• French Alpine Pleaser: Domaine Giachino

    French Alpine Pleaser: Domaine Giachino

    This year, I have been growingly curious about this alpine region over the more popular Jura. A couple of months ago, I wrote about Michel Grisard of Prieuré Saint-Christophe, who spearheaded much of Savoie's renaissance in the 1990s. Today, I would like to introduce you to one of the vignerons directly impacted by his work: Frédéric Giachino. This was the domaine that originally drew me to the Savoie, and they remain my absolute favorite, for their incredible price point and drinkability.

    Frédéric is an OG in his own right. Native to Savoie, his grandparents farmed cereals, nuts, fruits, and a small vineyard planted with Jacquère. Frédéric asked if he could take over the vines and start a domaine. In 1988, this was a risky proposition, as Jacquère still had a bad reputation. Luckily, the rest of the region quickly caught on, with vignerons like Grisard leading the charge. Abandoned vineyards planted with native varieties were revitalized, and today, Jacquère is Savoie’s most popular white grape.

    Though these are technically “natural” wines, the Giachinos are more concerned with respecting nature and capturing their sense of place. In the 13th century, the north face of Mount Granier came loose and spilled 500 million cubic meters of limestone into the valley below, where Domaine Giachino is now based. Between this and Savoie’s alpine terrain, the resulting wines are brisk, mineral-driven, and extremely enjoyable in Lorch’s words. Consider drinking Giachino’s Jacquère in place of a glass of Chablis, or their Mondeuse over a glass of Northern Rhône Syrah!

    Frédéric also planted Altesse, Persan, and Gamay, among other native varieties. For years, he worked under lutte raisonnée, a farming practice that allows for chemical pesticides when necessary. According to Wink Lorch, it wasn’t until the early aughts when Frédéric met a group of vignerons farming organically, who would form a cohort called Pétavins—this introduction changed everything. In 2006, the domaine became organic-certified. And in 2015, the Giachinos inherited Grisard’s estate vineyard upon his retirement (They still produce the wines under the Prieuré Saint-Christophe label). Today, Frédéric is joined by his brother, David, and his son, Clement, who have helped carry the domaine into this new era.

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    Posted by Sydney Love
  • Next in Savoie: Domaine des Côtes Rousses

    Next in Savoie: Domaine des Côtes Rousses

    If you’re going to explore alpine red wines, then you must have the Savoie's most popular native variety called Mondeuse. One of the best examples we’ve encountered this year comes from a younger vigneron: Nicolas Ferrand’s 2018 Coteau de la Mort.

    In Wines of the French Alps (2019), Wink Lorch describes Ferrand’s Coteau de la Mort as “a devout and serious wine,” comparing its taut youthfulness to that of meditative monks. The sultry yet playful wine label may suggest that this is a natural wine—and it is, given Ferrand’s biodynamic farming practices and minimal-intervention winemaking. For Coteau de la Mort, he does a semi-carbonic fermentation without any piegeage (pressing down of the skins), fining or filtering, a minimal amount of sulfur, and aging in larger format barrels. This wine has a stature comparable to Northern Rhône Syrah, with high-toned black cherry, black pepper, and pressed rose petals, but today, this 2018 Mondeuse bottling is also juicy and sleek.

    Coteau de la Mort, or hill of death, was one of many ancient hill vineyards re-planted during Savoie’s renaissance in the 1990s, thanks to early champions, like Michel Grisard of Prieuré St-Christophe. In 2013, it became a part of the 1.5 hectares that Nicolas Ferrand purchased when starting Domaine des Côtes Rousses. Based in Saint Jean de la Porte, one of Savoie’s top crus for Mondeuse, this sub-appellation has distinct red clay soils (the inspiration behind the domaine’s name) in addition to limestone and moraine. Ferrand has farmed organically from the beginning, and utilizes horses and sheep in partnership with his neighbors. Ferrand is native to the area, but his family previously farmed cattle, making him a first-generation vigneron.

    In the last decade, Domaine des Côtes Rousses has steadily grown to six hectares and so has the buzz. Lorch concludes her review saying, “Nicolas’s wines should become a staple in every Savoie wine lover’s cellar,” if only he can keep his minimal-intervention winemaking in check. Ferrand has our attention with this current release. The 2018 Coteau de la Mort is a refreshing take on this sliver of Savoie history.

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    Posted by Sydney Love
  • Savoie Savior: Prieuré Saint-Christophe

    Savoie Savior: Prieuré Saint-Christophe

    Last week, I wrote about Les Mémoires, Thierry Germain’s soulful, old-vine Cabernet Franc. I’m switching gears today and heading to the French Alps. If you enjoy white wines from the Jura but haven’t dipped into Savoie, you're missing out. One of the most important names to know is Michel Grisard.

    This vigneron started Prieuré Saint-Christophe in the late 1970s, after running his family's domaine for a decade. His new sole intention was to produce high-quality, ageable Mondeuse, a powerfully deep red grape variety native to the area. Grisard succeeded but didn’t stop there: He was the Savoie’s first vigneron to adopt Biodynamics, played a key role in the local movement to revive the region’s many abandoned vineyards, by replanting them with indigenous varieties, and he also founded Domaine des Ardoisières.

    Grisard devoted his career to championing Savoie, and the wine region is as popular as ever, largely thanks to his pioneering work. He retired after the 2014 vintage and gave his vineyards to the Giachino brothers (Currently, my favorite producer in the Savoie). They have carried on Grisard's legacy and continue to produce wines from his former estate under the Prieuré Saint-Christophe label.

    In addition to Mondeuse, Grisard also planted 1.4 hectares of Altesse—the finest indigenous white grape variety of Savoie, according to Wink Lorch, author of Wines of the French Alps. (If you don’t know about Lorch, she is a leading expert on this alpine region). Comparable to Burgundy’s Aligoté or Italy’s Trebbiano, Altesse offers an intriguing concentration of fruit with floral and nutty tones.

    From the foothills of the Massif des Bauges, on clay and limestone soils, this estate produces one of the most linear examples of Altesse we’ve encountered. It interplays succulent pear with striking minerality, and a slight texture of fresh almond—a pleasing combination that’s compelling and delicious. The wine spontaneously ferments and ages in large oak casks to avoid any oak flavors.

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    Posted by Sydney Love
  • Alpine Heroics: 2020 Grosjean Valle d'Aosta

    Alpine Heroics: 2020 Grosjean Valle d'Aosta

    The Grosjean family has been farming their vineyards in the mountains of Valle d'Aosta for generations. Importer Neal Rosenthal is dialed into the alpine vineyards throughout Northern Italy like no one else. His portfolio includes diverse talents like Jean-Marie Fourrier, Jacques Carillon, and Montevertine. However, it's smaller, modestly priced producers from these esoteric regions that define the portfolio's brilliance.

    As far as Italian alpine wines go, there is very little competition in the realm of organic and biodynamic estates. The village of Fornet in the Valle d'Aosta sits in the shadow of the towering Mont Blanc. As you can imagine, the high-altitude conditions provide a snap and clarity to the wines with a signature herbal note.

    Petite Arvine, a local white variety, is sourced from Grosjean's Rovettaz Vineyard, situated at 700 meters above sea level. Ripe peach and fennel meet a salty, alpine-influenced finish, harnessing some of the mystical mint profile also evident in Torrette.

    Also from the Rovettaz Vineyard, "Torrette" is primarily made of the native variety Petit Rouge (80%), with smaller amounts of Vien de Nus, Doucet, Fumin, and Mayolet. Black raspberry, red licorice, and wild herbs meld together to craft an absolutely delicious wine reflective of its unique place. The wine is aged in stainless steel to preserve its bright, fresh-fruited personality.

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    Posted by Max Kogod