A Very Savoie Saturday

11/4/23 -


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 area below in larger context

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. 

France Gonzalvez

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.

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