Domaine Belluard, AC Vin de Savoie, “le Feu, terroir de Montblanc”, Ayze, Savoie, France. 2006
Posted Oct 13 2009 10:00pm
Dominique and Patrick Belluard own this biodynamic estate of just 13 ha at Ayze, in the heart of the Haut Savoie valley of l’Arve. They are the third generation of the family to run it since it was created in 1947. They took charge in 1988 and converted to biodynamics in 2001.
The domaine is located high up in the Alps at 450 metres; with Mont Blanc forming the dramatic backdrop to ancient south facing vineyards that date back at least to the 13th Century. The conditions here are remarkably good for quality grape growing – heat generated under clear skies by day ensures ripeness, yet the cold nights also help retain fresh acidity. Belluard make excellent wines from the local Savoie grapes; Altesse white and Mondeuse red. However, they also grow something unique – 12 ha of the ultra- rare Gringet grape which is found nowhere else but around Ayze and is sometimes referred to locally as Petite Rousette.
Indeed, Belluard grows the vast majority of Gringet as there is only another 1 ha allocated between 15 other local producers. So you probably won’t find anyone else in the world but Belluard making pure expressions of Gringet. While some Gringet is used to make traditional method sparkling wine, their premium still white wine is called Le Feu. It is so named because the Gringet grows on red-streaked glacial deposits that are rich in iron called Terre Feu.
Gringet was once thought to be related to the Savagnin grape of the nearby Jura and so be part of the Traminer family. However, this has recently been disproved by DNA testing, so its origins remain a mystery. Some claim it has been grown here since before the arrival of the Romans, while others suggest it came all the way from Cyprus with itinerant Monks in medieval times.
On the evidence of Le Feu, Gringet is a grape that fully deserves to be discovered. A mid-yellow colour, the nose has a light rose perfume and a hint of aniseed, turning more towards jasmine as it warms in the glass. No wonder then that comparisons with the Traminer family are made, yet the nose seems more finely delineated and ethereal than most.
The palate invites all those clichés about inhaling crisp mountain air and skinny-dipping in glacial meltwaters. What it has is precision and focus from plenty of acidity, helped by blocking the secondary malolactic fermentation in the winery and so preventing it from turning broader and creamier. Flavour-wise, there are gentle hints of peach and pear, with an underlay of quince, possibly picked up from the wine spending time on its lees. The wine has an unusual sarsaparilla note before a fleeting glimpse of honey rounds things off. There’s good balance too, between the fruit, acidity and a relatively light 12% alcohol – that makes it easy to drink and good with food. This is subtle stuff that will have you refilling your glass in almost indecent haste.
Le Feu is drinking perfectly now, yet Dominique Belluard suggests that it will develop a more honeyed tone over the next 3-5 years. Food wise, this would be a versatile white wine to match with goat’s cheese, scallops and fresh water fish such as Trout or the wonderful local Omble Chevalier.