With all due respect to the northern Rhône and its gorgeous expressions of Roussanne, it is very tempting to say that the variety’s future lies in Savoie. Known here as Bergeron, it grows on well-exposed slopes of limestone scree, sucking up mineral essence from the stone that has crumbled down these precipitous mountainsides. Bergeron enjoys an Alpine-influenced climate significantly cooler than that along the baking banks of the Rhône, fifty miles or so to the west—a welcome chill in a time when each vintage seems hotter and drier than the last. While Alpine Roussanne may be a novelty to most, the grape has been cultivated in these parts just as long as it has thrived in the Rhône Valley. In fact, the Romans arrived here from across the Alps in the second century AD, planting some of Savoie’s first vineyards, records indicate, on a steep slope known today as the Coteau de Torméry. Nowadays, the Quenard family of nearby Chignin carries on the tradition of growing grapes on the near-vertical heap of rocky rubble that is the Coteau de Torméry. The highest and steepest section of the vineyard has even been terraced to enable viticulture. This beautifully refined, tenderly floral, and succulently peachy wine, born from pure stone, is the outcome—a product of centuries of tradition, one chosen site, and a family’s laborious dedication to eking out a most genuine elixir from Savoie’s towering mountain facades.
Scaling the western flank of the French Alps, the Savoie region is off the beaten path for most travelers. Yet those who do visit this mountainous haven will be thrilled to discover stunning scenery, delicious local cuisine, and a thriving Alpine wine culture based on a variety of indigenous grapes. This idyllic region hugs the western Alps, where Michel Quenard farms twenty-two hectares of vineyards along the steep, terraced slopes of the Coteau de Torméry around Chignin. In the hands of the Quenards, a family boasting several generations’ worth of experience, the local Mondeuse grape finds a natural home here, creating wines that marry the bright, floral nature of a Pinot Noir with the juiciness of Gamay and the chewy, animal element of Syrah. Most Savoie reds are fairly light in body, but not this one: it is a thick, dense, and rather wild trip to Alpine red wine paradise. It has often been likened to a cross between Pinot Noir and Syrah: bright, elegant, and floral, with suggestions of wild fruit, blood, and minerals.