This week’s wine, André et Michel Quenard 2005 Chignin, comes from the Savoie region of France. Savoie is located on the western flanks of the Alps in eastern France; it borders Switzerland to the north and Italy to the east. Though this area is known primarily for its skiing and awe-inspiring scenery, it is also home to a successful wine industry. The appellation is Vin de Savoie, and the wines are typically named after the village in which the grapes are grown. My wine of the week is from Chignin, a tiny town whose vineyards are planted on the side of a mountain at around 1000 feet elevation. Wines from Savoie can be difficult to find outside of France; most of it is consumed locally, particularly at the nearby ski resorts (what I wouldn’t give to be sitting in a chalet in the French Alps sipping wine right now!)

Savoie’s climate is distinctly alpine; it receives plenty of sunshine, however, so wine grapes thrive there. Some rather unusual grape varieties are grown in Savoie including whites such as Jacquère, Roussanne, and Altesse (also known as Roussette) and a red varietal called Mondeuse. White wine predominates, and most of it is made from Jacquère, a grape that is extremely productive despite the cooler climate. Jacquère is a low sugar grape that produces delicate, crisp, tingling white wines. These wines are often lightly scented, even neutral, in aroma. They are typically high in acidity and display citrus fruit flavors. They are meant to be consumed young. Savoie wines pair well with shellfish and seafood as well as raclette and fondue cheese dishes.

Ahem, did somebody say raclette? Melted cheese for dinner – that sounds like a perfect choice for this winesday! The term raclette refers both to a semi-firm, creamy cow’s milk cheese of Swiss origin as well as a popular wintertime dish featuring the cheese. Raclette is made by slowly heating a round of the cheese, either over an open fire or in a special machine, then scraping it as it melts onto diners’ plates (the term raclette derives from the French racler which means “to scrape”.) Raclette is traditionally served over boiled small potatoes, accompanied by pickled onions, gherkins, and a dry-cured meat such as prosciutto. The dish originated with Swiss cow herders who would make a meal out of potatoes, pickles and cheese which they melted by campfire when they were out in the pasture. Today you can buy machines specifically designed for making raclette. They make it easy, but they aren’t nearly as romantic as an open fire! I predict that raclette will be the next big food trend here in Seattle. They are currently serving it at Bohemian, a brand new restaurant in West Seattle, and Café Presse offered a similar dish on their menu last winter. Move over pork belly and poutine!

I wasn’t about to buy my own raclette machine for this meal so I just put the cheese in an au gratin dish and melted it in the oven. It didn’t stay completely melted the whole time, but it worked well enough. I served the raclette with roasted fingerling potatoes, prosciutto and a quick pickled salad of onions and thinly sliced summer squash. The raclette was delicious (of course it was, it’s melted cheese!) The wine smelled exactly like apple juice, but it tasted more of lemons and grapefruit. It matched well with the creamy, nutty cheese. It was a fine meal for a rainy Wednesday night in Seattle (although I would have preferred the French Alps!)

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