One of the last unknown regions of France, Savoie and its wines are hidden up in the Alps closely bordered by Switzerland and Italy. At these high altitudes, you’ll find crisp and fresh wines made from grapes not seen often outside the region, that match perfectly with the local cheese.
Savoie: An Overview
Being a region more famous for its ski resorts and fondue, Savoie hasn’t helped its cause much. Because it is such a small and isolated region, very little wine makes it outside to other parts of France let alone out of the country.
But, the little that does make it out is great juice that is worth tracking down. While the high altitudes and very cool climate make it tough to ripen grapes to high sugar levels, this helps to keep acidity high in the wines.
What the wines lack in alcoholic strength and pop you over the head flavour intensity make up for in purity of flavour, and freshness. With only 3 separate AOP’s in the entire region, there are a handful of “cru” villages, a wide range of available grapes, and different styles to keep things interesting.
Vin de Savoie AOP
The catch all appellation for the region includes red, white, rose, and sparkling wines. Choosing from a range of grapes including:
- Savagnin Blanc (not to be confused with Sauvignon Blanc)
- Pinot Noir
While this is allowed, the majority of the wines under this appellation will be white, and most will be based on the Jacquère grape. Also, if a varietal is listed on the label (Vin de Savoie Altesse) it must be used 100%.
Under this AOP, there are 14 villages that can add their name to it. These are referred to as the “crus” of the areas or named villages which are known for their high quality wines. The most well known will be Apremont and Chignin, where minimum 80% Jacquère will be used.
These wines can be light on flavour, but will taste of white flowers, herbs, and citrus in a crisp and light bodied structure.
As for red wines, there are 5 “crus” that can add their village name to the label. These wines will mostly be 100% Mondeuse, while a few villages will blend in some Gamay and Pinot Noir. The roses of the area will be blends of Mondeuse/Gamay/Pinot Noir as well. These will be similar to Beaujolais: light, bright wines with peppery red fruit and high acid.
Roussette de Savoie AOP
While falling under a different appellation, these grapes are sourced from the same area as Vin de Savoie but feature 100% Roussette/Altesse grapes. These wines will be fuller than Jacquère based wines, and sometimes aged in oak to increase complexity and flavour. Expect aromas and flavours of orange blossom, tea leaves, hazelnuts, and white flowers.
Roussette/Altesse are also used 100% in the Seyssel AOP, which aren’t seen much outside of the region.
Savoie Wines and Food Pairing
Because of the cool and Alpine climate, the wines of Savoie, from red to white to rose, are all light bodied with high acidity. This of course makes them great with a wide range of foods, with nothing overpowering. Big slabs of steak are of course out of the question, but this leaves them with a better versatility. Here are a few ideas when pairing the wines of Savoie with food, including a few local choices.
The famous melted cheese dish that is originally from the area. Light cheese with good moisture content is grated and melted in with wine. Served with nutty Roussette/Altesse wine after a day on the slopes or any cold day, and you have a winning combo.
Another local specialty, tartiflette is a baked dish made with potatoes, pork, and melted Reblochon cheese. The savoury and fatty dish is best with Mondeuse based red wines from the “Arbin” cru village.
Cod en Papillote
A great and easy (and healthy) way to cook fish, en papillote is a classic Northern French technique. Fish, vegetables, herbs and something wine are wrapped up in parchment paper are tossed in a hot oven to bake and steam, leaving a clean and lean fish. Reach for a light herb scented Jacquère from the “Apremont” cru.
A simple afternoon snack or even a Sunday brunch, you can’t miss with a little charcuterie platter. Some hunks of cheese, paté, cured meats, and a sliced baguette go a long way. Pop open one of those peppery Savoie reds made from Mondeuse or Gamay and lounge the afternoon away.
Savoie Wines In A Nutshell
With a good portion of the wines sticking around the general area for ski resort tourists, you will be hard pressed to find a variety of wines from this area. On the upside, the most common Jacquère whites and Mondeuse reds are great quality, good value, and pair well with a ton of different foods.
Snoop around, ask questions, do a bit of reading, and experiment a little bit. There is lots of wine out there, and Savoie is a region worth checking out.