The Sparkle of the French Alps – Savoie Ayse, Domaine Belluard
When I serve this highly unusual sparkling wine from the French mountains it seems always to make my guests smile, both because of the taste and its story.
Most Savoie wines are produced from vineyards not far from the town of Chambéry, the capital city of the Savoie department. Ayse sparkling wines, however, are from a tiny vineyard area on the steep, sunny slopes behind the town of Bonneville, in the valley of the river Arve, which flows down from Mont Blanc and the town of Chamonix. These are the closest vineyards to my French mountain home, about 40 minutes drive away.
Ayse or Ayze (both spellings exist) is a single designated cru for the Savoie appellation, applicable to sparkling wines made in the Traditional Method and for a tiny quantity of still white wines. Both must be made predominantly from the rare Gringet grape. Domaine Belluard is the only winegrower in the appellation of any size and they own just 12 hectares (27 acres) of Gringet out of less than 20 hectares remaining in this appellation. Historically this area once had a much greater area of vineyards, but being so close to Geneva and to major ski resorts, unfortunately housing has often taken precedence over vineyards.
The story of the Gringet grape is intriguing. For many years it was believed to be identical to the Jura region’s Savagnin grape, part of the Traminer family, but tasting the wines, I could never find any resemblance. Finally a few years ago José Vouillamoz, an ampelographer (a scientist in grape varieties) based in Switzerland with a speciality in Alpine grape varieties, conducted DNA tests on Gringet and found it to be unrelated, not only to Savagnin or Traminer, but to any grape variety recorded. Hence it is an authentic, indigenous grape variety, unique to the tiny Ayze appellation in Haute Savoie.
In the 1990s Dominique Belluard converted the vineyards first to organic farming, and later in 2001 he started using biodynamic methods too. It is not easy as some of his vineyards are very steep indeed (with drop-dead gorgeous mountain views). Since that time Dominique has also adapted his winemaking methods including leaving the wine longer on lees before disgorgment, and there has been a big improvement in quality. This sparkling wine is far removed from Champagne in taste, with a floral aromatic character, gentle bubbles and a distinct freshness, characteristic of mountain wines. It makes a delicious drink at any time, and locally some restaurants rather heretically use it to make cheese fondue – personally, I’d rather drink it as an aperitif, with some slices of local pork saucisson.
- Wink Lorch
Dividing her time between London and the French Alps, Wink has been a wine writer, editor and educator for many years, with a speciality of writing about the wines of Savoie and Jura. Her personal website and blog is WineTravelMedia.com. Wink won the Born Digital Wine Awards 2010 Travel Content category for a post on Savoie. She travels widely and can be found tweeting @WineTravel.
Wink is also the founder and editor of WineTravelGuides.com offering 52 comprehensive on-line travel guides to wine regions in France, Italy and Spain, ideal for independent travellers to plan their own wine tours. The guides are free to view on-line, or a small price is charged to download the PDF versions.
Editor’s note: Domaine Belluard’s website is in French only, but Wink has recently translated into English the official Savoie wine website, which can be accessed athttp://www.vindesavoie.net/en/index.htm