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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The quintessential Savoie white is supposed to be dry, light and ethereal (mountain-air-like), however in practice this only applies to wines from the most planted grape variety, Jaquère. The best Jacquère wines have delicate aromas of wild flowers and a light fruity palate, with only around 11% alcohol. High acidity with a lack of fruit can be a problem, and some producers cover this up with residual sugar – a touch is no bad thing, but too much and the wine loses all freshness. A few use malolactic fermentation to soften the wine. Roussette de Savoie wines from the Altesse grape vary hugely with the commercial ones again having too much residual sugar. The good ones range from dry and crisp with lovely stony, delicate yellow fruit flavours, to more serious oak fermented versions with a Chardonnay-like structure, and on to those, particularly from Jongieux, including Marestel, being sometimes off dry, but full of natural sweetness and intense yellow fruit characters. With its high natural acidity and usually around 12.5% alcohol the best can age superbly, but most are sold out much too soon. Chignin Bergeron from the Roussanne grape is a bigger wine, with ripe peach/apricot kernel flavours and sometimes a touch of honey – natural alcohol can often reach 13.5%. The best are dry except in very hot years when they may have some residual sugar. Wines from other grapes are usually characterised by high acidity, with the key to the good ones being fruit and weight to balance. A few late harvest wines are made in tiny quantities, mainly from Bergeron, but a little from Altesse or even Jacquère - usually these are made to offer local French customers and are medium sweet to drink as an aperitif.
The style of Savoie reds varies hugely even within one grape variety and is also very vintage dependent. In the 1970s and 1980s the producers were advised to make their reds from the rather tough Mondeuse grape with short macerations for early bottling, arriving at a Gamay-like structure but losing all the robust characteristics of the grape. Fortunately the best producers have moved away from this style, though there are still many Mondeuse wines made to drink early. The early-drinking styles have a fairly deep colour, berry fruit flavours with a touch of spice and an earthiness with medium tannins - very much food wines. Mondeuse for ageing, particularly from the cru Arbin, is deeper still, richer in flavour and more structured, needing aeration if opened young – they can last for 5-10 years. Surprisingly few producers use barrel ageing, and with a couple of honourable exceptions (notably Michel Grisard of Domaine Prieuré St-Christophe), vignerons tend to age just one special cuvée in oak with mixed results. Gamays are light and fruity at best. Pinot Noir can be good in the best vintages, with some pure fruit flavours, only a very few are oak-aged. The Persan grape variety is showing promise giving deep colours and flavours.
There are dry rosés made from all the red varieties, though most are from Gamay, sometimes blended with Pinot Noir. When drunk within the year, the best can be deliciously dry, fresh and fruity.
A little sparkling wine is made, mainly from the high acid Jacquère grape, sometimes blended with Chardonnay or Aligoté. Made in the Traditional Method and sold as Savoie Pétillant, the growers are applying for the designation Crémant de Savoie.
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