Roussette, Savoy’s star grape variety

The snow-capped peaks and ski slopes in winter make way for sunshine and hiking in the summer across the steep mountain landscapes. This picture-postcard image recalls the most memorable moments spent in these unspoilt surroundings. Savoy’s vineyards are unique and can be likened to one big garden where the soils mirror the significant changes in geology, from the birth of the Alps to the emergence of part of the Jura mountain range.

The Roussette de Savoie protected appellation was legally officialised in 1973 and the wines are made from a single typical, local grape variety, which is one of their defining features. Although the varietal’s footprint remains limited due to the constraints of vineyard sites, Roussette, aka Altesse, is among the region’s star grape varieties. Allegedly, Duke Amédée II of Savoy brought the variety back from Cyprus in 1432 for the wedding of his son to the daughter of the King of Cyprus, hence the name Altesse meaning Highness chosen in her honour. From 2,000 hectares of vineyards, the region produced 107,000 hectolitres of wine in 2022, including 15,000 of Altesse over 300 hectares. “Altesse produces fresh, aromatic wines driven by dried, delicate fruits in their youth”, explains Franck Berkulès, head of communications at the Savoy wine marketing board CIVS. “On the positive side, its wines have good ageability, lasting over 20 years. However, it is very fragile and sensitive to the heat with canes that can break easily”. Roussette de Savoie may well be challenging to produce, but it is nonetheless a staple in these exceptional mountain vineyards which are a unique feature of the French wine scene. The following examples should wet your whistle!



Domaine Jean-François Maréchal: where Altesse reigns supreme

The story of Domaine Maréchal reads like a captivating epic of winegrowing across mountain hillsides. It began in 1989 with just three hectares, but through hard work, determination and passion, the vineyards have now been extended to a dozen or so hectares. Environmentally-friendly vineyard management techniques are part of an unwavering commitment and include grass cover with sustainable plant protection and heritage and landscape conservation. The ethos is very much about building up a winegrowing legacy that reflects a genuine attachment to the land. “Even though volumes are low, Roussette de Savoie reigns supreme”, believes Jean-François Maréchal. “It is a top quality grape that every winegrower crafts as their regional flagship with absolute freshness that you don’t find in other appellations”. Altesse de Beauregard is pure and elegant and leaves a lasting impression on the senses with its invigorating yet fairly plump palate, welcome intensity and a chiselled mineral note. “Often the palate delivers a measure of fullness with ripe fruit and a minerality that goes down very well with food”, adds Nathalie Maréchal. “The reputation of Savoy wines is growing rapidly. The wines can be found in the top gastronomic restaurants across France and in export markets too. For us, this means markets in the United States, Canada, Asia and Europe”.


The vineyards of Domaine Maréchal.

Domaine Maréchal, a captivating epic of mountain winegrowing. 



Domaine Maréchal.

Domaine Maréchal's wines go down very well with food.



The family of Domaine Maréchal.

Domaine Maréchal, afamily affair. 



Cave des Vins Fins de Cruet: a focus on quality

At the outbreak of the Second World War, winegrowers in three villages in the Combe de Savoie laid the foundations for what would become an extraordinary journey. In this felicitous wine region, they pooled both their vineyards and their skills to create the Cave des Vins Fins de Cruet in 1939. Savoy’s largest co-operative now boasts 240 hectares under vine and 70 member growers, producing 15,000 hectolitres annually which equates to 15% of total output for the two appellations Vin de Savoie and Roussette de Savoie. The vines are harvested by hand and the fruit is fermented separately as each varietal reaches peak ripeness, yielding award-winning wines. “Our Roussettes show distinctive fruity and floral characters”, explains David Henriquet, a winegrower and administrator of the winery. “They mirror their unique and outstanding vineyard sites with beautiful aromas of pear and hawthorn standing out amidst a varied bouquet. This native grape variety is successful because it is rare and that is definitely a bonus in export markets”. The Savoie Altesse label is produced on clay-limestone soils with a South-South-East aspect and temperate climate. Its flowery, honeyed notes delivering unforgettable perfumes and its mouth-filling, rich and harmonious palate make it popular. However, it isn’t all plain sailing – the variety is fragile, tricky to handle and sensitive to excessive heat and dampness. “Altesse requires constant attention”, adds Henriquet. “It is still fairly low-key due to its low volumes, but it benefits from a focus on quality. Communications and promotion on the variety will help us spread the word”.


Harvesting at the Cave de Cruet.

Harvesting at the Cave de Cruet.


The winery at Cave de Cruet.

The winery at Cave de Cruet.


The landscape around Cave de Cruet.

The huge open landscapes around the Cave de Cruet.



Domaine Adrien Veyron: high standards

Admittedly, the old Apremont vines at Domaine Adrien Veyron honour Jacquère, but this traditional local variety also makes room for Altesse, mirroring the winery’s high standards and quality. The story began in 1955 when Jean-Baptiste Veyron and his wife Victoria established a farm in Apremont with a few vines and some livestock. In the 1970s, the development of winter sports brought a new consumer audience that discovered local products. In 1975, their son Adrien Veyron took over the property and brought renewed impetus to the family business. He developed sales by canvassing restaurants in the ski resorts, wine merchants and stores selling regional products, enhancing the image and reputation of the winery. With his wife Nathalie, who began working with him in 1991, he enabled the property to thrive, and introduced sustainable vineyard management culminating in certification in 2018 which included protection of biodiversity. The Roussette de Savoie range encapsulates the mountain climate, the clay-limestone soils and the specific techniques used. The fruit is picked only when fully ripe then undergoes cold, skin-contact soaking. “The palate is rounded and pleasant but not sweet. It is smooth and appetising with a long, balanced finish typical of a top white wine”, claims Thomas Veyron, who joined the estate in 2009 at the age of 22. “It has to be said though that this remarkable grape variety absolutely does not like droughts and remains prone to disease, particularly powdery mildew”. Consequently, vine growth stalls and the leaves roll up when this occurs. “In my opinion, Roussette de Savoie is one of the top Savoy wines”, believes Veyron. “Its price can vary significantly from one production area to another and depending on the way it is made, but it is still an asset compared with whites made from Chardonnay or Sauvignon”.


The Veyron family.

The Veyron family - Thomas the son, fifth-generation winegrower, Nathalie the mother and Adrien the father and founder of Adrien Veyron.


Adrien and Nathalie Veyron

Adrien and Nathalie Veyron in their vineyards.



Vignoble Perceval: typicity and freshness

This family-owned property founded in 1910 produces distinctive wines with rounded tannins and assertive character. At its helm is Pascal Perceval and his wife Gwenaëlle who skilfully blend tradition, expertise and entrepreneurship in their 54-hectare vineyard, producing a staggering 40 different labels. Roussette de Savoie thrives on their clay-limestone soils, beguiling with its typicity, freshness, subtle aromas of honey, almond and citrus fruit and its weighty palate followed by a supple finish. “Altesse is only grown in Savoy, and that’s a bonus in export markets”, feels Pascal Perceval. “However it is quite challenging to grow as the canes are fragile and the variety is prone to disease. It is also an early-ripening grape with a very dense canopy”. The winery’s extensive portfolio, which includes Mondeuse, Abymes, Apremont, Chignin and Jacquère, also features a superb Roussette de Savoie, which makes the perfect appetiser or pairs with white meats, fish, seafood, hard cheeses or puddings. “Roussette is well-known and enjoyed in neighbouring regions but elsewhere it is fairly under-the-radar”, adds Perceval. “Its noteworthy differences with Chardonnay stem from the land. It is planted on hillsides and exposure to the sunshine is therefore shorter, with the limestone soils displaying greater character and roundness”.


Snow at Domaine Perceval.

Snow at Domaine Perceval.


Guy, Paul, Pascal and Gwenaëlle Perceval.

Guy, Paul, Pascal and Gwenaëlle Perceval.



Jean Perrier et fils: a long-standing dynasty

The story of this incredible dynasty meshes with the history of Savoy wines. Since 1853 and over 7 generations, Domaine Jean Perrier & Fils has promoted an authentic lifestyle that is renowned internationally. Its 60 hectares produce primarily the prestigious Altesse grapes. “The varietal is amazing in that it yields white wines that are completely different depending on their vineyard sites and aspect”, comments Gilles Perrier. “It is graceful and boasts finesse and the kind of hallmark roundness that export markets are very fond of”. The winery showcases two harmonious labels, Château de Monterminod and Fleur d’Altesse with its appealing nose gifted with floral notes and a fleshy, concentrated palate that is very lively. Its intense, exotic characters flow into a spicier finish. “Savoy is known for Jacquère, which is very widespread in our region”, adds Perrier. “Altesse follows in its wake and piques people’s curiosity, attracting consumers with a penchant for dry, fruity and very aromatic white wines. Their freshness and complexity definitely offer something for lovers of fine fare and for an international audience looking for new sensations and simple pleasures that can be shared with good food. Its production remains limited, however, particularly because it is heavily dependent upon weather conditions”.


Alexandre Perrier, the cellar master at the family-owned Domaine Perrier

Alexandre Perrier, the cellar master at the family-owned Domaine Perrier


The Perrier family

The Perrier family - Gilles, Gilbert, Alexandre, Philippe and Christophe.



Domaine du Château de Monterminod.

Domaine du Château de Monterminod.



Roussette, the full-fledged range staple

Roussette de Savoie’s reputation has grown apace over the past few years and it has successfully moved beyond the seasonal, holiday markets. It has also broken away from the traditional pairings with local cheese-based speciality foods, like raclette or tartiflette. “Altesse has its own trademark identity and characteristics stemming from Alpine vineyard sites. It is less vegetal than Sauvignon but just as powerful”, comments Franck Berkulès from the CIVS. “Compared with Chardonnay, it has a little extra fruit which shines through even with no oak influence”.

In the extensive fresh, fruity white wine space, Roussette de Savoie is now a full-fledged range staple. Its winegrowers are working hard to raise awareness and create an impactful image for their industry with increasingly noticeable elegant, delicate pours. With price tags that are still reasonable, it has an edge over the competition, despite the fact that volumes are still fairly low, particularly for export markets. But then, the greatest pleasures are always worth fighting for…