Last month I ventured into the hills of the Savoie. As much as I have fantasized about spinning around in Alpine traditional dress Ã la Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, I have been even more eager to discover these crisp, mountainous wines first hand.
Having lived in France four separate times, I have long been a huge fan of fondue and raclette. Being a purist at heart, I am a huge believer of pairing the local wine(s) with the local cuisine. So, it has always been natural for me to accompany these delicious cheese concoctions with mineral-rich, fresh wines from the Savoie.
Savoie as a wine region is one of the least known in France. Most of its miniscule production is guzzled down by thirsty ski aficionados or avid hikers in the summer season. Contrary to what many think, the vineyards are not located high on top of the Mont Blanc. They are actually on slopes in the warmer valley areas mostly around Chambéry and are only 220 or 300 metres above sea level. An added bonus is that they are protected from eastern-based storms by the Alps. Because of their ideal location, many consider it having a Meditteranean micro-climate where more southern flora such as almond and fig trees grow.
Though they produce, white, red and rosé, it undeniable that their forté lies with whites. The most popular varieties planted are Jacquère, which makes crisp, mineral wines; Altesse, which produces beautifully fresh and floral wines; and Roussanne, the grand dame of Savoie who wines are the most age worthy. For red, the two most popular are Gamay and Mondeuse, the latter being the hillbilly cousin of Syrah. The similarities between the two are distinct but Mondeuse is even more peppery and rustic. There are some nice examples being produced, but from what I could taste, most might be an acquired taste.
Like other wine regions, they produce regional wine as well as various crus. Some of the lightest ones stylistically come from towns such as Apremont and Abymes. These are made with Jacquère which in many respects resembles Muscadet but without its smoky flintiness. Chignin is similar but richer and more concentrated. Roussette de Savoie is produced with Altesse while Chignin Bergeron is exclusive to the Roussanne grape variety. Arbin is the grandest cru for Mondeuse.
Out of the growers that I visited, I was the most inspired by André & Michel Quenard. I discovered their wines while living in Los Angeles and was thrilled that they were even better than I remembered. Crisp, fruity, mineral and lighter in alcohol than most French appellations, they are just completely delicious.
What I can’t understand is why we don’t see them more, particularly with concerns about high alcohol wines. I realise that having only 10% of their production exported does not help with their PR aspirations, but surely how can one not like (or even know) these wines? They are most definitely one of the wine world’s best kept secrets. So, we’ve decided to do our part in promoting their incredible appeal by offering out several of André and Michel’s wines. They will be shipped prior to ski season so you can prep your palate with your skis!