Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Les Vins Savoyards!

A trip to France is always welcome. I love exploring over there, going to local shops, big supermarkets and of course visiting vineyards. I like just searching through rows of bottles, examining the labels, matching up regions with grape varieties, testing myself, and quite often learning a fair bit. On my most recent trip to France, I didn't get that much chance to indulge my inner wine geek. Myself, the wife, and friends were in Val D'isere on a winter ski trip, and as such, I didn't have that much time, nor were there that many outlets to explore for wines. I'm lying slightly here, because there was one really great-looking 'cave du vin' in the center of Val D'. I ventured in once, and it was exactly as one might expect it to be; full of big names and ski-resort prices! Needless to say, I drooled over the bottle for a while, before leaving empty-handed.

There were however, a few local, small supermarkets that obviously stocked wine, and much of that was local stuff. I say 'local', although not actually in a wine region, Val D'isere's closest wine region is Savoie (or Savoy). I know very little about this small area of wine production. It's not somewhere that comes up very often, and you'd probably have to get through to the level of WSET diploma before encountering it. I looked it up when I had a chance, and a wi-fi connection. It turns out, the Savoie region produces red and white wines, from many different grapes, and of different quality levels. In a similar system to Beaujolais wines, there is a basic 'Vin de Savoie' AOC that encompasses the lower echelons, and then better quality 'Crus', named after places or sub-regions (for example, Chignon). These often have tighter AOC regulations, and as such can be of higher quality. White wines tend to be blends of several grapes, Roussanne being a good example. The reds are more often single variety wines made, most often, from Pinot Noir, Gamay or Mondeuse (the latter being the most successful local variety).

While away, I tried a couple of local Vin de Savoie wines, one white and one red. I couldn't get much more than that as we also had an endless supply of 'Chalet-wine' to drink with evening meals. This nondescript wine, besides coming in a 20L box and costing less than 1 Euro per Litre (so we were told), was not too terrible, and sufficient for lubricating one's dinner.

Box-o'-wine! The 'free' chalet wine in 20 L boxes. The white wine was not
kept cold, despite being less than 2 Feet from a balcony door...

Vin blanc de Savoie - Please
forgive the wonky picture!
After a day on the slopes and an afternoon in the pub, I forgot to take detailed tasting notes for the white wine. I can tell you from memory, that it was a blend of local varieties put together by Chateau de Ripaille in 2012, and was actually very tasty. It was reminiscent of a dry Chardonnay, with crisp, refreshing acidity, some citrus and apple flavours, good body and a fairly balanced palate. Not complex at all, but a nice, easy drinker. I would expect that blending varietals allows more room for error with the individual, base, wines, and that balance is achieved in the blend ratios. I probably shouldn't have opened it in the state we were all in that evening, but that's what you do on holiday, and it served as a refreshing aperitif.

Next, opened a couple of days after the white, a red wine made from the local Mondeuse grape. It was a 2012, old vines 'Cuvee Gastronomie', from Jean Perrier and sons. I had no idea what to expect from this wine. At the time, I knew nothing about the region or this grape. I thought it might be leaner in style, with high acidity and low tannins, coming from a cooler region in the foothills of the Alps. I was actually fairly wrong! In the glass it was a lovely deep ruby red, with a light, youthful purple edge. It was mildly translucent but had good colour concentration. The nose was of medium intensity, and was bold and forthcoming, what I wrote down as "pretty punchy". There were floral violets, cherries and some lighter red berries. Surrounding all of that sweet fruit though, was a swathe of black pepper. This wasn't unpleasant, but it did fill the nostrils. I didn't pick up on any great amount of oak, if it was there, it was well hidden. The palate was light and supple, smooth to start with, and then followed by a good dose of tannins. The dryness, acidity and a tannic bitterness, perhaps a little green for those who like that term, came through in the mid-palate. The body was good, of medium level, helped by surprising alcohol presence, and provided a pleasing texture. There were some nice fruits, cherries and redcurrants mainly. However, the wine became a bit clawing after a while, losing balance. The finish wasn't too bad, medium length, and full of that peppery spice again. Overall, it was an intriguing introduction to the Mondeuse grape. It showed a great deal of potential, with a full nose, and also in the mouth, at first. It lost it's way towards the end though, and became something a little rustic and unrefined. After looking-up the characteristics of this variety, I think the example i got was quite typical. Having said that, I'm sure there are better examples out there. As you may expect from the name, it was better with food. The edges were rounded-off a little and the pepper somewhat tamed.

Mondeuse de Savoie -
A simple, but elegant label.
I can actually imagine that a well-made, balanced example of Mondeuse would age well for a few years. I bought a couple of slightly more expensive examples back with me to go in the cellar. I paid 7 and 8 Euros for the above white and red wines, respectively. The ones I've brought back cost 12 Euros, so hopefully will be a little higher in quality...?

It's good to try new things, a sentiment that most wine fans will agree on. There's always another country, region, grape or style to try, and learn about. There's also no better way of sampling them, than in situ, where they were produced. If you're away on holiday, wherever you may be, try and find the local wine outlet or shop and ask to try the local stuff. It may be bad, it may be great, most often it's cheap, so either way you've not that much to lose!

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