Les Vins des Skieurs
At this time of year, the rain tends to be falling in the UK and some of us will be thinking about slipping off to Europe in search of snow and some nice skiing. This year so far, the snow has been thin on the ground, I can attest to that. But there are plenty of other things to do and discover in the mountains when the Pistes are a bit bare. One thing you can always discover is the WINE!
I have recently returned from a trip to the Savoie in the Northern Alps not far from Mont Blanc as the crow flies. It is a beautiful little corner of the Alps, relatively unspoilt and fabulous for scenery, food - especially cheese - and wine. The wine comes from down the valley near Chambery from vines which sit on a unique terroir forged by an almighty 500 million m3 land slide in the 13th century. This cataclysmic event transformed the foothills of Mont Granier into todays craggy relief made of moraine rocks, clay and limestone. On this special terroir, producers have planted grapes which suit the climate and growing conditions and result in that special alchemy between local wine and local food.
When eating in the Alps, the connection to the surrounding landscape is palpable. The Chartreuse and Bauges mountains which dominate Chambery above the fertile plain provide a diverse spectrum of produce. When in the region, our favourite typical dinner would start with a selection of local Saucisson and Pates followed by Diot et Crozet, a hearty local Sausage cooked in white wine and served with a rustic buckwheat Pasta which is baked in the oven with local cheese. The dinner would then finish with a 'Tarte aux Myrtilles', a simple little sweet pastry topped with wild blueberries which proliferate on the mountain sides. Of course, this deliciously calorific meal needs plenty of wine to wash it down and the local grapes match perfectly with these hearty ingredients.
The main white grapes of the region are Roussette (also called Altesse), Jacquere and Roussanne (also called Bergeron and used to make the rare Chignin Bergeron wine). Reds are from Mondeuse, Gamay, and Persan. There are also rarities like Gringet and Douce noire and pockets of well know grapes like Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. These grapes all resist the extreme climate well and develop uniquely mountainous personalities. Good strong acidity is not surprisingly a characteristic. Whites have a delicious purity to them which remind of mountain streams, even in the oaked Chignin Bergeron wine. The reds are both fruity and savoury, more Burgundy than Bordeaux, quite pale in colour, medium bodied and with red and dark berry aromas which always remind me of the delicious 'Myrtilles' fruit.
So here in this magnificent landscape around the villages of Chignin, Apremont and Montmelian you will find many of the regions best vines and wine producers Including perhaps the best winery of all, Domaine Giachino.
Frédéric Giachino comes from a family of Agricultural workers in the rich Grésivaudan plain, who produced cereals, nuts and fruits. In 1988, he took over the 1.5 hectares of vines that still belonged to the family and had been tended to by his grandfather Marius Genton. He was soon joined by his brother David and together they developed the vineyard plantings to total 9 hectares near to the village of Apremont.
The vines are planted with Jacquere, Rousette, Gamay, Persan, Mondeuse and the rare Douce Noir. The brothers always had a vision for quality and as such natural production. They were certified Organic in 2006 and are now also certified biodynamic by Demeter. Naturally, all fermentations use indigenous yeast, barrel maturation is limited as is the use of sulphites. The wines are simply delicious, representative of their terroir, the unique grapes and the passion and hard work of the Giachino family. There is an emerging number of small natural growers in the region and they are spearheaded by Giachino who really are the benchmark. Recently they took over the production of the mystical vineyard of Prieure St Christophe which was for years owned and run by local Icon Michel Grisard. They continue Michel's legacy and from these vines make some of the best and most profound Mondeuse in the Savoie.
THE MIXED CASE
A feast for the lover of Alpine wine and food. These signature grapes display the unique personality of the Alpes beautifully. Domaine Giachino raise Alpine wine to the Michelin Star level. Both whites have a stunning purity and finesse with potential to age and become complex and creamy. The reds are also stunners, on the one hand very easy to drink being medium bodied, fresh and elegant but also with underlying complexity, layers of minerality and fruit which again provide the basis for ageing potential. With mountain foods, hearty sausages, Saucisson, Beaufort Cheese, Fondue, Tartiflette, these wines are fantastic and a real winter treat.
Persan - The Savoie's Unknown Gem
Persan is grape we don't come across much in the UK. It is probably not immediate enough for our market which still tends towards wines of body and power. It has a very patchy history with little information. Some thought it to be a relation of Pinot Noir and/or Syrah but DNA testing has discounted this theory. The name suggests that like Syrah/Shiraz, it was brought to France by the Persians way back when, but again, this is probably not the case. Some records from the 17th century indicate the name came from a vineyard planting called 'Princens' east of Grenoble that was highly regarded and popular. Ultimately, it is a very rare grape even today. In 2012 there were only about 25 hectares in the region, (although there are probably more now) and it doesn't travel well. It is also susceptible to mildew and other disease and yields for this high quality grape are naturally very low making it not the most commercially attractive.
Although Persan is often cited as a full bodied wine, my experience is of a more medium wine, which opens quietly with warm, slightly savoury berry fruits (Myrtilles again) and has a firm backbone of acidity and subtle notes of spice. It is a wine which needs a little time to understand and love, but it is pure Savoie. It is not a flashy grape but is honest, from the land and delicious. With any food from the area, it is the ideal red, but meat with fruit is a special recommendation. Something like game with raspberries or even the local blueberries. The savoury nature of the wine would also suit mushrooms and strong aged Alpine cheeses.