It is one thing to make fondue for a few people but making fondue simultaneously for 50 or more people is no easy feat. Nonetheless, it can be done and it has been done. It was just last weekend, in fact, during the Swiss Fondue Party, the 7th and final event of the 2011 Aureole Wine Weekend held at Aureole Las Vegas in Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino last August 5-7, 2011.
The 2011 Aureole Wine Weekend is the third of its kind since 2009. The organizer is Charlie Palmer and the Charlie Palmer Group (owner of top restaurants Charlie Palmer, Charlie Palmer Steak, Dry Creek Kitchen and Aureole).
The Aureole Wine Weekend takes place once a year (on a weekend, of course). It is, to borrow the organizer’s own words, “a wine aficionado’s dream.” Several individual events take place throughout the weekend, during which time attendees get to sample hundreds of wines. Charlie Palmer’s most loyal gourmands are treated to course after course of heavenly dishes prepared by Aureole’s Executive Chef Vincent Pouessel and impeccably paired with wine by none other than Aureole’s Wine Director, Master Sommelier William Sherer.
What did I get myself into?
Well, this year, William Sherer and Aureole’s GM Kevin Dimond wanted to spice things up. They wanted to try something fun and less formal for the last day of the Wine Weekend, thus the Swiss Fondue Party I was telling you about earlier. They asked me if I wanted to help them organize the said fondue party.
I had concerns, naturally. Again, making fondue for a few people is easy but making fondue for more than 50 people is a lot more challenging. It requires proper execution and impeccable timing.
William Sherer assured me that this would not be a problem. Chef Vincent Pouessel and his staff would be on top of everything. Executive Pastry Chef Megan Romano would be there to assist as well. With such an experienced team behind me, the execution could be nothing but flawless. The opportunity to prepare fondue, Raclette and present Swiss wines at one of the top fine dining restaurants in Las Vegas, moreover, is not something that comes around everyday. How could I refuse, really? So I accepted. But I was still worried, of course.
D-Day: Swiss Cheese, Swiss Wine and Friends
August 7th, the day of the fondue party, finally arrived. The day began with a Bouillabaisse Breakfast, Sunday’s first event and the 6th of the seven Aureole Wine Weekend events. It was nothing like any breakfast I’ve had before. Aside from the fact that the food was extremely good, it was a breakfast paired with 7 Rieslings. Yes, that’s 7 glasses of Riesling – for breakfast.
After the Bouillabaisse Breakfast, we headed down to the kitchen to start preparations for the Raclette as well as the Cheese and Chocolate Fondue. When I walked into Aureole’s kitchen and saw the army of cooks working so capably and efficiently under Chef Vincent Pouessel’s supervision, my worries eased.
As an aside, Aureole’s kitchen is a sight to behold. It’s almost bigger than my entire house. It’s so big that Chef Vincent Pouessel actually uses a microphone when things get loud in the kitchen. Even Remy, the mouse from Ratatouille, would have been impressed!
Anyway, after my amazement has sufficiently passed, we started our preparations for the fondue party. The cheeses for the Raclette needed to be cleaned and the wheels cut into halves. The cheeses (Gruyere and Emmenthal) for the fondue needed to be grated, mixed and placed in fondue pots. Wine, garlic, kirsch eau-de-vie, pepper and other fondue ingredients (Chef Walti Wegmann’s recipe) also had to be prepared.
Christophe Tassan (MOF and the Wine Director of Mandalay Bay properties e.g. Mandalay Bay, THEhotel, Four Seasons and Socialite), William Sherer and I started uncorking the wines to prepare them for service. Each wine had to be sampled to ensure that no faulty wines would be served. It was also the perfect moment to catch up with two close friends who are often so busy we rarely get the chance to get together for a little chat and a glass of wine.
Then it was time for the Swiss Fondue Party. The guests made their way back into Aureole’s dining room and, once they were properly seated, the fondue party officially started. We started the meal with cold cut meats, and the first flight of wines was served. Chef Vincent Pouessel’s team started making the fondue. The Raclette machines were turned on and the wheel halves were placed in cheese holders. That was my cue to start my presentation about Swiss wines and Switzerland’s recent wine “R”evolution.
1st flight: Dry Swiss White Wines
Wine 1: Domaine E. de Montmollin Fils Neuchâtel 2009 for the Fondue/Raclette
Made from the Chasselas grape, this wine comes from an award-winning winery managed by brothers Pierre and Jean-Michel de Montmollin. The de Montmollin family owns four estates: Auvernier, Areuse, Chauvigny and la Brosse, all of which are on the north bank of Lake Neuchatel.
Tasting notes: This Neuchâtel is refreshing with its fresh lime-tree fragrance, vine blossom aromas, distinct mineral notes, and citrusy flavor.
Pairing: Like all Chasselas wines from Domaine E. de Montmollin Fils, this Neuchatel is perfect as an aperitif. It’s great with Raclette and fondue (of course) but you should also try it with seafood, cold cuts and cheese.
Wine 2: La Baudelière Yvorne 2008 for the Fondue/Raclette
This Chasselas wine comes from a family-owned winery in Yvorne, which is part of the Chablais wine region in Switzerland’s Canton of Vaud.
Tasting notes: Intense aromas and flavors (but not overwhelmingly so) with distinct mineral notes. This is a very elegant wine. Dry (as expected of a Chasselas) with a delicate finish.
Pairing: This wine is great as a starter drink. Like the Montmollin Neuchâtel, this Yvorne pairs extremely well with cheese and seafood.
Wine 3: René Favre & Fils Petite Arvine Chamoson 2007 for the Raclette
This excellent expression of the Petite Arvine grape comes from a family-owned winery based in St. Pierre-de-Clages, Chamoson in the Canton of Valais. The René Favre & Fils winery is currently under the management of brothers Mike and John Favre.
René Favre & Fils specializes in old-vine Petite Arvine wines, in fact, the René Favre & Fils Estate is home to the world’s oldest Petite Arvine vines. Learn more about René Favre & Fils and its wines in one of my winery visit posts, René Favre & Fils – The Princes of Petite Arvine.
Tasting notes: This wine presents fruity, fresh and citrusy (even tart) aromas with floral notes. It is soft and mellow with mineral hints, has great balance and structure and finishes with a slightly salty tang.
Pairing: This can be served as a starter drink or paired with seafood, poultry dishes and veal. Spectacular with aged cheeses.
Varietal: Petite Arvine
2nd Flight: Semi Sweet to Sweet Swiss White Wines
Wine 4: Jean-René Germanier Amigne de Vétroz Valais 2008
A superb expression of the Amigne varietal, this award-winning wine comes from a family winery founded in 1886 and based in the village of Vétroz in Switzerland’s Canton of Valais.
Tasting notes: Fresh and fruity on the nose, this wine is lightly tannic (remarkable for a white wine), slightly sweet, polished, and perfectly balanced.
Pairing: This wine is great as an aperitif but is divine with foie gras and sweets (dessert).
Wine 5: Jean-René Germanier Mitis Amigne de Vétroz Valais 2007 for the Chocolate Fondue and accoutrement prepared by Executive Pastry Chef Megan Romano
A complex and layered expression of the Amigne varietal, this award-winning wine from Jean-René Germanier was aged in oak for 18 months.
Tasting notes: Sweet with hints of honey and candied/ripe fruits. Rich, intense and complex, presenting multiple layers of flavors that complement and are consistent with its aromas. Great structure and perfectly balanced.
Pairing: An extremely enjoyable dessert wine. Perfect pairing with blue cheeses and fruit-based desserts. Also pairs well with foie gras.
Wine 6: Provins Valais Maître de Chais Grains de Malice Valais 2008 for the Chocolate Fondue and accoutrement prepared by Executive Pastry Chef Megan Romano
This award-winning late-harvest wine is a blend of Marsanne and Pinot Gris aged in oak for 15 months.
Tasting notes: A subtly layered and complex wine with flavors consistent with its aromas. Balanced and elegant.
Pairing: Pairs extremely well with desserts in general and blue cheese and foie gras in particular.
Varietal: 90% Marsanne, 10% Pinot Gris
An Open Invitation
The Swiss Fondue Party last August 7th was a great success, thanks to Chef Vincent Pouessel, Pastry Chef Megan Romano and their staff. As William put it, “Fondue has not been this much fun since the 70’s.” As for the wines, well, there was not a drop of wine left over at the end of the event. They were that good!
To anyone out there who considers himself a gourmand: the Aureole Wine Weekend is the food and wine pairing event you should not miss. It is worth so much more than it costs. In fact, it is an absolute bargain! I’m already looking forward to next year’s wine weekend. If I’m in town then, I’ll definitely be attending, although I’ll be sure to come as one of the guests next time (less stress, even more fun).
Bon Appétit and Cheers!
The Swiss Fondue Party wouldn’t have been the great success it was if it weren’t for the invaluable assistance of Aureole’s Executive Chef Vincent Pouessel, Aureole’s Executive Pastry Chef Megan Romano and every member of Aureole’s highly professional staff. I owe you all a big thank you.
Where you can go for additional information about the Third Aureole Wine Weekend and its participants:
- The Third Annual Aureole Wine Weekend in Las Vegas Program
- Aureole Las Vegas
- Aureole Las Vegas Staff
- Executive Pastry Chef Megan Romano’s website
Where you can go for more information about the Swiss wines listed above, all other Swiss wines, and places in the USA where you can get Swiss wines:
- Swiss Cellars
- Swiss Cheese