splendid noble rot. That’s the ruin of Castle Ehrenfels in the middle of the image. I came back in June this year and picked wild strawberries in the old castle garden. Can’t beat that!
And what on earth is wine like this for? Aha! This, straight from the Alps:
Cheese Fondu Neufchateloise
To substitute for a Swiss Fondant, look for a Chasselas, a Semillon (best!), or a very subtle Riesling. As for the bread, make your own baquettes, if you can. It would be best to make them on the thin side, to get some good solid crust. If you must buy them, look for a very solid baguette. If you can’t get that, I suggest you change the menu and make cheese toasts.
We had fondue last night to welcome the new year. The addition of Okanagan Spirits Choke Cherry Kirsch (instead of the Austrian plonk normally brought across the Atlantic as ballast in oil tankers), added great spiciness and charm. You can get that here …
Choke Cherries Triumph at Last
And what on earth has the bravado to stand up to all that cheese and all that cherry fireworks? Why, this:
Weinberg Karl Schön Rudesheimer Burg Schloßberg Spätlese 2010
These are the grapes that were maturing under the yellow leaves in the image of Burg Ehrenfels above. A pair of beautiful Japanese women sold me my bottle in a dark wine cellar in Rüdesheim early on a June evening, after opening bottles all over the place and sampling them with me. It was a very pleasant half hour. At six and a half euros, my dream of a winter dinner was priced at about 7% of North American prices. It was absolutely the perfect match for the Kirsch Virginiana.
Ah, here she is, after the fondue, with my apricot tree in behind, dreaming the winter away…
Forget the heat. Wine is not made in a laboratory. It is made in the earth. The fermentation is only the closure of a long process of maturation and balance. When it’s done right, it tastes just the way this looks:
Turtle Point, January 2, 2013
An hour later, I started grating cheese.
Your turn. If you start now, it might be ready early next year, or the year after that. That would give you, I think, enough time to perfect those baquettes!