Savoie Wines

For most winter visitors, Savoie or more specifically ‘Les Pays de Savoie’: made up of the departments of ‘Savoie’ and ‘Haute Savoie’; is a region full of snow capped mountains with well-known ski resorts such as Val d’Isère and Courchevel. The tourists that visit during the summer enjoy the tranquillity of its lakes and forests. However, in-between the high mountains there are sunny valleys whose rocky slopes are ideal for vines and in fact the region has a long history of viticulture. In the 1930s French Geographer R. Blanchard described it as “a country of cattle and wine” and it is the wines that have long been sought after by those who discover them: from Monarchs to Bishops, authors to poets.


For much of its history Savoie was an independent Duchy but in 1860 a “deal” was brokered by politicians in France and the newly formed Italy; Savoie and Nice became part of France, and the Dukes of Savoie subsequently became the Kings of Italy. Even so, the Savoyards are proud of their own cultural identity as part of a country which was historically independent from France. They are also proud of their local products including wine, cheeses: such as Tomme, Reblochon and Beaufort; their cured ham: Jambon de Savoie; and the different varieties of fish from the abundant rivers and lakes. Even the supermarkets have large sections dedicated to local produce, where the shelves brim with items that proudly display the shield of Savoie. The Crest of Savoie

The Crest of Savoie


Savoie has a combined area of 10,416 km² or 6,472.2 sq mi, which is about half the size of Wales. It stands to the east of the River Rhône and borders both Switzerland and Italy. Its geographical location means that since Roman times, Savoie has been an important crossroads for people and goods: from Vienne in the South, Lyon in the West, Turin in the East, Dijon in the North-West and Geneva in the North-East.

The vineyards themselves can be split into three main areas: those in the North-East on the Arve River and by Lake Leman (Lake Geneva), those in the North-West near the Rhône (the first French vines to glimpse this great river) and around Lake Bourget, and finally those in the South, in the Combe de Savoie and the Cluse de Chambéry.

Map of Savoie’s Vineyards

Map of Vineyard Areas in Savoie


Without going into too much detail, the climate of Savoie is mainly continental, with a high average rainfall (1,200 mm a year) spread evenly throughout the year. Most vines are planted on steep slopes with good drainage. This means the large amount of rainfall has little effect on the health of the vines, but its regularity can encourage fungal diseases – as well as increase the risk of “coulure” (poor fruit set during flowering, which leads to small grapes that fall off before ripening).

As all of Savoie’s vines are currently planted at an altitude of between 200 and 500 metres, snow is not, as some assume a significant problem as it rarely settles for long below 500m. These same steep slopes also help protect the vines from strong winds and increase their exposure to the sun. Although Savoie has a low average annual temperature of 10°C, this increases during the growing-season (March to October) when the temperature averages 14.6°C. Part of this is thanks to Savoie’s long hot summer months which often last well into September and sometimes even October. This ‘Indian summer’ has led to certain producers exploring the possibilities of “late-harvest” wines, bottled under names such as “Délices d’Automne” (Autumn Delight) or “Passerillé de Novembre” (raisined grapes of November).

The Appellation

The Appellation d’Origine Controlé system is often criticised for being difficult for consumers to understand, and unfortunately I’m not sure that the EU’s new PDO system is any simpler. The system in place for Savoie is one of the better examples of an over-complicated appellation.

It is based around the usual ‘pyramid of quality’ starting with the basic ‘Vin de Savoie’, which since 2011 can be simply called ‘Savoie’. This term can be used for any wine from Savoie’s delimited vineyard areas, as long as it is made with any of the permitted varieties.

On the same level, there is also “Roussette de Savoie” which again can come from any Savoie vineyard but must be made from the Altesse (Roussette) variety.

A step up from the entry level are the higher quality Cru: seventeen for ‘Vin de Savoie’- including one sparkling, and four for ‘Roussette de Savoie’.

These Crus are historically important wine-villages/towns. Seyssel complicates things further as it has its own appellation with ‘Vin de Savoie’. This is not due to the wines being seen as higher quality than the other crus, but simply because the town’s wines received Appellation protection before the creation of the Vin de Savoie. Seyssel became protected in 1942, whilst Vin de Savoie was not created until 1973.

The Appellation of Savoie

The Triangle of the Appellation of Savoie

Although the AOC system in place for Savoie can be overwhelming at first, onve you have got to grips with it you can simply look at a bottle of Roussette de Savoie Cru Monthoux and know exactly what the grape variety is – Altesse; that the tiny parcel of land is – on the slopes of the Mont du Chat; and that the grapes have a beautiful view into the valley onto the River Rhône.


The View from the vines of Marestel (The Rhône River in the background)

Where to buy

These wines are rarely exported, with around 90% of Savoie wine being consumed within the Rhône-Alps region (I imagine most of that is within the borders of Savoie itself). It is possible to find some Savoie wines abroad and if you are keen to try some, there are a few importers in the UK that stock Savoie wines: Yapp Brothers, Les Caves de Pyrène, Vine Trail and Dynamic Vines.

Of course the best way to taste and truly enjoy these great wines is go over and visit the region for yourself.

For more information

If you would like more information then feel free to drop me an email via the contact page. Or have a look at a guide on the wines of Savoie and the region written by Wink Lorch (wine writer and educator). It is available here Wine Travel Guides.