In the Alps of Savoie, the town of Seyssel is home to a long tradition of sparkling wine production. Its local grape varieties, Altesse and Molette, are ideally suited to the mountainous limestone terroir, giving a refreshing vin mousseux of character and nuance at a fraction of the price of Champagne. Seyssel’s sparkling wines must be produced in the méthode traditionnelle and aged for at least nine months before disgorgement; the Royal from Lambert is aged on its lees for three whole years. This provides a delightful richness of flavor, fine bead, and unrivaled aromatics. Floral notes dominate—iris, violet, and alpine wildflowers come to mind—while the succulent texture recalls fleshy white fruits. At five years of age, secondary notes like honey, brown sugar, and an inviting muskiness have also emerged. A tasty treat all on its own, this unusual dry sparkler will stand up to pretty much anything you put on the table.
The “Royal Seyssel” label, launched in 1901 by the Varichon and Clerc families, was considered the best sparkling Seyssel on the market. But when the operation was purchased in the 1990s by a Burgundian négociant, quality suffered, and in 2007 the owners closed the winery. Dismayed to see what their great local wine had come to, Gérard and Catherine Lambert teamed up with Olivier Varichon to buy back the Royal Seyssel label and recreate the wine that was once so renowned. The wines of Seyssel indulge in the same traditional methods used for Champagne, and take it a step further by aging for at least three years before disgorgement.
Fifteen or twenty years ago, there was little buzz about the wines of Savoie, the Alpine region hugging the Swiss and Italian borders. In fact, most wines from Savoie were some combination of overcropped, thin, searingly acidic, and painfully rustic; even the best examples rarely made it out of the local mountain resorts, where they were served as an après-ski to wash down many a melty croque-monsieur.
But all that has changed, and today Savoie produces a number of top-quality wines in all styles, from simple thirst-quenchers to wines of substantial gravity. Kermit sought out some of these wines early in his career, having imported the spritzy, mineral whites of Apremont and Chignin in the late 1970s.
With vineyards at the foot of the Alps that occasionally climb to higher elevations, Savoie is defined by its mountain-influenced climate and extremely rocky terrain, with abundant limestone. Thanks to a diversity of indigenous grape varieties, quality-oriented growers with the choicest parcels—steep and well-exposed—can craft anything from crisp, low-alcohol whites from Jacquère to deep, gamey reds from Mondeuse. More serious whites are made from Altesse as well as Bergeron, the local name for Roussanne, which the Romans planted on the slopes of Chignin around the same time as they introduced it to the Rhône Valley.
Savoie’s diversity of styles and distinct sub-regions, from Arbin to Seyssel to the Bugey (technically not a part of Savoie, but included here for convenience) makes it a fascinating region for the thirsty explorer. There is no better place to look for brisk mountain refreshment.
A good doctor prescribed the wine of Nuits-Saint-Georges to the Sun King, Louis XIV, when he suffered an unknown maladie. When the king’s health was restored the tasty remedy enjoyed a vogue at court. Lord, send me a doctor like that!
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