The warm weather is here again and tastes are turning to refreshing white wines to sip or enjoy with all of those great summertime foods.
By now, there are displays of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Grigio, along with many varieties of rosé, at your favorite wine store. All nice choices for summer sipping — but let’s take a few minutes and look a little bit deeper. A couple of months ago, I suggested that you to try some new and different wines throughout this year, particularly wines from unfamiliar regions around the world made from unfamiliar grape varieties.
On that note, please allow me to suggest two wine regions in France that don’t get as much attention as Bordeaux or Burgundy, but should not be ignored in your search for new wines to enjoy in the warm weather: Savoie and South West France.
For those of you who have been skiing in the French Alps, there is a good chance that you have been exposed to Savoie wines. Ski resorts in the area are major customers of the relatively small Savoie wine industry. For the rest of us, Savoie wines may be a complete unknown.
The vineyards of Savoie are located on the foothills of the mountainous region east of Burgundy, just below Lake Geneva near the Swiss border. The soil is limestone and clay, and the steep, sunny exposure provides for good ripening. Some red wine is made here. However, about 70% of Savoie wine production is white and if you are looking for obscure grape varieties, this is a good place to go.
Jacquére accounts for more than two thirds of the white wine produced. It is a low-sugar grape that yields crisp and delicate wines that are refreshing as an aperitif or great when you are looking for something to go with fondue.
Wines made from Altesse, also known as Rousette just to confuse things, are crisp and dry, and rarely see any oak. They are floral on the nose with aromas of violets and flavors of hazel nuts and a little spice.
Savoie whites are also made from Chasselas, which is associated more often with wine producers in Switzerland. These wines are light and crisp with a slight floral or fruity note. Another is Bergeron, which is actually Roussanne, one of the Rhone’s well-known grape varieties. These wines can be golden yellow with tropical fruit aromas and flavors.
Savoie reds are made Gamay or Pinot Noir, but the most interesting are those made from Mondeuse. They are dark colored with aromas of blackberry and cherry with a hint of peppery spice.
South West France
Located between Bordeaux to the north and the Pyrénées Mountains to the south, the wine region generally known as South West France encompasses several distinct wine producing areas. It is a large and diverse area with a wide variety of climates, soil types and landscapes.
I would need a lot more space to discuss the various areas and all of the interesting and delicious wines produced here. We are looking for new and unfamiliar summer wines, so I’ll stick to just a couple of the traditional and little-known white grape varieties of the South West.
Wines made from Gros Manseng are high in acidity with intense fruit flavors of pear and apricot. Gros Manseng is used to make both sweet and dry wines from the Gascogne, Jurançon, Irouléguy and Madiran areas of South West France.
Len de l’el is a very important grape variety to the Gaillac wine region of South West France. It is believed that the name is derived from the French loin de l’oeil which means “far from sight” referring to the vine’s long stems. Wines from this early ripening grape can be full bodied, perfumed and fruity but low in acidity.
A Few to Try
The 2010 Jean Perrier et Fils Rousette de Savoie is a dry, white wine made from 100% Altesse grapes. It has aromas of peach, pear with a hint of violet and a well balanced acidity on the palate. Priced at about $15, its great served with grilled chicken, fish or pork.
The 2011 Domaine de la Chanade “Les Rials” is a medium dry white made from Len de l’el grapes. It has a citrus and floral nose, flavors of tropical fruits and a noticeable weight in the mouth. Priced under $10 it’s great with spicy foods and light summer dishes.
The 2011 Domaine de Millet Cotes de Gascogne Moulleux is a subtly sweet white made from 100% Gros Manseng grapes. It has aromas of citrus, apricots and tropical fruits. The sweetness is balanced with a lively acidity. Priced around $12, it’s great as an aperitif and also matches well with sauced fish dishes, foie gras and blue cheeses.
I hope you will seek out and serve some of these refreshing white wines on your deck this summer. You and your friends will be pleased with what you discover. Cheers.
Sam Audia holds a Certification Diploma from the Sommelier Society of America and an Advanced Certificate from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.