Fondue, Jacques Puffeney, and Savoie

This is my Obligatory Valentines Day Post, please be advised

Fondue has a strange history as an american food. Beginning in the 1970s it has been chic, gauche, retro, gourmet, traditional, revivalist, comfort food, ironic, mass market, gauche again, and now post-ironic. It is a food that, like all simple foods, can be sublime in the right hands, or, in the wrong hands, tasteless slop. It is also a food of ingredients, for there isn’t much you can do to fix fondue made with inferior cheese. So you can imagine when my lovely wife suggested we make it for Valentine’s day i wondered exactly where fondue was on the culinary map and, more importantly, could i make something at once so simple yet so loaded with complex expecations?

Growing up with Swiss friends i probably had better experiences with fondue than most people. Almost every year in the winter they would make a traditional fondue with all the trappings (if you haven’t had fondue with bread dipped in kirshwasser, you haven’t had fondue) made from five cheeses, most of which i had never heard of (you mean there is more than one swiss cheese?) Emmental, Gruyere, Appenzeller, Raclette, and one other i can never recall. For them this was a tradition divorced from what fondue in America had become, they had stylish fondue pots hauled from their home country, opinions on how to eat the fondue (if you eat too fast the cheese on the bottom doesn’t crust, which is the best part) and the care of the pots, what to drink with fondue.

What does one drink with fondue? Swiss wine, of course, is ideal for the task especially fendant (known as chasselas in France). The problem is finding good inexpensive Swiss wines in America is near impossible. Contrary to popular opinion, good Swiss wines do exist, they just don’t come over here that often. So instead i had to settle for high altitude French wines in close proximity to Switzerland.

i take that back, perhaps settle is a bad word, since i am going to discuss the incompable wines of Jacques Puffeney and the Savoie, which is consistently turning out some the best values in french wine at the moment. If you are unfamiliar with Jacques Puffeney i would suggest tracking down a bottle from him, post-haste. A winemaker since the age of 17 (and former maker of Comte, the famed cheese from the Jura) Puffeney has since become the symbol for a growing number of vignerons working with the mostly unknown regional varietals savagnin (the grape that is used to make the famed vi jaune), trousseau, poulsard, and chardonnay which, when produced here, makes a case for just how interesting chardonnay can get.

The Savoie, located south of the Jura, is another wine growing region that is mostly unknown outside of France. Also, like the Jura, the wines produced in the Savoie are traditional varietals suited to the climate and soil of the region, and hence, are mostly unknown. Altesse, rousette (which are the same thing), jacquere, chignin for the whites, and mondeuse for the red. These wines all have one thing in common, and that is a dry acidic palate, which is perfect for cutting right through the richness of fondue.

2005 Jacques Puffeney Poulsard, Arbois: Wine of the month february 2009? Probably, unless something else really knocks me out. Dry mineral driven red. There was fruit, but it was chalky fruit, like Lik-em-Stix divorced from sugar. Soft mid-palate with the type of lingering finish that makes you rethink initial impressions. To use a Valentine’s metaphor, the first sip is sex, the finish is where you fall in love.

2007 Domaine Edmond Jacquin & Fils Vin de Savoie Rousette de Savoie: Raw unpolished acid hiding some tart fruit. Not particularly balanced, this is a high cresting wine that strips enamel off teeth. Perfect for the job at hand, i wouldn’t recommend without some thick food. Valentine’s metaphor? One night stand.

What to eat: If you can’t answer this, shame on you.

What to listen to: Fondue is cozy and couplish (not a word, i know), listen to your favorite love songs. me and my wife fell in love to Moon Safari by Air:

ps. The fondue turned out perfect, though no match for my friend’s rendition. Also, i couldn’t find kirschwasser.

~ by Cory Cartwright on February 15, 2009.

One Response to “Fondue, Jacques Puffeney, and Savoie”

  1. I’ve just come across this via Google. An interesting and well-considered article! Coming fresh from 4 years’ living in Swiss wine country (La Côte, along Lake Geneva) I, too, am always on the lookout for Swiss wines in N. Am. but am usually sadly disappointed.

    I think the cheese you’re forgetting is Vacherin fribourgeois; does that sound familiar? There are several different styles of fondue, depending on where in Switzerland you go, and they all claim to be the original! The typical “moitié-moitié” (half-and-half) from the Vaudois region is made with Vacherin fribourgeois and Gruyère. The more German-styled ones usually include Emmentaler, but I’ve only rarely seen Raclette used in fondue; it’s a meal in itself, melted over roasted potatoes with dried meats and pickles. Do you ever scramble an egg in with the last of the cheese in the fondue pot? Delicious.

    On a closing note, may I also recommend my favourite wine for fondue: an off-dry / semi-sweet Gewürztraminer. It’s crisp enough not to overwhelm the palate, and also carries through nicely to a lighter, fruity dessert – if you still have room!

    Happy munching!

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