• 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
  • Savoie Savior: Prieure Saint-Christophe

    Savoie Savior: Prieure Saint-Christophe

    "The world of Savoie wine would be much poorer without him and owes him a bigger debt of gratitude than is evidenced today. I salute you, Michel." — Wink Lorch, Wines of the French Alps

    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
  • Savoie's Fresh Streak

    Savoie's Fresh Streak

    Over the last few years, I've found myself reaching more and more for new cool-climate French wines. Of course, that has to include the Savoie, located just along the Swiss border in view of Mont Blanc. Although history is as steep as the slopes here, it's a younger name, Domaine des Ardoisières, that I turn to for alpine inflections and mineral spring purity in both the whites and reds.

    Ardoisières works with two sites in the Savoie, Cevins and St. Pierre de Soucy, both farmed biodynamically since their 1998 founding. These vineyards were originally planted back in Roman times but were overtaken by forest as the region fell into obscurity. A group cleared these forests in the late 1990's for replanting, then in 2005, Champagne native Brice Omont took the lead on winemaking. This small-production estate has become the darling of the Savoie and a champion of the region's great potential.

    From the clay-dominant hillsides of St. Pierre de Soucy, Argile Blanc is made of 40% Jacquère, 40% Chardonnay, and 20% Mondeuse Blanche. And Argile Rouge is 80% Gamay and 20% Persan. Compared to Beaujolais Gamay, this Savoie rendition has lighter body and more pepper tones. The fruit profile is more red raspberry than the accustomed plush, grapey Beaujolais traits, and the finish lingers with a brisk mineral flicker that's lip-smacking good! Both wines are aged for nine months in vats.

    And from southeast-facing terraces in Cevins, Quartz Blanc is made of 100% Altesse and Améthyste Rouge is 60% Persan and 40% Mondeuse Noire. The heavy schist soils in Cevins give a racy personality and pulverized rock core that makes this one of my favorite French regions for crisp whites. If you haven't experienced Altesse, you're missing out! These being the most mineral-driven and age-worthy wines of the domaine, they're both aged 18 for months in barrel.

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    Posted by Max Kogod