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The Altesse Grape

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About Altesse

(Synonyms: Altesse Blanche, Altesse Verte, Arin, Fusette, Fusette d'Amberieu, Fusette de Montagnieu, Ignam, Ignan Blanc, Maconnais, Petit Maconnais, Prin Blanc, Rousette Haute, Roussette, Roussette Basse, Roussette de Montagnieu, Roussette Grosse, Roussette Haute, Roussette Petite, Serene Blanche)

Background

Altesse grapes Map showing the Savoy region of France

Altesse is a white-wine grape originating in the Savoy region of eastern France; it is also commonly known as (among other things) "Roussette", though it seems that Roussette is properly the name of the wine and Altesse of the grape. Most bottlings will have both words on the label. While there are all sorts of stories about the grape—that it came from Cyprus via Hungary, that it is the same as or related to Furmint (DNA says No), and so on—most of the evidence suggests that where it grows today is where it originated.

The Savoy grows several grape types, including Altesse, that are grown little if at all anywhere else, and which make distinctive wines. Bottlings labelled Roussette de Savoie must, by French law, be 100% Altesse. The wines are typically quite dry, characterized by minerality and a nose described as of violet, "mountain herbs", bergamot, honey, and hazelnut. (Saving the violet, our perceptions agree.) Some makers use oak, others do not. Some bottle the wines with a bit of residual sugar, but the best are quite dry.

Beyond basic Roussette, there are particular vineyard labellings that supposedly represent better wines when they appear on a label, those being Frangy, Marestel, Monterminod and Monthoux. The supposed superiority comes not only from their siting and soil qualities, but also from some extra quality requirements (yield limits and minimum alcohol levels) for wines to be so labelled. Owing to high acidity, Roussettes characteristically age well.

Factoid: Besides Roussette de Savoie, there is a less-known type called Roussette de Bugey, also 100% Altesse.


Some Descriptions of Altesse Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "Wines made from Altesse have exotic aromas, often together with citrus and herbs, and have good acidity. They are considered to age well." (From the article on Roussette: "These dry white wines typically have a nose of violet and mountain herbs with flavors of minerals, bergamot, honey and hazelnut.")

  • Wine Travel Guides

    "An extremely underrated grape in terms of quality that is gradually gaining ground in Savoie though still covering a very small area. Altesse ripens fairly late and often benefits from conditions of an Indian summer. It gives good sugar levels and some successful experiments have been made with oak fermentation and ageing, but most wines are made in neutral tanks. Many of the wines are made in an off-dry style to compensate for the high acidity, but the best are generally dry and full-flavoured with stony, yellow fruit flavours and some floral character. The wines are sold as Roussette de Savoie and for many years the grape was erroneously named Roussette, so do not be surprised to find wines listed under this name on wine lists."

  • Wine Exchange

    "Altesse (also known as Roussette) is grown in the Savoie region of France where it makes wonderfully perfumed dry whites, with fresh acidity and some aging potential. The best examples exhibit good balance, and pair remarkably well with charcuterie and bivalves."

  • Classe Wines

    "Altesse grape Savoy wines are known for their good acidity and exotic aroma, usually a combination of herbs and citrus."

  • Le Dom du Vin

    "The wine's high acidity gives it the potential to age. These dry white wines typically have a nose of violet and mountain herbs with flavors of minerals, bergamot, honey and hazelnut."

  • About French Wine

    "Roussette de Savoie is a well bred, full wine that is slightly mellow, with aromas of violet and flavors of bergamot, hazelnut and almond. It is at its best after aging for a few years (2 to 5 years)."

  • Wine-Pages

    "Roussette de Savoie wines have a structure not unlike a light Chardonnay. They should be dry, light to medium weight, and a very few are oak fermented or matured. Aromas can include yellow stone fruit and a delicate floral character."

  • Cool Vines

    "Altesse, an indigenous grape variety from the French Alpine region of Savoie, produces deep, complex, and intensely mineral-driven wines."

  • InterFrance

    "They are dry white wines with undeniable finesse, slightly acidulous, but fruity."

  • Wine Searcher

    "Altesse is a late-ripening aromatic grape which produces wines with high acidity and good ageing potential. The wines have aromas of violet and flavors of bergamot, hazelnut and almond. The wine is medium to full-bodied and will develop in the bottle for up to five years."

  • foodtourist.com

    "These are dry, long-lasting wines often with a lot of acidity and with a characteristic smell of violets and hazelnuts."


Some Altesses to Try

(About this list.)

There are around a dozen or so Roussettes available at retail, at least according to the wine-search engines; but, of those, only a few show availability beyond a single retailer, and those few constitute our list. Nonetheless, if you see a Roussette from anyone else in a wine shop, don't hesitate to give it a try—all seem well recommended.

(The ones we omitted as of limited availability were: Jean Perrier et Fils cuvee Gastronomie, cru Monthoux, and standard; Marc Portaz; Jacquin et Fils Chateau Bergin; Boniface Domaine Les Rocailles; and Thierry Tissot's Roussette du Bugey.)

It is also interesting that for all the general things said about how good Roussettes are in general, there are not many reviews of particular bottlings to be found.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Jean Vullien Roussette de Savoie, $12 - $14.

    Some quotations and facts:

    A pungent nose of orange zest, buckwheat, nutmeg, and toasted hazelnuts leads to a subtly oily yet juicy and refreshing palate. Bright notes of lemon, citrus zest, chalk, and salt add invigoration to the lightly-toasted nut and grain and moderately ripe pit fruit flavors in the finish. Over the next couple of years, this will take on a lightly oxidized, flor-like patina, typical for the Altesse (a.k.a. Roussette) grape, but remain interesting and versatile.

    It is light, but packed with intense flavors of white flowers, apricots, yellow prunes, and green apples. It’s perfect for a sunny day on the slopes or a cozy afternoon by the fireplace if it is snowing. I am always looking for deals and new discoveries. I bought this wine for $12. Made from Altesse grapes, this bottle was a pretty damn good discovery and revelation.

    What a wonderful suprise!! Color hue: Golden yellow. Aromas: Apple, Beach, Citrus, Grass cut, Honey. Dry. Body: Medium. Type of tannins: Crisp. Flavor intensity: Powerful. Flavors: Apple, Citrus, Honey, Jasmine, Minerals. Finish: Medium.

    From grape Altesse, full-bodied white wine with pleasant citrus aromas.

    Light yellow color; lovely floral very perfumed/apple blossoms/fresh talced baby's bottom/ angle food cake/cotton candy/honeyed some mineral/earthy very perfumed/aromatic nose; soft/lush very aromatic/floral/cotton candy ripe slight mineral/earthy flavor; long rather ripe floral/cotton candy/tangyfinish; one of the most exotic Savoie whites I've had; almost like Viog or GrenacheBlanc in aromatics and not the usual stoney/earthy character I get in many Savoie whites; lovely stuff.

    The roundness of this particular Savoie is met with a crisp air making it very refreshing and welcoming on the palate. Made from 100% Altesse this non-aromatic white is a fabulous alternative to a Chablis. The minerality and citrus acidity give it the complex edge at an inexpensive price point.

    100% Altesse; 12.5% alcohol content, vibrant, exemplary, definitively approachable. Beautiful gold coloration, scent of wild flower honey, grapefruit citrus, and first of season flower garden. Flavour notes of citreon, fennel, just shelled pine nuts, and delicate hint of baking spices. ¡Salud! ¡Salud! 3 *

    This is not at all like a white Rhone. This is a late ripening grape with moderate to high acidity and the potential to age well. On the nose it shows violets and almonds. On the palate full bodied with a decent finish.


  • Eugene Carrel & Fils Roussette de Savoie, $14 - $22.
         ($15.94 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Bright, very pale gold color. Fine and a somewhat astringent nose of pear, white currant, and green melon fruit aromas with supporting notes of white spices, dried white flowers, and hay. In the mouth the wine presents a solidly structured medium body with a minerally, "nervous" acidity and fresh flavors of Granny Smith apple, grapefruit, gooseberry, lemon verbena, and almond. Very clean and crisp quinine-flavored finish.

    A rich, well-crafted white, with a smoky essence to the peach, apple and apricot fla- vors. The long, fresh finish echoes the white fruit flavors, with plenty of smoky notes.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (August 2009), 89 points

    ♣ Wine Advocate (August 2010), 89 points

    A really excellent introduction to one of the Savoie's signature grapes, Carrel's well- concentrated 2008 Roussette de Savoie Altesse mingles fresh lemon, pineapple, and apricot with chalk and salt, and finishes with invigorating salinity and bitter hints of apricot kernel and lemon zest. Pungency and bitterness but also flavor interest can be expected to increase with wines from Altesse after a few years in bottle, but the resulting patina represents part of this grape's appeal to connoisseurs of Savoie wine and there's no reason you shouldn’t become one yourself!

    [T]he robe of the Roussette is slightly deeper [than the Carrel Jacquère] , yet still pale yellow-white color, with bright pale golden reflects, although not as translucent. The nose expresses similar notes with lot more minerals, white and yellow fruits aromas. It is also fresh and crisp with delicate scents of white flower, wet stone minerality, citrus and especially white fruit. The palate is very inviting, cleansing and very well rounded. It expands nicely in the mid-palate with a gentle way of coating the entire palate with even more minerals and white-yellow stone fruit. The soft and lingering finish is refreshing and extremely satisfying, and definitely calls for another glass. Greatly enhanced by a lovely mineral touch and great acidity, this high elevation vineyards' Roussette, like the Jacquère, is an anticipated summer white and as much a food complement as a thirst quencher, particularly in very hot day. I love it too. Although not as bright, light and crisp as the Jacquère, as it shouldn’t be anyway, this Roussette de Savoie is rather supple, rounded, mineral and refined. Yet one thing in common with the Jacquère, is that one bottle won’t be enough if you share it during a late afternoon aperitif or even if you sip over some oysters, shellfish and grilled white fish. Due to its deeper and more complex feel, this Roussette should be paired with more complex dishes like fish in sauce, poultry, chicken and even veal or pork.

    In the glass the wine was a medium lemon gold color. The nose was fairly intense with fresh cut lemon, white pear, green apple, lime peel and chalk. On the palate the wine was medium bodied with medium acidity. There were flavors of banana, pear, lemon, green apple and a touch of lees with a strong, stony mineral finish. The banana is much more present as the wine warms up, though it does eventually blow off a little bit.

    Stone fruits like peach and white plum with a mineral-y rock-y finish.


  • Domaine de l'Idylle Roussette de Savoie, $15 - $20.

    Some quotations and facts:

    Light yellow color in the glass, clear looking throughout. Light nose of peach, apricot, lime and wet stones. Flavors of peach, light notes of grapefruit, lime and minerals. Medium acidity, light to medium body. Drink or hold. (90 points)

    This very lemony wine is crisp and cool from the mountain vineyards of Savoy. It has a bright, creamy texture and baked-apple and pear flavors accented with a shot of citrusy acidity. It’s a wine to drink now. 89 points

    ♣ Wine Advocate (date unknown), 87 points

    Pale lemon and with floral and lemon pith aromas it also has a pear drop tinge on the nose. Tasting it reveals good acidity, low alcohol and medium body - balanced and in tune with where it originated. It has minerality layered with green apple and lemon and a slight pithy finish and later its profile also included biscuity notes and made me think this had seen some skin and lees contact. This was crispness with a wrapping!

    Honetdew melon, pineapple, lavender, lemon zest, toasted nuts, and a hint of sherry- or Jura-like flor pungency and nutty piquancy inform a wine whose finish boasts considerable grip.

    A completely new wine region to me - I've never experienced a wine of Savoie. . . A bit disappointed. Certainly drinkable, but a bit sharp, a bit uninspired. Lean wine is fine and all, until it makes you pucker.

    Loved the 2012 Domaine de L'Idylle Roussette de Savoie L'Altesse . . . Delicious. Unusual. Great sub for Chardonnay.


For a Splurge

A fine specimen of outstanding Roussette is the Domaine Louis Magnin Roussette de Savoie, available for $35 to $47.



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