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It's been a while since we last sent out a big Savoie email blast, and something about the Fall weather, and the deep cuts that we happen to have in stock made us feel like it was finally time again! As our little caption suggests, this is actually a Bugey-Savoie-Isère affair, highlighting winemakers who are nestled throughout these three wine regions in eastern France.
The map below is hopefully useful, especially considering how we can see not just the influence of the Alps, but also the Rhône river, which carves valleys through these remote wine regions before flowing south through Lyon into what we know as the Rhône Valley.
There are many tributaries and lakes in our area of interest, and hills aplenty! Slopes are easy to find, and epic nature photos seem to be around every bend. If you've ever driven the length of the Lac du Bourget along its eastern shore, you'll know what I mean.
We start our list with estates that are north of the Rhone river, in the Bugey, which is bordered by Savoie to the east and south-east (on the other side of the Rhone), and Isère to the south. Renardat-Fache and Patrick Bottex are in Cerdon, in the northern part of the Bugey region near the Ain river valley, and Chateau des Eclaz is located near the lieu-dit Manicle, further south and closer to the Rhone (I forgot to put Bottex on the map, but the dot would be right next to Renardat-Fache!). Jumping across the river into the Savoie department, we'll start with Florian and Marie Curtet in Motz and head south, where the Bauges and Chartreuse mountain ranges to the east and south of Lac du Bourget almost block our view of the Alps! Dupasquier's winery is on the west coast of Lake Bourget, while France Gonzalvez's chai is in the foothills of the Bauges mountains, and Domaine des Côtes Rousses is south of the lake, at the northern part of the Chartreuse mountain range. Over the Bauges mountains to the east, we find Domaine des Ardoisieres in the small town of Fréterive, where Mont Blanc (the highest mountain in the Alps) towers in the distance. Finally, we double back across hundreds of hills, west towards Lyon, until we reach Nicholas Gonin in Isère. Though the Isère department covers some mountainous terrain, including the Chartreuse mountains and part of the Alps (near the Coteaux de Gresivaudaun where our friend Thomas Finot makes wine), the area near Saint-Chef, where Gonin lives, is a kind of forgotten land. Less influenced by the alpine climate (more semi-continental instead), sitting smack in the middle of nowhere between the Northern Rhone (to the west) and Savoie (to the east), it's no wonder that Gonin has become mildly obsessed with obscure, forgotten local grapes from his hometown and neighboring villages. He can be pointed to as THE guy who is in large part responsible for cultivation and re-emergence of grapes like Persan, or his newest passion, Mecle de Bourgin.
Most of the wines on offer today are from estates we have written about and stocked in the past, and represent some of the finest examples from their regions, but we want to take a moment to single out the one newcomer, France Gonzalvez, who is not new to making wine but is a fresh new face on the Savoie wine scene. Hailing from Beaujolais originally, France moved to the village of Trévignin several years ago and has acquired some vines that she is in the process of converting to organic, supplemented by small parcels of older vines (certified Organic or Biodynamic) that she is either renting or sourcing from in Apremont, Chignin and Freterive (where Domaine des Ardoisieres is located). She says she moved to the Savoie "because my sons love to ski," but my guess is the prospect of working with the unique white grapes of the region, and having a familiarity with Gamay (from her Beaujolais upbringing) and a curiosity about Mondeuse and Pinot Noir, probably played a part in the move too. Whatever the motivations, we're really impressed with the wines, which are low alcohol, low intervention (bare minimum SO2 additions at bottling), and bring us a very classic, yet somehow refreshing take on the traditional white and red grapes of the Savoie. Her Jacquere is electric, the Altesse is aromatically more complex (to be expected) but maintains a level of leanness and dominant mineral notes that I don't usually expect from the sometimes riper and more "fruity" variety, and her Chignin Bergeron (Roussanne) is fascinating for it's depth, and mid-palate density framed by a mineral "verticality" that I don't usually expect from that variety. There's clearly a theme here, and if wines that are "varietally correct" can also expand our understanding of varieties that we thought we had figured out, I'm always interested. Aside from one cuvee that blends Gamay from the Savoie with Gamay from Beaujolais, her reds are similarly explorations of the cepages locales: Gamay, Pinot Noir, and Mondeuse. The 'Miss Mond' Mondeuse at 9.5%, a dark and vibrant purple in the glass, with rustic flavors but immensely delicate and fresh, is another example of a slightly new take on the variety that still respects and highlights its textbook characteristics. I think France just likes to drink her own wines, and prefers low sulfur, low alcohol, and balanced acidity, so we can present her as a trailblazer, but in the end she probably doesn't see it that way. To be fair, many producers in the area are and have been making balanced and lower alcohol wines with minimal intervention for a long time! It's perhaps inevitable in an area with such Alpine influence and with grapes that are not known for power. To sum things up, we highly recommend her wines, which are not to be feared for their low additions of SO2. These are SAVOIE wines, no doubt about it, and will dissapoint anyone searching for a "funky," bacterially confused bottle. They are clean, precise, compelling for educational (wine geek) purposes, and fit very well in the rotating family of Savoie wines that we stock here at CSW.
Near the town of Manicle, Micky and his uncle tend to their small family domaine. Cuvee Fleurus is 100% Altesse from young vines on clay and limestone soils, pressed direct and fermented and aged in stainless steel. Though Altesse can easily take on a fruity profile, with ripe orchard fruit notes and roundness on the palate, Micky's approach was meant to guard freshness and present a style of Altesse that would be suitable for an apero. We think he nailed it with this cuvee, which does develop softer and rounder notes after several hours open, but on opening resembles Jacquere more than Altesse!
Frisson des Cimes started as an all Mondeuse cuvée, but the 2019 employs Pinot Noir and Gamay as well, giving the wine a lovely, energetic lift. More floral and light on its feet than their other red, the "Autrement Rouge," this would be great with light meals, vegetarian fare, or on its own.
This Roussette de Savoie (Altesse) is from vines that France Gonzalvez is converting to organic (in 2nd year of conversion). At 11% alc, it's remarkably fresh and zippy for an Altesse, with fantastic mineral length. // France's Notes: "Direct press, fermented and aged in 600L barrels with native yeasts and minimal sulfur of 1g at bottling. Pale straw in colour with hints of milky green. The nose expresses a subtle and refined potpurri of flowers, spices, discreet oak and smoke with notes of toast, mayflower, pear, rhubarb, ginger and graphite. The palate is saline yet round, graceful and balanced."
The Chignin Bergeron (Roussanne) is a medium bodied, acid-forward expression from certified organic vineyards in the Savoie. // France's Notes: "Native yeasts, direct press, fermentation in concrete with minimal 1gm sulphur at bottling. A deep golden hue with amber reflections. The nose combines notes of elegant oak with refined fruit, herbaceousness and spices such as flint, musk, lemon confit, angelica, dried apricots, iris root and cardamon. The palate is taut with a fine balance of energy and minerality with a suave ripeness." // Jeff's notes!: Beautiful Roussanne with some richness but still fresh and airy. Great depth and a mineral streak that gives balance, with precise acidity and lovely texture.
A lovely, balanced Pinot Noir from vines in conversion to organic certification. 10.5% alc. This Pinot Noir is light bodied, fresh and energetic with brambly raspberry and dark cherry fruit and a hint of earthiness. It has some cool herbs and lively acidity, making it a delicious red you can chill and enjoy with or without food.
Inouie is Savoie Gamay from certified organic vineyards, aged in amphora, and worthy of a decant or a bit more time in the bottle (it just arrived about a month ago). We love the deep tones of the wine, and the soft feel of the tannins! // France's Notes: "Mountain Gamay, mineral and intensely fruity. Semi Carbonic maceration with native yeasts, aging in amphora and minimal 1gm sulphur at bottling. A clear raspberry hue with mauve reflections. The nose is fresh and lively with notes of flowers, spice and herbaceousness such as soot, matchstick, peony, strawberry, marshmallow, cumin and chicory. The palate is balanced between roundness and energy underscored by a juicy ripeness."
Nicolas Gonin planted a parcel of Jacquere near the town Saint-Marcel, on jurassic limestone terroir, in 2015. This new bottling, the Jacquere-Altesse, seems to be the first cuvee from Gonin that utilizes some of these young vines. It's a new addition to the lineup! A local grape to the Savoie region, Jacquere is known to produce fresh, mineral wines, with generally balanced or low alcohol. We usually think of Jacquere as the Melon de Bourgogne of the Savoie, as a clean Jacquere with a touch of alpine influence can resemble a Muscadet from the Atlantic coast. Different settings, but the grapes both seem to carry the mineral character of the terroirs so well. This is Jacquere from Gonin's young vines, blended with Altesse, which typically brings more ripe, orchard fruit and roundness.
A new still wine from Renardat-Fache! The first vintage of this still, red, dry, Gamay (as opposed to their more famous Cerdon du Bugey) was 2018. This particular non-vintage "vintage" of the wine is a blend of 70% 2022 and 30% 2021. The bunches are destemmed and fermented spontaneously with native yeasts and without sulfur. The maceration lasts around a week. The wine is aged in old foudres, one of which is depicted on the very lively label, in the cellar of Elie Renardat's grandmother Mémé's house (hence the name of the wine). The wine is bottled without filtration and with a small amount of sulfur. Very small production. Absolutely delicious!
Wow - A new 100% Poulsard still wine from Renardat-Fache! The Renardats are 7th-generation vignerons in the tiny Cerdon du Bugey village of Mérignat. They farm their 13 hectares of Gamay and Poulsard organically and biodynamically (certified as of the 2022 vintage) in these high, rolling, wooded, steep hills of rocky clay-limestone soils. "Meythe" is local patois for Poulsard, hence the name of the wine (pronuncation is maitch). The fruit is destemmed and fermented spontaneously with native yeasts and without sulfur in tank. The maceration lasts around a week. The wine is aged in tank and bottled without filtration and with a small amount of sulfur. 400-bottle production in 2020. We haven't tasted this as we only got 18 btls, but it has to be good!
Vin de Savoie of Gamay, Pinot Noir, and Mondeuse, farmed organically by Marie & Florian Curtet. The 36 year old vines are planted to Mossiac limestone and have an exposure that ranges from west to southwest. In 2018, whole bunch fermentation was done for 4-5 weeks before pressing. Afterwards, the wine was aged on the lees in concrete tanks for 11 months, then lightly filtered before bottling. Only a touch of SO2 is added. The wine has a black core with light magenta edges. The first night open, the nose was full of tart blueberries and red cherries, and the palate echoed those aromas, but with a salty edge. Structurally, it was sparky and vibrant, with very little tannin, instead relying on a beam of acidity for definition. On the second night, the nose has become floral, with dark roses, crushed raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry. The palate expresses obvious pomegranate, raspberry, and black cherry flavors, followed up by a lingering hint of graphite. On the second night, there is more tannin, on the gums and on the back of the tongue. The acidity has softened. Two different sides to a wine - both delicious. Marie and Florien definitely know what they're doing. David Hatzopoulos
A blend of mostly Gamay (about 80%), with Pinot Noir and Mondeuse from vineyards in the commune of Chautagne de Serrieres and Cellier des Pauvres. Though they will likely make a bit less of the 'Autrement' in the future, this is their homage to the first "natural" wine that Jacques Maillet produced, back in 2003. It is an expression of the Savoie, and reflects Maillet's philosophy of cultivating healthy vineyards without the use of chemicals, and producing authentic wines that show the potential of the region. Like their other reds, maceration is whole cluster, without pump over or punch down, 9 months lees aging, and a light filtration and only 1g/hl (hectoliter) of SO2 at bottling. Delicious wine!
Jacquere from the Savoie is generally delicate and light with crisp, citrusy acid and powdery minerality. Though there is no lack of acidity here, the wine is more mellow than some and acid isn't all that defines its profile. A thought-provoking wine for the price!
Like all of the wines from David and Veronique Dupasquier, this Roussette de Savoie (Altesse) was fermented and partially aged in undergound concrete vats, then aged on the fine lees for a year in large foudre before spending 18 months in bottle. The robe shows golden straw in the glass and offers vivid aromas of white flowers, mint, dried mango, and faint oxidative notes of walnut. The palate is supple and dynamic with a coiled mineral core beneath layers of ripe apricot, orange peel, and toasted almond. A beautiful introduction to the appellation!
100% Altesse (locally called Roussette) that comes from the steep Marestel Cru situated high above Jongieux on the western side of Mont du Chat; Marestel is one of four appellations within the winding Roussette de Savoie AOC. The steep, southwestern facing slope provides abundant sun exposure for the vines, which aids the ripening in the cool mountain clime. The yields from this site are low and provide very concentrated fruit. The grapes are harvested meticulously by hand and fermented wtih native yeasts in concrete vat before aging on the fine lees in large foudres for a year. After bottling, the wine spends 18 months resting in glass before market release. The palate is characteristically full with distinct flavors of mint, lemon zest, almond, and wildflower honey. This is a bold and fascinating wine that should only improve with age.
The red wines from David and Veronique Dupasquier are a real treat! This 2020 Gamay is a dark garnet in the glass and the nose offers generous aromas of black plum, black cherry, crushed violets, and ferral notes mingled with black pepper. The palate is structured with dense minerality. Flavors of crunchy blueberry, tobacco leaf, blood orange, and a savory note of game on the finish make this a perfect companion for the cool, autumnal nights ahead.
David Dupasquier’s Mondeuse is his piece de resistance. The sunny clime and wide diurnal range naturally results in healthy vines and perfectly ripe grapes which the Dupasquier family masterfully makes into seriously delicious wines. This wine is deep with a dark purple robe and exhibits spicy blackberry fruit, black peppercorn, dried violet petals, and a touch of meaty funk reminiscent of northern Rhône Valley Syrah. The year spent in large neutral oak helps to soften the tannins and the year spent in bottle before release allows the fruit to integrate well with the spicy and savory flavors present on the palate. Pair this with grilled lamb or cheeseburgers!
La Pente is 100% Jacquère from steep slopes on limestone based soils. Approximately half of the final blend is aged in old oak barrels with the other half aged in tank. It is a fresh, dazzling yellow in color. Initially, the nose offers distinct aromas of crisp green pear with accents of woodsy pine and winter smoke, growing into something more floral.. The palate follows a similar course, beginning rather herbal, with stone fruits and salinity on the finish. With time, flavors of young mango appear, before a clean and peppery finish. Very high acidity and a medium-rich swish hold this awesome wine together.
A direct press of certified organic Jacquère from Apremont, 'Jour Blanc' is an exhiliratingly fresh and lifted white wine. The wine was bottled with 1g of S02 at bottling, after a short aging in cement (bottled in January '23).
France says this is a wine of meditation, we find it's so charming and tasty that meditation is not necessary! A Vin de France blend of Gamay from Savoie (in conversion to organic certification) and organic certified Gamay from Beaujolais (France's home region) that is juicy and mineral, with nice lift and ready to drink! // France's Notes: "10 days carbonic maceration, native yeasts, fermentation in concrete with minimal 1gm sulfur at bottling. A raspberry robe with hints of mahogany and mauve. The nose skews more compote like with floral, spice, herbaceous notes underscored by graphite, Damascus rose, bitter orange, cumin and laurel. The palate balances acidity with a generous body and ripeness. A true "wine of meditation". /
Miss Mond is France Gonzalvez's mystifying Mondeuse at 9.5° alc! Rustic flavors, Syrah-like profile on the nose (no surprise since Mondeuse is a grandparent of Syrah), but the body is lithe, super light and fresh... It's hard to describe, but we hope we did a good job. Drinking it is better than reading about it! // France's Notes: "100% Mondeuse. The wine was bottled with 1g of S02 at bottling, after a short fermentation in barrel with native yeasts (bottled in January '23). Garnet in hue with mauve and violet reflections, the nose is spicy and floral with notes of damp earth, violets, cassis, blueberry, Sichuan pepper, nutmeg and laurel. The palate is balanced between it's roundness and linear acidity, ripeness and structure."
This is 100% Jacquere from 3 sites in the village of Apremont. Vine age is between 60 and 70 years. Wine is fermented with native yeasts, 1/3 in 2-3 year old barriques, and 2/3 in tank, with zero sulfur during vinification. Aged for 8 months before a light filtration and bottling. The 2022 Silice Blanc from Domaine des Ardoisières is a light, vibrant lemon color in the glass. It is in many ways, a quintessential Savoie white, and for many wine enthusiasts who are hooked on Savoie wines, this (or one of the other Ardoisieres wines) was the "gateway" wine. Perfectly mineral, with wet stones and almost under-ripe stone fruit on the nose, with a mineral profile on the palate, with a touch of body balanced by fantastic Alpine acidity.
From the no-man's land between the Rhône and the Savoie (Isère, to be specific) comes this delicious Mondeuse, which shows the classic aromas and flavors of the grape: the herbal, black pepper, graphite notes we sometimes find in Syrah, with the high-toned earthiness and crunchy acidity of the light reds of cool-climate eastern France. The nose offers blackberry and blackberry seeds, and purple flower petals. The palate is soft, velvety but with a firm finish. Open and pretty aromatically, with some rusticity but low alcohol and graceful on the palate.
A note from our friend Mike Foulk: "Mècle is Nicolas's latest super-rare, vieux cépage that he has brought to light. A cousin of Persan, it was widely cultivated in the Isère before phylloxera, mainly in Saint-Chef (where Nicolas is located) and Saint Savin (near Bourgoin-Jallieu-the full name de Mècle de Bourgoin). As far as I know, Nicolas is the only person to cultivate and vinify this grape, aside from familial plantings in backyards (likely where Nicolas got cuttings)." /// An old wine text, "Le Vignoble," published in 1878 by Henri Bouschet and a long list of other authors, says this about Mecle: "Its cluster, with beautiful grains, dark black, produces a wine of rich color, characterized by a little stiffness and a lot of fullness. The Mècle de Bourgoin is highly esteemed in this locality because of its good vigor, its rusticity and the rich color it produces. The hillsides of Saint-Savin, a short distance from Bourgoin, are almost exclusively planted with Mècle and produce a very black, solid wine, highly sought after by local consumption and even by trade. For several years, this variety of vine has spread, and its cultivation has extended to neighboring vineyards; we found it in Crémieu and in a few localities on the left bank of the Rhône, around Morestel. In our opinion, this grape variety produces, in the region where it is found, wines of better quality than those of Corbeau [aka Douce Noir or Bonarda] and Martelet, which are sometimes associated with it and which are much inferior to it. It would be preferable to grow the Mècle alone or to mix it with at most a tenth of a good variety of white grape, which would give its wine the finesse and strength that it is somewhat lacking." -- this one is 100% Mecle.