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Savoie fare: ‘A combination of terroir and winemaking prowess’

May 29, 2024

Some of the most refreshingly crisp and vital French wines can be found in Savoie which sits in the northwest corner of France. It is bounded by Switzerland and Italy to the east and is nestled against the Alps – where you will find the famous Mont Blanc.

To the west is Champagne. As a wine producing region, Savoie offers a number of grape varieties that are less well known around the world but have become a mainstay and are experiencing a sort of resurgence. You’ll find altesse, jacquère, mondeuse blanc, gringet, persan and joubertin, blended and as single varietals.

Read Also: The basics of buying Bordeaux

The wines these grapes produce are as cool and racy as their place on the map might suggest. If you are wondering why this might be the case, it is a combination of terroir and winemaking prowess that developed regionally over centuries.

Perhaps the most significant climactic event was what is now known as the “Savoyard Pompeii.” Torrential rains over long periods of time caused mudslides and a limestone mass to rip away from Mont Granier. The rubble that remained hosted two villages that were able to cultivate grapes atop the landslide – Apremont and Abymes.

The full extent of the Duchy of Savoy used to cover territory in Italy, Switzerland and France, then in the late 1700s, the Duchy of Savoy was annexed to France. By the early 1800s it had been reclaimed by Italy, but it wasn’t until 1860 that it was returned to France. Despite all the political chopping and changing, the geography is constant. Because this region is mountainous and has grown to be a skiing destination, it is no surprise that tourism is a going concern. This brings an array of visitors to the area and has helped to put Savoie on the wine map.

Savoie

Savoie sits in the northwest corner of France, bounded by Switzerland and Italy to the east, nestled against the Alps.

Tourism is only one contributor to Savoie’s prestige. The Centre d’ampélozraphie Alpine Pierre Galet is dedicated to studying and preserving the vines and grapes of the region. The work the Centre does is focused on preserving Savoie’s viticultural legacy and reinvigorating an interest in the historic varietals that once thrived in the locale. French legislation regarding the growth of specific varietals is strict, but Savoie is no stranger to lobbying efforts to allow the legal planting of many of the heritage grapes. A great many nurseries that specialize in grafting vines for preservation purposes have now become part of the Savoie landscape.

In its aspect, the Savoie geography receives alpine influences that temper the nearly 2,000 hours of sunshine it receives annually. The high summer temperatures are modulated by cool mountain air. The many rivers and lakes also serve to create significant swings in temperature between day and night. All of which favour the different grapes.

The idea of terroir as a sense of place is felt acutely in Savoie where the confluence of climate, aspect, weather, soil, and the grapes themselves all coalesce to make a partnership unique to the region. Planted on glacial soils that are mainly clay, limestone and alluvium, the white grape varieties that thrive in Savoie are used to make single varietal and blended wines.

Sparkling Crémant de Savoie, is a glass of lightly citrus, refreshing bubbles but it is not yet widely available across the US and Canada because it competes with the distribution of other crémant from across France.

So, what might you try that would give you a taste of Savoie? Here are some great options that are worth placing a glass at your table:


Canada

Vin De Savoie – Domaine Vendange Mondeuse

This is a lightly perfumed wine that pairs nicely with most poultry dishes. Not overtly tannic, it is balanced and well-structured with notes of cocoa, black and red berries, and a peppery finish. This wine ages quite nicely and is best decanted for an hour before serving. (CA $30)

Roussette de Savoie – Domaine Blard & Fils

Directly from Apremont, the altesse grape is organically farmed. Roussette de Savoie is an AOC that is renowned for its white wines and this is no exception. It is a crisp white wine that easily pairs well with sharp cheeses and salty meats like ham. (CA $38)

Mondeuse Savoie – Domaine Partage Gilles Berlioz

This is a big wine. It is touted as medium bodied, but it will stand up to a rich meal or a saucy poultry dish. Showing both fruit and floral characteristics the wine also has some white pepper on its finish. (CA $88)


USA

Cuvee 8 – Maison du Vigneron

This white wine blend has a mineral overtone that is underlain with floral notes and crisp fruits like pear and apple. Salads and soft cheeses are enhanced by this blend. (US $20)

Jacquere Savoie – Domaine Dupasquier

Made from the Jacquere grape, this wine is a little flinty and brings out green fruits. It is a great partner for most seafood dishes. It can be a nice citrus contrast to a creamy sauce. (US $23)

Roussette de Savoie Marestel – Domaine Dupasquier

This altesse varietal wine is fully floral and is quite aromatic. Fruity and fresh, notes of ripe peach, citrusy lemon, and undertones of honey, the wine is well matched with soft or salty cheeses. (US $33)

 

– Gillian Marks, PhD is a French Wine Scholar and a contributing editor with VineRoutes

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