Exploring the Savoie’s Alpine Wine Grapes
- By Jacky Blisson MW
- 07 Apr 2021
- 5 MIN
- Level 201
The wine region of Savoie is located in eastern France, spread across the steep lower slopes of the Alps. Savoie’s cool, continental climate is tempered by the sheltering effects of the surrounding mountain ranges and the heat radiated from nearby lakes Bourget and Geneva.
Over 70% of Savoie’s production is of dry, white wine. The vineyards are planted in a number of separate subregions dotted across four French départements (counties). With less than 2,000 ha of vineyards planted, Savoie accounts for a mere 0.5% of total French wine output.
Historically, Savoie wines were dismissed as an après-ski thirst quencher for tourists. More recently, interest for these fresh, light, low alcohol niche wines has started to grow in wine bars around the globe.
Although 23 different wine grapes are grown in Savoie, the focus is on a handful of traditional, local varieties. Three cultivars that have proven particularly successful on the region’s rocky, limestone soils are Jacquère, Altesse, and Mondeuse Noir.
Jacquère is the most widely planted grape variety in Savoie, making up over half of the region’s vineyards. DNA analysis indicates that it is the offspring of Gouais Blanc; this prolific grape is parent to some 81 different grapes among which Chardonnay and Gamay Noir are two notable examples.
Jacquère is a highly vigorous variety that buds early and ripens late. Quality levels vary, with lesser bottlings showing a refreshing, yet decidedly neutral, lean, spritzy character.
The Apremont and Abymes vineyards, within the Vin de Savoie AOP, produce some of the best Jacquère. These lively, dry wines are praised for attractive floral, citrus, orchard fruit, and flinty aromas.
Try these Producers: Domaine Dupraz, Philippe & Sylvain Ravier, Domaine du Cellier des Cray, Pascal & Annick Quenard, Jean Perrier, Pierre Boniface, Domaine des Ardoisières, Gilles Berlioz
This red variety is thought to be indigenous to the Savoie region. Though its DNA profiling has yet to pinpoint exact relationships, Mondeuse Noir is closely related to both Mondeuse Blanche and Syrah.
It is a mid-ripening, high-yielding grape that requires careful pruning for best results. Production of Mondeuse Noir was in sharp decline at the end of the last century but is starting to show signs of revival. Approximately 300 ha are planted across the region today.
Mondeuse Noir wines are deep in colour, with tangy red fruits, violets, spice, and savoury undertones on the nose. The variety’s vibrant acidity and firm tannins make it an excellent candidate for moderate term cellaring.
Try these Producers: Michel Grisard, Domaine du Prieuré Saint-Christophe, Domaine Louis Magnin, Domaine Genoux, Domaine des Ardoisières, Domaine Belluard, André & Michel Quenard
The white variety Altesse, referred to as Roussette in many parts of Savoie, was dubbed the region’s “finest grape” in Jancis Robinson et al’s Wine Grapes. Despite this high praise, only 300 ha of Altesse are planted in Savoie.
The grape is thought to have been named for the title (highness in English) used when speaking to the Dukes of Savoy. This mid to late-ripening variety turns a reddish hue when ripe, which is the likely reason for its synonym Roussette (rouge, meaning red in French).
Altesse is bottled varietally throughout the vineyard subregions of the Roussette de Savoie AOP and the Altesse de Bugey appellation. It also serves as a blending component in certain Jacquère-dominant Vin de Savoie wines. The best Altesse wines are rich and ageworthy with alluring notes of exotic fruit, honey, almonds, and bergamot.
Try these Producers: Domaine Dupasquier, Prieuré Saint Christophe, Chevalier-Bernard, Jean Perrier, Franck Peillot, Jean Vullien, Famille Peillot