Here at Chalet Floralie, we love great food and great wine and this week we’re here to tell you all about a little-known wine region in France, but one that is very close to our hearts – the Savoie.
Though the wines from the Savoie region of southeastern France have long been simply cast aside as “chalet wines”, today the situation is changing. Thanks in part to the modernisation of wine making techniques and the enthusiasm of local vintners, the Savoie’s wines offer compelling flavours and great ranging potential. These are, generally, food-friendly yet unusual wines and are ideal for those who like to venture “off-piste”!
Though from an administrative standpoint the Savoie is in the Avergne-Rhône-Alpes region of south eastern France, as a wine region it consists of many isolated sub-regions and plots of vineyards, scattered across four departments: the Savoie, the Haute-Savoie, the Isère and the Ain. The region borders Switzerland to the east, the Jura to the north and the little-known Bugey region to the west, across the River Rhône. In all, the region is well under 2000 ha (5000 acres) and accounts for only 0.5% of French wines. And if you like white wines, this is definitely the region for you, as almost 70% of the Savoie’s annual production is white.
Although the vineyard soils are mostly lime-rich glacial material and scree, there is a great diversity of soil types in the Savoie, including: moraines (glacial deposits), alluvial soils, river terraces (river stone over clay), terraced steep limestone scree slopes and the Molasse basin. Ultimately, the Savoie presents an incredible patchwork of soils that originated during the period when the Alps were formed during the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods.
There are 23 grape varieties planted in the Savoie and of these only 5 white and 2 red varieties stand out for the exceptional quality and affinity to this rugged landscape.
Throughout the whole of the Savoie region, there are only three appellations that can be given AOP status: Vin de Savoie AOP, Rousette de Savoie AOP and Seyssel AOP. Since 2014, Savoie’s crémant (sparkling) wines have also been granted AOP status and are made with at least a blend consisting of at least 60% of local grapes, with the final 40% of the blend being Jacquère.
Perhaps the region’s most widely-planted grape, Jacquère accounts for 50% of all plantings in the Savoie and produces early-drinking, low alcohol and lively dry wines.
Altesse produces characterful, age-worthy wines, which achieve a compelling complexity in the bottle after just a few years. In its youth, the Altesse wines are lively and give a mouthfeel of tropical fruits and fresh nuts. With age, however, the wines develop aromas of honey and white truffle – and as such should be set aside for at least three years to allow their potential to fully develop.
Native to the Rhône Valley to the west, Rousanne is known as Bergeron in the Savoie and produces opulent and aromatic wines.
Chasselas produces light-bodied, easy-drinking dry wines. The wines resemble those made with Jacquère and are designed to be drunk young.
Though native to the Savoie, there are only 54 acres (21 ha) of Gringet plantings in the region and all of them fall within the commune of Ayze. This grape produces low-alcohol, easy-drinking white wines with notes of apple and quince.
Another native to the Savoie, Mondeuse has been cultivated since Gallo-Roman times and was described as “the grape variety that ripens amidst the snow” by a famous Roman writer in the 1st century AD. This red grape variety naturally grows on scree slopes, marl and limestone soils and its best expression can be found in the commune of Arbin. Wines made from Mondeuse have a deep, purple colour, well-structured acidity and well-integrated tannins. When young, the wine should be drunk at least 12 months after bottling.
Difficult to grow, Persan is prone to powdery and downy mildew and achieves full ripeness only in warm years. The grape yields wines of deep red colour, dense tannins and a firm backbone of acidity. Although rather austere and harsh in the first years, wines made from Persan evolve and mellow with age, and can be kept in excess of 10 years.