I owe the crux of my education in French wines to two men: Guillaume and Laurent, the French Bert and Ernie of an upscale wine and cheese shop in Los Angeles. Guillaume was the wine expert: the shorter of the two, he was insouciantly elegant in a manner Americans might term metrosexual, but in fact he was just a really well-dressed French man. Laurent was the cheese whiz: a head taller than Guillaume and always sporting a cowboy hat, his décontracté attire could best be described as hippie boho.
While all classes were taught in English, Laurent’s accent was so thick that French, or even Greek, would have been easier to understand. Friends and I resorted to guesswork: “Did he say he brushes his teeth with brie?” “Did he say he lost 40 pounds eating nothing but Appenzeller?” Most was lost in translation, but one refrain came through loud and clear: Laurent’s love for his native region, Savoie.
Located in eastern France in the Alpine region bordering Switzerland, Savoie is perhaps better known for its cheese than its wine. This is raclette country—both the cow’s milk cheese and the fondue dish abound in Savoie—in addition to the goat cheeses Chevrotin and Tomme de Savoie.
While some red wine is produced in Savoie, the best wines are as white as the Alpine snow and made from grapes rarely grown elsewhere. With the exception of roussanne, the white grapes of Savoie are obscurities: jacquère, altesse and gringet.
This month’s wine, the Pierre Boniface les Rocailles Apremont 2012, is 100 percent jacquère, the most widely grown grape in Savoie. With delicate aromas of white flowers, the Apremont has light flavors of honey, peach, bitter almonds and hops, and an acidity that is lively without being bracing. Tasting this wine made me want to reach for my guitar, channel my inner von Trapp family singer and start warbling “Edelweiss.” At just 11.5 percent alcohol, this is practically the beer of wine, ready to pop and pour for après-ski at Courchevel or even pendant ski as you pause for a lunch of raclette at the top of the mountain.
In addition to fondue, the wine would pair well with creamy pasta dishes or a tartiflette. But if you opt for lighter fare over lardons, a frittata with goat cheese and asparagus would show your Savoie savoir faire.
While Guillaume and Laurent have both moved on from the wine and cheese shop, their legacy continues. Both bequeathed a curiosity and passion for discovering new wines from new regions, and, while they did guide us on food and cheese pairings, overall they taught us to trust our own palates. Never heard of jacquère or tasted a wine from Savoie? Sounds like a great reason to seek out a bottle. And given the low alcohol content of most Savoie wines, all cheese should be consumed guilt free.
Pierre Boniface Apremont 2012 Vin de Savoie is widely available nationwide, including at Binny’s Beverage Depot, in Skokie, IL ($14.99); and Mad Wine, in Seattle, WA ($14.99).