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Featured Wine: Vin de Savoie


How many wine geeks does it take at a “bring-something-French-for-Bastille-Day” party before you get two of the same bottle? The answer, in the case of the event I attended this July 13: just ten, the number of guests at which we doubled up on a bottle of Domaine Marc et Roger’s Labbé’s Vin de Savoie 2004. An unlikely choice for repetition, its popularity was rendered all the more pronounced by the fact that somebody else brought a third bottle of Savoie from the same vintage, this one a Domaine Raymond Quenard. Did these guests – three out of just twelve people total – know something about good wine that the rest of us didn’t?

Perhaps. On a hot summer evening in July, when people are thinking white and French, then a Vin de Savoie, from the Alpine foothills near the Swiss border, is perfect. It’s inexpensive, it’s refreshing, it can be reassuringly complex, and it’s pleasantly low in alcohol.

It’s also unusual. Most Vin de Savoie is made from the Jacquère grape which, being particular to the region, is rarely uttered even in wine-quaffing circles. But don’t worry about remembering the grape: just register the wine. Think of the Alpine peaks and the mountain-fresh lakes into which their winter snow melts down stoney streams. Picture the blue skies of summer and the green grass of the region’s home at France’s eastern tip of the Rhône. Conjure up citrus, white fruits, and tongue-tigling acidity. Now all you have to do is find a bottle. Clearly, in New York, that’s not difficult.

Vin de Savoie: inexpensive, refreshing, reassuringly complex, pleasantly low-alcohol wine from the French alps.

Among the guests at this Bastille Eve party was one Marc Hanes, who proves that my devotion to sex, wine and rock’n’roll is not unique. A devotee of Spacemen 3, The Sonics, The Go-Betweens and T. Rex among others, he cuts a classic East Village shaved-head look, and accompanies his freely offered opinions accompanied by the kind of adjectives more typical of an Avenue A watering hole than a wine tasting. But he’s also an obsessive wine note-taker, showing up to events like this with his own tasting glasses, notebooks, pens – and a pin-point flashlight for inspecting a wine’s color, hue and depth in even the dimmest of outdoor settings. He then compiles these notes into a monthly newsletter which, unlike Robert Parker, Steve Tanzer and the rest, he distributes for free to anyone who signs up for it – which you can do at haneswinereview.com. (It’s a website that, by Marc’s own admission, “looks like a third grader did it,” but it does offer his monthly reports dating back to 1999. Again, for free.) Hanes is among the most hardcore of hardcore wine geeks: those who are in it for the love, remuneration be damned.

Hanes was responsible for bringing the Domaine Raymond Quenard ‘Chignin’ Vin de Savoie 2004 to this event, and his notes enthused about “acidity intent on flying under the radar, providing a consistently dry tingling throb,” concluding that “It rumbles forward like a squadron of Roman centurions’ horses. Yeah.” As for the Domaine Labbé, I held on to the duplicated bottle and opened it a few days later, by which point Hanes had e-mailed me his notes from the whole party. For the fun of it, and with his consent, I’m posting his review with my own comments in brackets and italics.

Labbé, Domaine Marc et Roger
Vin de Savoie Abymes
France, 2004, $10
Touch of dullness (?) to the yellow-brown color (I’d say it was more of yellow-light green), noticeable fine fizz along the surface (yes, little bubbles clinging to the rim), consistent hue with a faint glow. The nose doles out powdered violets, mint, ripe peach and apricot fruit, broad array of sweet orange, lemon, lime juice (I get the citrus flavors more than the peach and apricot, and God knows when I last powdered down some violets), even the mineral dust component is soft, so friendly you just want to smile at its smile. (A lovely way of putting it: I’d have settled for something mundane, like that the overall aroma is that of a fruitier – though not necessarily more tropical – Sancerre.) Fat and gregarious in the mouth (oh yes, feel that fizz forcing its way into the center of the mouth!), has a great deal of structure upfront then it slowly passes away like a giant paper snake in a Chinese new year parade (or, if we’re going to get all poetic, like a lover leaving the sheets in the dark of the night). Uncomplicated white chalk, stone and suave mineral water tones find a pal in the lemon and lime peel shades. (Good choice of words that make subtle references to a Loire Sauvignon Blanc or Muscadet, or a Rheingau Riesling, all of which share the Savoie’s cool, free-water climate.) Also throws out some tree leaf and grass (the Sancerre grass, not the kind you smoke) but only for the best effect. The acidity admirably keeps drying and drying as it sits until it has the clearest of profiles.

Both these Bastille Party Savoies scored 90pts from Hanes: for all his punk ‘tude, he can’t but help mark on the Parker-like 100point scale. I wouldn’t go quite that far – there’s a welcome simplicity to the Jacquère grape that keeps it in a lower league and at an affordable price, besides which, the Labbé barely held together for a second evening. But I do have a new favorite summer wine. See how many people you can invite to a party before someone brings one along…

The full list of iJamming! Wine reviews, dating back to 2000, can be found here.

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Discussion

4 Comment(s)

  1. 25 July, 2005 at 11:28 am

    Probably my first and last comment about a wine posting, but having just returned from Savoie, I brought this back:
    http://x.kennymccoll.com/vindesavoie.jpg

  2. 25 July, 2005 at 11:36 am

    Thanks for that Kenny. I wa partly thinking of you being out there when I posted the review, but I had enough tenuous connections going on that I didn’t want to add another. But cheers:did you have any while you were there?

    Tony

  3. 25 July, 2005 at 3:02 pm

    Not this time as my sister had stocked up on Belgian Leffe which made me a very happy man. I did try the Savoie digestif (?) Génépi though I am struggling to develop a taste for it. Talking of Génépi, the official Chartreuse website sees fit to mention that Suede and the Smithereens are big fans.

  4. 25 July, 2005 at 3:16 pm

    Kenny… I don’t drink much liquer of any kind,so I wouldn’t be any more enthusaistic of Génépi than you – assuming it is a Chartreuse relative. I could do with a glass of Vin de Savoie on a hot day like today though – unfortunately I’m due at 5-a-side this evening so it’s Gatorade for me!

    Tony

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