Wink Lorch highlights wine offerings of the French Alps
When you’re curious about any French wine region, typically you can find one or two excellent English language books to provide insights on history, wine culture, terroir and producers. But until now, the wines from France’s Alpine region provided a glaring exception.
English author Wink Lorch corrects the situation with “Wines of the French Alps: Savoie, Bugey and Beyond ” (Wine Travel Media), a comprehensive volume loaded with stunning color photography and informative stories about wines, local food and travel tips. Like many, Lorch initially discovered the French Alps through a love of downhill skiing.
The area boasts some of the world’s best recreational slopes and ski resorts. While working in the wine trade in England in the early 1980s, Lorch made a ski trip to the region. A side visit took her to Pierre Boniface, a producer known for delicious Savoie white wines. She quickly discovered the region’s fruity, refreshing reds, too.
Lorch was so smitten by the experiences that she and her late partner, Brett Jones, began living part time in this dramatically beautiful setting. Over the decades, they visited hundreds of wineries scattered across the French Alps’ far, flung vineyards. As Lorch listened to and learned from the producers, she tasted wines and thus developed the astonishing foundation of knowledge underpinning her current volume.
Since French Alps wine region remains relatively obscure to outsiders and casual wine drinkers, Lorch’s book starts with handy, colorful maps to set the context. She describes the region beginning with the Bugey appellation’s four primary “crus” which account for around 10% of the French Alps wine production.
Further east up the mountains near the prosperous city of Geneva, the Savoie appellation begins against the dramatic backdrop of Mont Blanc. The Savoie AOC then resumes to the south on hillsides near the ski centers of Chambéry and Albertville. Savoie accounts for 46% of regional production.
The other principal appellation of Diois (with mainly sparkling wines) together with several regional IGP’s account for the remainder. The book next provides a detailed, systematic primer on the regional wine styles and grapes. Many vines such as Jacquère, Altesse and Gringet for white wines and Mondeuse and Persan for red wines grow almost exclusively in French Alps vineyards.
Then in an awesome tour de force, Lorch dedicates more than 220 pages to producer profiles. With a true storyteller’s eye for personalities and details, Lorch brings the growers alive. She vividly weaves together family aspirations, successes and failures, and, above all, their steep vineyards and wines. Lorch observes the steady improvement in wine quality as the rising generation of French Alps winemakers travel more widely and attend wines schools in Burgundy and elsewhere. Reduced grape yields and sustainable, organic and biodynamic vineyard methods also play crucial roles, according to Lorch.
Before ending, Lorch includes a practical guide to the French Alps’ incomparable cheeses and other tempting regional delicacies including liqueurs such as the famed Chartreuse. There’s also an inspiring guide to restaurants and other notable places to visit in the region.
In the end, the self-published “Wines of the French Alps: Savoie, Bugey and Beyond” delivers a well-written love letter embodying Lorch’s deep appreciation and understanding of her adopted home. The book can be read and studied with pleasure time and again. Consider ordering a copy both for yourself and as a gift for the adventurous wine lover on your list. Order at winetravelmedia.com.
Meanwhile try the following tasty wines from the French Alps:
• The 2017 Romain Chamiot, Aprémont, Savoie, France (Luxury 80496; $19.99) comes exclusively from old vine Jacquère grapes produced sustainably with minimal chemical treatments. Third-generation grower Romain Chamiot brings a broader view after attending school at the Lycée Viticole in Beaune, Burgundy. To capture pure fruitiness, he uses mainly indigenous yeasts for fermentation which takes place in stain steel and enamel tanks. Bottling occurs with minimal sulfites added. This wine’s light straw color offers attractive floral and citrus aromas. Fresh citrus and crisp apple flavors explode on the palate balanced by zesty acidity and untouched by aging in oak. The wine has a soft and refreshing but essentially dry finish. Pair it pan-seared trout filets with capers and butter. Recommended.
• The 2018 Domaine Jean Vullien Fils, Chignon Bergeron “Les Divolettes,” Savoie, France (Luxury 80503; $22.99) comes from a family whose primary business, according to Lorch, entails selling more than 1 million grafted grape vines annually to wine growers all over France. But Jean Vullien’s sons, David and Olivier, studied in Beaune, Burgundy, in the 1990s, and today the family itself makes terrific Savoie wines.
This wine comes from Roussanne vines growing on steep limestone scree slopes. The wine’s golden color offers ripe peach and apple aromas with savory herbal notes and a perhaps a touch of subtle oak. Concentrated, ripe flavors follow in the glass balanced by uplifting acidity and pleasant creamy notes. The wine finishes rich and dry. Pair it with a classic Savoyard cheese tartiflette made with potatoes, cream, bacon and melted alpine cheese. Recommended.
• The 2018 Maison Phillipe Viallet, Savoie Rosé, Vin de Savoie, France (Luxury 80536; $12.99) comes from one of the region’s most ambitious producers and visionary entrepreneurs. Philippe Viallet systematically purchased and improved the wine quality at several Savoie estates that had seen more prosperous days. Viallet cut his teeth studying wine in Burgundy before charting his own course in Savoie after his father’s untimely death at aged 56, according to Lorch. He now produces more than 3.3 million bottles annually with 12% being exported.
This tasty wine comes from gamay grapes. The pretty salmon color offers light floral and berry aromas. Fruity red berry and citrus flavors balance with delicious acidity. It finishes fruity, yet dry. Pair it with old-fashioned ham and cheese sandwiches with strong mustard. Recommended.
• The delicious 2018 Jean Vullien Fils, Pinot Noir, Savoie, France (Luxury 80501; $16.99) offers a marvelous introduction to Savoie’s appealing and delightfully refreshing red wines. Not surprising given the experience of the younger Vullien generation studying Pinot Noir winemaking in Burgundy. The wine’s light ruby color offers black cherry and light spicy notes. Juicy red fruit flavors follow with medium concentration, bright acidity and elegant tannins. Slightly chill the bottle and enjoy with alpine cheeses and smoked ham. Highly Recommended.
• The 2017 La Caveau Savoyard, Mondeuse, Vin de Savoie, France (Luxury 80520; $24.99) comes exclusively from Mondeuse, Savoie’s trademark red-skinned grape. The sustainably grown fruit ferments in a combination of stainless-steel tanks and older oak barrels. The dark ruby color offers ripe blackberry and cherry aromas with smoky hints. Juicy dark berry fruit flavors follow with medium concentration, zesty acidity and firm but elegant tannins. Pair this well-balanced, tasty red wine with grilled salmon. Recommended.