06 December 2010

savoie-faire, pt 1: domaine belluard at cave de l'insolite, 75011

Michel, owner of La Cave de l'Insolite, who organised the tasting.

As I complained in an earlier post, on one Monday early this past November there were something like eight or nine very good wine tastings happening all around Paris. On the day of, this presented obvious logistical problems that prevented any one oenophile from getting through all of them. (Torrential rain did not help.) Now in the aftermath I find I'm still wading through a surfeit of blog material, much of which seems valuable and worth communicating, slowly fading into irrelevance with the unstinting passage of time...

Anyway, I thought I'd say a few words about the Vin de Savoie tasting held that day at La Cave de l'Insolite, before, like, the next vintages are released. And conceivably a few of you out there in Readerland will be passing some winter vacation on ski trips in Savoy, in which case a survey of the best or more scrupulous wine producers could prove very useful indeed.*

The thing about Vin de Savoie - what made me especially concerned with getting to this tasting, among so many others that day - is that very little of it leaves Savoie. As you might imagine, in a craggy mountainous region known mostly for skiing, wine production is miniscule, with only certain perfectly-positioned slopes capable of bringing grapes to ripeness. Add to that a steady traffic of tourists who are not there for the wine, who will happily drink just about anything, and you have a situation that provides very little incentive for winemakers to develop any kind of wider domestic distribution system, let alone an export market.

All of which would be meaningless, if the wines themselves weren't varied, historied, and rather unique.

I ran into my friends Jean-Luc (middle) and Guy (right) from Le Dirigeable in the 15ème.
Most whites from the region are based either on Jacquère, a bristlingly acidic, lemony, rather dry grape, or on a grape known alternately as Roussette or Altesse, depending on the sub-appellation, which grape I'd typify as being less energetic and trebly than the former, and more pungently scented, often evoking fresh butter and white flowers. Some Rousanne is also grown here and there.

Huge credit has to go to Michel of La Cave de l'Insolite (pictured above), and to the winemakers in attendance, for rustling up many of their Roussette samples from the early to mid-2000's, many of which caused me to re-think my bias against aging the region's whites. The better samples of aged Rousette had a nice brown-butter nuttiness, and more acid that I'd anticipated, with a kind of louche sweetness that I found quite interesting.

But at La Cave de l'Insolite that day the most entrancing white I had derived from a totally different grape that I'd never even heard of: a Gringet, presented by Dominique Belluard, the amusingly Ichabod Crane-ish winemaker at Domaine Belluard.

Belluard the estate was founded in 1947; Dominique is the 3rd generation to produce wine from the estate's 12ha in the commune of Ayse, which is apparently the only place on earth Gringet is grown, all 15ha total of it. This means Dominique has kind of a monopoly on the grape; but after speaking with him that day, I can't help but feel it was the grape that got lucky, landing in his stewardship. How many grapes have a biodynamic winemaker solely devoted to their perfect expression, throughout three still cuvées and one sparkling?

All the cuvées were pretty phenomenal, sharing a delicate white flower nose offset with a chiseled, flinty minerality, and something tropical in the mix as well. Many authorities believe Gringet to be an offshoot of the Traminer family of grapes, which include the Carmen Miranda of wine grapes, Gewürztraminer. In terms of taste and scent alone, this seems quite plausible, but M. Belluard on his website** cites recent scientific studies disproving the connection.

Regardless of the grape's origin, however, I can attest it found spectacular expression in Belluard's "Brut Zero" sparkler. The bubbles seemed to act as a kind of megaphone for the grapes already pronounced aromas. I found myself committing that minor degustation sin of wandering back again and again for more petite tasting pours, trying to parse what I was sensing in the glass. The effect was shimmering, heady, and powerfully compelling, like a great Cocteau Twins song:

To avoid the online equivalent of palate fatigue - reader fatigue - I'll post my take on the many Mondeuses I tasted that night some other time (before the next harvest).

*During a visit to Annecy that predates the founding of this blog, I spend several days in a miserable funk, unable to find a single wine shop stocking current vintages of Vin de Savoie by decent producers. Evidently there is such unthinking tourist-thirst in that city they might as well just serve it with a hose. 

**Which, it ought to be said, is a superb example of what I want in a domaine's website. It's simple, with no fluff, just intelligent factual profiles of the winemaker and his various cuvées. Way to go, man. 

La Cave de l'Insolite
30, rue de la Folie-Mericourt
75011 PARIS
Metro: Parmentier or Saint Ambroise
Tel: 01 53 36 08 33

Related Links:

Meeting Catherine Vergé at that same day's chaotic AVN tasting
Tasting through the Cave de l'Insolite small plates menu with Olivier Chabanis of Domaine des Agates

An old blurb on Domaine Belluard @ L'ExpressStyles

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