Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Lambert de Seyssel Petit Royal, Grand Vin Mousseux, Savoie

There were so many unknowns about this bottle of sparkling wine. So, I just had to have it. We popped the cork on a most unusual bottle of French bubbly.

Here a Mousseux, There A Mousseux

I must have looked at this bottle two dozen times. After the morning workout and before heading to the office, I often stop at Walt Churchill’s Market to pick up a muffin. My pit stop usually includes a swing through the wine aisle.

Tucked on a shelf of clearance wine was this bottle – Lambert de Seyssel Petit Royal. The term “mousseux” caught my attention. I knew that this is a word used for sparkling wine in France’s Loire Valley.

What I didn’t know is that the term is used in a number of French wine regions. So when I finally pulled the trigger and bought it, I carried home a bottle with an origin 400 miles east of the Loire.

Savoie Scores Again

I decided to serve the Petit Royal at the wine tasting held at our house. In researching the wine, I was surprised to see that it came from Savoie, one of the easternmost wine regions in France. The area is close to Lake Geneva and the Swiss border. We’ve had Vin de Savoie before, a Domaine Labbe Abymes made with Jacquère grapes. The white wine is crisp, refreshing and dirt cheap.

So I was enchanted with the Savoie connection. Seyssel is one of the best known villages in Savoie and is located on the Rhone river. Vineyards of the tiny Seyssel region were regularly mentioned in documents in the 11th century. In the 19th century a new Seyssel mousseux was created that gained great popularity. Queen Victoria was said to have enjoyed the sparkling wine during her visits to nearby spas.

The Royal Seyssel produced by the Varichon and Clerc families was considered to be the best sparkling Seyssel on the market. When the winery was sold in the 1990s, the quality spiraled downward. Upset with what had happened to this once heralded brand, Gérard and Catherine Lambert teamed up with Olivier Varichon, great-grandson of the founder, to buy back the Royal Seyssel label and recreate the light, floral wine that was once held in very high regard.

A “Somewhat” Traditional Take On Bubbles

There is a wide assortment of French sparkling wine worth tasting, but only bottles produced by the traditional method in the Champagne region can carry that name. The Petit Royal is made in the traditional method, with a second fermentation in the bottle. The differences in the Seyssel bubbly are as towering as the nearby Alps.

The competition ages their sparkling wine only nine months, which is the minimum. Petit Royal is aged for two years while its big brother Royal Seyssel is aged three to four years. This gives the wine more pronounced flavors and finer perlage (a cool French word for bubbles).

Petit Royal also contrasts with Champagne in its choice of grapes. Grapes used are Molette (70%) and Altesse (30%). The vines for the Petit Royal are 10 to 25 years old. Molette is a native Savoie variety while Altesse is a newcomer, being introduced in 1393. Molette has small golden berries and provides high acidity. Altesse is aromatic and provides aging potential.

The flavor left us scratching our heads. We are used to Champagne with yeast, toast and light fruit notes. The Petit Royal, while nicely dry, had a sharp almost peppery taste mixed with threads of floral flavor.

So, while we enjoyed it, Seyssel sparkling wine won’t replace Champagne or Cava in our wine cellar. Petit Royal is worth a sip, but if you can find it, the Royal Seyssel may be the way to go.

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