Eight years ago, we were asked by a restaurant client to find him a range of wines from his native Savoie in France. Known more for skiing and other outdoor pursuits, the Savoie is not so well known as a wine producing area, though within the area known as the Combe de Savoie, there are a handful of the best producers. After much research, numerous tastings and many miles driving around this picturesque and mountainous area, we settled on Domaine Jean Vullien. Compared to others we tasted, their award winning wines were in a league of their own.
With little known grape varieties such as Jacquere, Mondeuse and Altesse nestling alongside Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Gamay, the world of Savoie wines begs to be explored. We were astonished at the quality of Jean Vullien’s wines, especially when compared to most other producers in the area. How were they producing such high quality, clean and fresh wines when so many others clearly couldn’t? It transpired that Jean Vullien leant viticulture in his native Bordeaux and his two sons, David and Olivier graduated at reknown wine college, La Viti in Beaune.
Climatically, the Savoie is more challenged than many other wine producing areas of France, hence the different native grape varieties. Jacquere, which is widely available, drinks like a dry Sauvignon Blanc and is superb with shellfish and seafood. Gamay, which is the principal variety of Beaujolais, is comfortable in this slightly cooler climate too, though Jean Vullien’s Gamays (they produce award winning reds and rose) don’t have the bubble-gum characteristics of Beaujolais. They are succulent, light and full of fruit with the Gamay Rose airing more on the side of a dry rose. Both work extremely well with Savioe dishes such as raclette, tartiflette, tarte flambee (flammekueche) and cheese fondues.
The jewel in the crown of Jean Vullien’s wines is their Pinot Noir. One of the most difficult wines to produce, Pinot Noir is a temperamental grape variety that will respond positively or negatively to the vagrancies of the weather and the terroir it is grown in. Harvest too early and you run the risk of tight, overly acidic wine, leave harvesting too late and you run the risk of autumn rain causing the grapes to swell, resulting in thin, watery wines. It takes a very skilled winemaker to consistently produce high quality Pinot Noir which is why the great wines of Burgundy such as Chambertin, Echezeaux, Vosne Romanee, Nuits St Georges, etc. fetch such high prices. Jean Vullien’s Pinot Noir drinks like a Burgundy and is considerably better value. Were it sporting a Burgundy label and ‘appellation’, it would cost at least double the price.
By far the most recognised winery in the Savoie, in the six years from 2008 to 2013, Jean Vullien has been awarded 36 medals across their range of wines including 14 gold and 14 silver. This is an astonishing achievement for such a small winery from a region that is relatively unknown for its wines.