The Not-So-Simple Jacquère of Savoie: Domaine des Côtes Rousses and Blard & Fils

3/11/21 -

It is so easy to put your nose into Jacquère from a recently opened bottle, or take a sip three seconds after you pull it from the fridge, and assume that the wine will be pleasant, but rather neutral for the entirety of its life. Lean and bracing, but not particularly complex. This isn't a PSA, but I do have to include a "CAUTION" here: If you are exposed to a seemingly bland Jacquère from the Savoie, please do not pour yourself a pint and gulp it like mineral water, though the urge may present itself. Instead, pour yourself a healthy 5 ounces and hang out with it. Let it warm up.

On the nose, is that green tea? Lemon or grapefruit peel? Take a sip. Sliced, firm apricot? Salt? Yellow apple? A hint of black pepper? Mint? Ginger? No wines hide their beauty like these. None are so convincingly cloaked in an initial outfit of lithe, single-noted purity and none evolve into a product of depth and taste at such a poetically gradual pace. Sometimes, a wine begins to flower relatively quickly (10 to 15 minutes after pouring) but it can take much longer. The delicious sans soufre wines of Matthieu Apffel, in my opinion, perform best 24 hours after opening. Try! You really get to know a wine when you spend a day with it. But Apffel isn't our focus at the moment. Today, we're highlighting the wines of Domaine des Côtes Rousses and Blard & Fils - new additions to our growing roster of Savoie at Chambers Street Wines.

"With his obvious dedication to his craft, clear-thinking attitude and a wine quality that has been evident from the start, Nicolas Ferrand has earned genuine respect very quickly," writes Wink Lorch, in her book Wine of the French Alps, of the young man at the helm of Domaine des Côtes Rousses. From buildings that housed his grandparents' livestock in La Motte-Servolex, just north of the city of Chambéry, Ferrand has been producing world-class wines since the inaugural 2014 vintage. His vines are located farther east, mostly huddled around St-Jean-de-la-Porte, known for the red soils from which the domaine derived its name.

The 2018 'La Pente' from Domaine des Côtes Rousses is Jacquère from the limestone slopes of St-Jean-de-la-Porte. Vinified with native yeasts without the addition of sulfur. The wine ages 6-8 months in 25% old oak, 25% in sandstone amphorae, and 50% in foudre. 0-1mg of SO2 at bottling. Upon opening, the wine offered aromas of white flowers, lavender, mint, and an airy, doughiness. The palate was stern, showing flavors of key lime, lemon, and salt. Mouthfeel was fresh and prickly, with great minerality, and a bit of tannin on the tongue. The next day, the wine showed much more depth on the nose, with honeydew melon, tarragon, and clementine peel. Flavors develop into savory peaches and apricots, ground almonds, with a long herbaceous finish.

The 2018 'Armenaz' from Domaine des Côtes Rousses is made with Jacquère from an elevation much higher than that used in ‘La Pente,’ meaning they harvest it 3 weeks later for best ripening. The wine is vinified naturally and without added sulfur. Aged 6 to 8 months in foudre, sur lies. 0-1mg of SO2 at bottling. The nose here quickly became rich, with golden apples, almonds, swaths of green grass and flinty smoke. Flavors of apricot, lemon, pear and bitter mountain herbs were on the palate. Structurally very interesting, with light tannin down the line on the tongue, and strong acidity placed under the tongue and along the cheeks. I finished this bottle long before I could see how it was on day two, but my last glass (hours after opening) was full of apples, orange zest, and herbs.

It was in 2011 when Ferrand officially took on the title of winegrower, he turned what used to be a hobby for past generations, who made wine solely for their own table, into a profession. They were cattle and dairy farmers who used the high landscapes of the French Alps to rear their animals. Ferrand is proud of his lineage, and it influences his philosophy as a winemaker. In his mind, "a good vigneron has earth stuck to his boots." Currently, much of his land is plowed by horses, and much is weeded by grazing sheep.

Domaine des Côtes Rousses became certified biodynamic only last year through Demeter. However, Ferrand has long worked his land with those organic and biodynamic practices. I cannot wait to taste more from this amazing producer, especially as he ventures deeper into the world of “natural” winemaking. These are wines of character, from well farmed land, by a producer who has so far been successful in his “natural” approach. Wink’s last sentence on Domaine des Côtes Rousses shares my sentiment: “Providing he avoids too many risks with low-intervention winemaking, Nicolas’ wines should become a staple in every Savoie wine lover’s cellar.” I have full faith that Ferrand will navigate his future explorations with both intelligence and powerful style.

If you drive 22 minutes from Domaine des Côtes Rousses, to the southern side of Chambéry, you will find the Blard family. Domaine Blard & Fils is run by Jean-Noël and his son Thomas, with vineyards in both Apremont and Abymes. The soil composition here owes much to the 1248 collapse of Mt. Granier, a tragedy not forgotten in the Savoie where thousands of men, women, and children lost their lives. The area is covered in a scree mixture of limestone, clay, and marnes. Parcel by parcel, soil types are different. Boulders of limestone, from small to huge, sit in the middle of vineyard plots, like natural monuments to what occurred so many centuries ago, and to how it is still influencing the region today. As chaotic as the soil here seems, many believe the Savoie's best Jacquère is grown here.

The 2019 Blard & Fils ‘Micraster’ drinks way above the level that Jean-Noel and Thomas intended it to. According to the importer, it is vinified and aged for only 3 months so it can be released in time to support the region's skiing boom in December. A ‘primeur,’ you could say. Only 6000 bottles were produced. The color is very clear, like water with the palest lemon hue. Aromas were soft and airy, with grass, minerals, lemon pith, white petals and yellow cherry. On the tongue the wine shows stone, yellow and orange stone fruits, salt, and herbs. Well-placed, medium-toned acidity works with the faintest of a tannic bite under the tongue. My last glass of the wine, maybe 12 hours after opening, was that of sea salt, smoke, and just-squeezed lime juice. It is only 11.5% in alcohol, by the way. A stunning bottle of wine.

Unfortunately, there are only 10 bottles left of the Blard & Fils ‘Micraster’ in stock and our source is unsure of when more might be arriving. However, we anticipate different bottlings from Jean-Noël and Thomas to arrive within the next month or two. Stay tuned for a feature on this amazing family estate.

In my experience, Jacquère isn’t complicated or difficult to understand, but neither is it simple, flavorless, or lackluster. It evolves on its own time, as frustrating as that might be to those who want the character and development of a wine to fit their own schedule. Others, who are more on the curious side, can create a beautiful connection with one of these bottles as time goes by and flavors, aromas, textures layer upon one another. It can be exciting. It can bond you to what you are drinking. Nicolas Ferrand, as well as Jean-Noel and Thomas Blard, have convinced me of what I was long starting to believe, that Jacquère, glimmering with specks of silver after a twirl in the glass, can show the barrier between drink and drinker at its thinnest.

Thank you to Remy from Grand Cru Imports for sharing information on Domaine des Côtes Rousses, and to Roland Benedetti, from Living Wine Imports, for introducing me to Blard & Fils. And, as always, thank you to Wink Lorch for producing the great book, Wines of the French Alps. I use it all the time. I truly cannot wait to visit this world of wine, cheese, farmers and mountains.

-David Hatzopoulos

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