The eastern French alpine region of Savoie is one that remains somewhat obscure due to two main reasons – the highly mountainous area leaves little land suitable for viticulture, and the multitude of visitors to the area for both winter and summer tourism seasons tend to drink up much of the local wine. That said, if you can get your hands on a bottle of the higher-quality production from this region, you’ll find distinctive wines that express their respective terroirs in a way that is not often matched in the wine world.
Two areas of viticulture are widely considered to be the best, with vine and land complementing each other in perfect harmony: white Chignin near Chambéry made from Bergeron, which is the local name for Roussanne, and red Mondeuse from Arbin, which has a particular reputation for highlighting the grape’s distinctive pepperiness and deep color. Also of note from Savoie is its finest white grape variety, Altesse, which has its own AOC of Roussette de Savoie that can be produced anywhere within the region.
Château Mérande is located in Arbin, the home of the most distinguished Mondeuse in Savoie, and as such, 15 of their 25 acres of holdings are planted to that varietal. The rest of the estate is dedicated to production of Roussanne from Chignin and Roussette de Savoie. The Genoux brothers, Daniel and André, are part of a family lineage of winemakers that goes back generations, but that didn’t stop them from seeking additional consultation Yann Pernoult, a young vigneron with deep ties to the land in Savoie. With his influence, Château Mérande is now pursuing biodynamic practices, including the use of natural fertilizers and soil preparations and the exclusion of pesticides and weed killers. In addition they are a member of the Biodivine group, which helps maintain biodiversity in vineyards.
Savoie “Sav-wah” Wine Guide
Wines from Savoie have long been simply ski chalet wines but, today, the situation is changing. Thanks to the modernization of winemaking techniques and the enthusiasm of local vintners, the wines offer compelling flavor profiles and great aging potential. These are food-friendly, unusual wines for those of us who are bold enough to, occasionally, venture off-piste.
Where is Savoie exactly?
From a formally administrative standpoint Savoie [sav-wa], also spelled Savoy, is a French department in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in eastern France. As a wine region though, Savoie consists of many isolated sub-regions and plots of vineyards scattered across four French departments: Savoie, Haute-Savoie, Isère, Ain. Savoie neighbors Switzerland (to the East), the Jura region (to the North) and the little-known Bugey region, which is west across the Rhône river. All told, the region is under 5,000 acres (2000 ha) accounting for a mere 0.5% of French wines. If you like white wines, this region is for you, as 70% of the wine produced in Savoie is white.
Savoie Wine Grapes
There are 23 grape varieties planted in Savoie and of these 23, there are 5 white and 2 red grape varieties that stand out for their exceptional quality and affinity to the rugged land.
Main white grape varieties
- Jacquère [jah-kehr]
- This is the region’s most widely planted grape variety. It accounts for 50% of all the plantings. It produces early-drinking, low alcohol, lively dry wines. Flavors range from floral (white flowers) and fruity (pear, white peach, grapefruit) to mineral and flinty.
- Altesse [al-tess] (aka Roussette)
- The grape variety produces characterful, age-worthy wines, which achieve a compelling complexity after a few years in the bottle. In its youth, flavors range from fresh almonds and bergamot to pineapple, peach and quince. With age, the wines develop aromas of honey, toast, nuts and white truffle. This grape variety is used in the production of Roussette de Savoie AOC. These wines should be set aside for at least three years to allow their potential develop fully.
- Roussanne [roo-sahn]
- A native to the Rhône Valley, it is known in Savoie as Bergeron. It produces opulent, aromatic wines with a firm backbone of acidity. Flavors range from honey, apricot to quince and nuts, grilled almonds, mango and beeswax.
- Chasselas [shas-suh-lah]
- Chasselas produces light-bodied, easy-drinking dry wines. The wines resemble those made with Jacquère, with additional hints of fresh butter, toast and dried fruits. The wines are designed to be drunk young.
- Gringet [gran-zhay]
- Endemic to Savoie, there are only 54 acres of Gringet plantings in the region (all of them in commune of Ayze). This grape variety produces low-alcohol, quaffable white wines with notes of apple and quince; as well as some elegant and refreshing sparkling wines with subtle notes of white flowers, citrus and jasmine.
- Other white grape varieties
- Mondeuse Blanche, Chardonnay, Aligoté, Molette, Marsanne, Pinot Gris, Frühroter Veltliner, and Verdesse
Main red grape varieties
- Mondeuse [mohn-deuhz]
- Is a native to Savoie and has been cultivated by the Gallic tribe of Ancient Gaul (the Allobroges) prior to the Roman invasion. Columella, the famous roman writer who wrote about farming and agriculture, referred to mondeuse as “the grape variety that ripens amidst the snow”. Mondeuse strives on scree slopes, marl and limestone soils. Its best expression can be found in the commune of Arbin. Wines made from mondeuse have a deep purple color, a well-structured acidity and well-integrated tannins. Flavors range from red fruits (strawberry, redcurrant, raspberry, sour plum) and flowers (violet) to gamey overtones and spice (white pepper, cinnamon, cloves). Mondeuse wines show great ageing potential (10 years +). When young, they should be drank at least 12 months after bottling.
- Persan [per-sahn]
- Is an endemic grape variety. Difficult to grow, persan is prone to powdery and downy mildew and achieves full physiological ripeness in warm years only. The grape yields wines of deep red color, dense tannins and a firm backbone of acidity. Flavors encompass red fruits, violet, pepper and spice. Although rather austere and harsh in the first years, wines made from persan evolve and mellow with age. They can be kept for 10+ years.
- Other red grape varieties
- Gamay, Pinot Noir, Douce Noire, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Joubertin, and Poulsard