Each winter, I chuckle when I hear myself describing 30 degree weather as “balmy,” while simultaneously shaking my head at the arctic outcrops of snow outside. With all the white snow setting everything in frigid, monochromatic contrast, I find myself craving shades of yellow and orange, and the warm spectrum of flavors that go along with them. A delicate, understated Savoie white from Gilles Berlioz, made of 100% Jacquère, is the perfect complement to one of my favorite aged Sardinian goat milk cheeses, Pantaleo. Coupled with some thin slices of exuberantly tart kumquats, I get all of the sunshine and fresh aromas I need to make it through the deep-freeze of winter.
Gilles Berlioz is a landscape gardener-cum-winemaker, who first inherited 2 hectares of vines nearly 20 years ago from a family member. His interest in winemaking and improving the overall health of the land lead him to farm organically. He now has 3.5 hectares of vines in the mountainous Savoie appellation of Chignin, south of the town of Chambéry – which is famous for its white vermouths (Julie, wine buyer at our South End location, talks about these in her blog post on Dolin). Mostly, however, the Savoie is a region widely considered to be capable of producing “Piquette” wines (French slang for bad wine); wines that are only good for making fondue. Berlioz’s whites are concentrated, complex and quietly expressive of their region, far too good for just cooking fondue! Gilles is meticulous in the vineyard. He does all of the ploughing, weeding between the vines, and pruning completely on his own, and his approach in the cellar is natural and non-interventionist. His winemaking philosophy also includes long, slow fermentations, neutral aging in fiberglass vats, and bottling in early summer (according to the lunar calendar) so that he can avoid filtration. Most of his vines are quite old, and yield an incredibly tiny amount of fruit. (His yields are around 30 hectoliters per hectare, while the norm in the Savoie is 70 hectoliters per hectare.) This bottle, cheekily named “La Piquette,” is made of one of the region’s main white grape varietals: Jacquère. It is pale yellow in color and light on the nose, with subtle notes of herbs and honeyed fruit. On the palate it is balanced between clean acidity and loads of minerals, a direct expression of the limestone-heavy soils of the steeply-angled vineyards.
I particularly enjoy this white alongside Pantaleo, because I find La Piquette’s delicate brightness so pleasant next to the strong scent of orange blossoms I love in this cheese. Pantaleo is a firm goat milk cheese from the western coast of Sardinia, aged for about 4-6 months. On its own, the cheese is dry in texture, nicely salted, and full of those warm citrus notes I crave. When paired with a sip of Jacquère, the richness of its fat lingers perfectly on your palate after the mineral finish of the wine. I like a bite-sized pop of kumquat at the end to contrast the saltiness of the cheese and cleanse my palate in time for another whiff of Jacquère. Sip, nibble, savor, repeat… and, before you know it, all the aromas will have whisked the memory of snow away!