Savoyarde Wines: Not To Be Underestimated

by Ian Blackshaw

My wife and I have just spent a few days staying in a friend’s apartment in Le Grand Bornand, a winter and summer resort in the Haute Savoie, and actually enjoyed some warm sunny weather (30+ degrees centigrade!), unlike the Pas de Calais, where the weather pattern continues to be rain, rain and more rain! When will Summer arrive the locals cry in despair?

The Haute Savoie and the Savoie (Departements 74 & 73), which are located in the French Western Alps and form part of the Rhone-Alps Region, produce a wide range and style of wines, including sparkling wines. The one from Ayze, which bears its name and grown above Bonneville in the Arve valley, is particularly interesting, if a little stringent for some palates.

The traditional capital of the Savoie is Chambery, which is an important centre for the Savoie wine trade, from whence hails the well-known and popular Apremont, which one can buy outside the area in our local supermarkets.

Part of the Haute Savoie and Savoie territory borders the southern shores of Lake Geneva, producing some fine white wines, such as Chateau de Ripaille and the semi-petillant Crepy, marketed as ‘drops of gold’ because of its colour, both of which are enjoyable as an aperitif and also an accompaniment to the famous local dish of filets de perch from the Lake.

These Savoyarde white wines tend to mirror the Swiss white wines from the Canton of Vaud, on the other side of the Lake, and use, amongst others, the Swiss Chasselas grape variety, which produces a full, dry and, at the same time, fruity wine.

As one might expect, most of the Savoyarde wines are white, but the area also produces some good reds, such as Mondeuse, which goes particularly well with the local Reblonchon and Tomme de Savoie cheeses – not for the faint-hearted!

One other red, which we discovered to our delight and would like to recommend to readers, is a generic ‘Pinot’ from the Chambery area, which retails at the remarkable price of €5 a bottle. The grape variety is ‘Pinot Noir’ and the wine has an ABV of 13%; the 2010 vintage is particularly good. The wine is a lovely ruby colour and has ‘fruits rouges’ notes and goes very well with cheese and meat. It also partners the local Savoyarde dish of Tartiflette – a hearty mountain collation comprising sliced potatoes, mountain ham and melted Reblochon cheese, all baked in the oven.

This is just the sort of simple – dare one say, in these PC days, peasant – fare to come back to after working up an appetite from either skiing in the Winter or walking in the mountains in Summer.

Like most local dishes and wines, they seem to taste best in situ and especially outside. We enjoyed both for a most satisfying dinner on the terrace of the apartment overlooking the Aravis chain of mountains bathed in the glow of the setting sun!

A far cry from and now back to the cold and wet of the North of France! Ugh!