Hailing from the western foothills of the French Alps, the wines from Savoie have warmed up skiers for decades.
Many of these folks, who come from all over the world, would enjoy them on the slopes, but return to drinking other wines upon returning home.
However, that is changing. Now, Savoie is becoming internationally famous for its wine as well as its cuisine.
While the area might be new to many, winemaking there goes back thousands of years. Savoie was devastated by the phylloxera outbreak in the late 1800s. Growers picked up the pieces shortly afterward and there are still a number of vineyards that date back to the early 20th century.
As in other regions, the labor pool was affected by World War I and World War II. As such, vineyards were not cared for and often left to die. Many soldiers who returned home moved to urban areas in search of work instead of returning to their agricultural ways.
Savoie’s wines are generally minerally and high in acid. White wines dominate, with the native grapes jacquère and altesse, aka roussette, leading the way. Mondeuse is the main attraction on the red side.
There also is a fair bit of roussanne, a Rhône varietal, and chasselas, Switzerland’s most important grape. For reds, pinot noir and gamay are becoming more popular.
Savoie is still a pretty small region and does not take up much space on Bay Area retail shelves, but the wines are available. Here are three to start with:
Chateau de Ripaille Savoie, Ripaille, 2011 (AOC vin de Savoie): Built by the first Duke of Savoie in 1434, Chateau de Ripaille went through a major renovation in 1892. The Ripaille Foundation was created in 1976 to preserve this historic sprawl. Today, part of it is owned by the local government and part by a French-Canadian couple.
Made entirely from chasselas, the only grape grown on the property, it has a flintlike aroma with citrus and a hint of peach. Suggested retail: $13
Domaine JF Quenard Chignin, 2011 (AOC vin de Savoie): The name Quenard in Savoie is equivalent to Jones in the U.S. Jean-Pierre Quenard inherited this property from his father, and it’s been in the family since the 1600s. His son, Jean Francois, joined him in 1987. Made entirely from jacquère and aged in stainless steel tanks, it is bright and crisp with grapefruit and herbal tones. Suggest retail: $15
André & Michel Quenard Chignin, Les Abymes, 2011 (AOC vin de Savoie): Perhaps the most famous of the various Quenard wine families, Michel joined his father, André, in 1976 when the actual domaine was launched. Today, his son, Guillaume, works with him. Made from 50-year-old jacquère vines and aged in stainless steel, this is a racy, mineral-laden wine with a delightful hint of kumquats. Suggested retail: $15
These wines are available through 24th Street Cheese Co., Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, Kermit Lynch, Paul Marcus Wines, Mollie Stone’s Twin Peaks, Rainbow Grocery, Village Market, Vintage Berkeley, Weimax, William Cross Wine Merchant.
Pamela S. Busch was the founding partner of Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bars, and is a wine educator and writer.