What's New in April

A Drink From The Porron

Bubbles and New Grape Varieties

Bubbles and new grape varieties: these are two things that get us easily excited here at De Maison Selections. This month we'd like to share that excitement and introduce you to some of the lesser-known grapes that go into the French sparkling wines we bring in.

In the Saône-et-Loire, Jean-Claude Berthillot of Vin des Fossiles is using Auxerrois to make a brilliantly distinctive sparkling wine. Auxerrois is native to Alsace-Lorraine, and is the secret of the family that includes Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, and Gamay Noir. Although it is commonly believed that this variety got its name from the town of "Auxerre" in the Yonne, it is actually derived from the old name for Alsace, "Auxois". Auxerrois has stayed in its province of origin, for the most part, with most of the six thousand acres planted in France found in Alsace, although there are some vines in the Loire valley. Most vines planted outside of France are in cold climates, as Auxerrois is more suited to higher elevations and chillier nights. This grape tends to be more full bodied and citrusy, and can take on a honey flavor with age. With its bigger body and Pinot Blanc's crispness, the two complement each other quite nicely. Unfortunately, even though there are many varietal wines of Auxerrois, most are labeled Pinot Blanc, as this is legal under AOC laws in Alsace. Blending Auxerrois in a white is fairly common in Alsace, so most people have had Auxerrois and don't even know it! Auxerrois is common in sparkling wine, especially in Crémant d'Alsace. However, it usually appears as a blend with Pinot Blanc in bubbly form as well. Since it is not allowed in Alsace Grand Cru wines, this grape is sadly starting to be planted over with more noble grapes. Although it is not typical, Vin des Fossiles makes a bubbly that is 100% Auxerrois, Vin du Nautile, which is a gorgeous wine and highlights the unique characteristics of this underrated grape.

Going south and east to Bugey, we encounter Mondeuse Noire. Mondeuse is native to neighboring Savoie, where it still has its biggest presence today; however, it also has a decent presence in California, Australia, and Switzerland. Mondeuse has a tendency to have a deep color and an aromatic quality to it. It is also Italian reminiscent in its tannic bite, which gives it the potential to be wonderful with age. This grape could use a bit of publicity as it had only eight hundred acres in France in 2009, although that number is likely bigger now as it has gained more of a following in the last six years. Mondeuse Noire is also directly related to Syrah, which is not surprising considering their similarity in color, which also explains Mondeuse Noire's nickname of Grosse Syrah. Thierry Tissot uses 50% Mondeuse in his sparkling rosé, which brings a complexity that Gamay (which makes up the rest of the blend) never could on its own.

Switching colors, Altesse, also known as Roussette, is the most qualitative white grape of this area. In the hands of capable farmers and winemakers, it can make wines that, according to the authoritative book Wine Grapes, "may be nutty or more exotically perfumed – even violet-scented – with flavours of honey and almonds, good acidity and the potential to age in bottle." That last bit is crucial: as opposed to Jacquère, Savoie's other native white grape, Altesse has the capacity to age very gracefully when well-made. Stylistic questions aside, though, it's clear that, in this corner of eastern France, Altesse has huge potential. It is capable of producing structured, rich, age-worthy wines. These qualities of Altesse are what make Thierry Tissot's Bugey Brut so fascinating, as they translate brilliantly to sparkling wine, especially when that wine has spent 3 years on the lees!