Wines from the Combe de Savoie, Mont Granier & Jongieux
By Wink Lorch
This Guide was last updated on 18 July 2013
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Savoie’s most famous red wine grape, DNA testing has recently proved that it is a fairly close relative of Syrah, though its characteristics are quite different. The area of Savoie where it performs best is the Combe de Savoie between Chignin and Fréterive most particularly in Arbin, near Montmélian – indeed the cru Arbin label is reserved for Mondeuse. A late ripener, particularly when yields are allowed to be too high, it has difficulties in reaching more than 10.5-11% alcohol and is therefore always chaptalized. Much Mondeuse is made in a fruity style to be consumed early, but at its best, sometimes with oak ageing, it gives spicy, red fruit and earthy flavours accompanied by a structure to allow bottle ageing. It is very occasionally blended with other varieties, but tends to become a little lost in blends. Sometimes known as Mondeuse Noire.
Gamay is grown all over Savoie, but rarely gives as interesting wines as the best from Beaujolais. Quite often it suffers from mildew or rot, but when the summer is good, it has the potential to make pleasant, easy-drinking light reds.
Relatively small amounts of Pinot Noir are grown all over Savoie, but it suffers, like Gamay from a predilection to rot or mildew in poor summers. Occasionally, especially in good summers, the true Pinot characteristics of red fruit and gameyness emerge; a few producers age in oak, but most make it in a simple fruity style.
An ancient Savoie variety that until recently was confined to scattered vineyards in the department of Isère south of Chambéry towards Grenoble. Revived interest in preserving old varieties has led it to be planted by several growers notably in the Combe de Savoie. Occasionally blended with Mondeuse, it is mostly made as a single variety and gives extraordinary colour as well as deep fruit flavours and the structure for ageing.
The most planted grape variety in Savoie and only existing here, Jacquère covers over half of the planted area. It is a late ripener and never manages to produce high sugar levels, almost always requiring chaptalization. However, it produces high yields, and is often planted in the least good areas, the steeper, better-exposed slopes being reserved for the better grape varieties. With relatively high acid and low sugar levels, it can nevertheless produce enjoyable, fresh, white wines with delicate flavours. Very occasionally it is blended to good effect with other more flavoursome varieties. Most white wines that do not state their grape variety on the label are made from Jacquère e.g. Apremont, Abymes, Chignin, Cruet and Jongieux.
An extremely underrated grape in terms of quality that is gradually gaining ground in Savoie though still covering a very small area. Altesse ripens fairly late and often benefits from conditions of an Indian summer. It gives good sugar levels and some successful experiments have been made with oak fermentation and ageing, but most wines are made in neutral tanks. Many of the wines are made in an off-dry style to compensate for the high acidity, but the best are generally dry and full-flavoured with stony, yellow fruit flavours and some floral character. The wines are sold as Roussette de Savoie and for many years the grape was erroneously named Roussette, so do not be surprised to find wines listed under this name on wine lists.
Using the local synonym Bergeron (interestingly, a variety of apricot particularly grown in the Rhône valley) Roussanne is planted in Savoie only in Chignin and neighbouring communes and in a few Vin de Pays areas. Chignin-Bergeron is a cru in its own right and the wines are always 100% Roussanne. When planted on sunny south-facing rocky slopes it produces very ripe grapes and chaptalization is rarely required; there is usually somewhat more acidity than found in the Rhône, but with similar yellow fruit flavours.
Grown all over Savoie in relatively low quantities but many growers have a little; in poor years it can suffer from overly high acidity.
A very old Savoie variety, now confirmed as the ‘mother’ of Syrah, and a relative of Mondeuse Noire, Mondeuse Blanche exists today in very small quantities. As vignerons recognize that this grape can producer a highly unusual, quality white wine plantings may slowly increase.
Another old Savoie variety, today there are two versions in existence both in tiny quantities: one is no different from Pinot Gris, the other is the same as Veltliner Rose.
A few plantings of this Burgundian variety are used to make both dry white and sparkling wines.
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