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Brighter days, blooms, and bird song can only mean that Domaine Belluard is back in stock. While savvy wine drinkers have already scrolled past this to the offer, I must confess to the newcomers that it took me a moment to have my "moment" with these wines. The scarceness and subsequent price tag made them seem hard to access. Like modal jazz, abstract expressionism, or wearing white - biodynamic Savoie wines can be an elusive genre (albeit much more rewarding). The gateway for me was a couple years ago when I tasted one of our perennial favorites Les Perles du Mont Blanc, an affordable mineral-driven sparkling wine made from Gringet -- a grape that I had never heard of, but for which Dominique Belluard is synonymous. From here I understood what many others have: these wines have emotional resonance and natural wines of this caliber are priceless.
As far as we know, he is the only winemaker currently bottling Gringet commerically. Master of Wine Jancis Robinson established that (as of 2008) there are 64 acres of Gringet in the world, and of those, 54 belong to Dominique. Before it became nearly extinct, the fate of this lively cultivar was to make sparkling plonk or become part of industrial blends for the local cooperative, a far cry from the proud expression that we have come to expect from Dominique. His mission to elevate this mighty grape began in 1988 when he took over his family's 10-hectare estate, nestled in the village of Ayse in the Savoie region of France.
Dominique’s vines range from ten to sixty years old and are planted in clay soils with broken-down limestone on the foothills of Mont Blanc. Though the winery is not certified organic, his farming practices follow strict biodynamic principles. Winemaking is equally meticulous, meaning only native yeasts are used, no fining, no filtration, and only minimal sulfur added at bottling. Dominique prefers concrete eggs for his fermentations as he believes that the shape promotes a natural movement of the wine inside and this acts as a way to stir the lees without physically stirring them, thus adding texture and overall stability to the wine. He also uses stainless steel and fiberglass tanks, mostly for blending the wine for Les Alpes and Pur Jus before bottling, and his Mondeuse is usually aged entirely in amphora (although for 2016 it was aged in concrete eggs).
Harvest in 2016 was down 40% (and 50% in 2017) so besides loving them, we had no choice but to stockpile the wines. Each cuvée has a separate personality and Dominique's light touch makes them fascinating to compare and contrast. This is especially true for Les Alpes and Pur Jus which are the same wine in every way except that Pur Jus has zero added sulfur. But if you only choose one wine, make it the 2016 Le Feu. Maybe it's not a wine that you can open every day, but every other day you will be really, really happy that you did. Amanda Bowman
"Les Alpes" is a blend of two parcels - one close to Dominique's home on marl soils and the other rich in limestone. The wine is fermented and aged in concrete eggs before it's blended in tank and bottled with minimal sulfur. The 2016 is a lovely wine that shows pretty white flowers, tangy pineapple and orange blossom. Salty minerals and tart acidity give this a wonderful texture that is evocative of a briny Albariño from Northwestern Spain. Amanda Bowman
Les Perles du Mont Blanc is made from biodynamically farmed Gringet and spends two years on the lees before disgorgement. Fermentation for the base wine is done with indigenous yeast; the second with Champagne yeast and there is no dosage added, making for an exquisitely dry wine with fascinating complexity. This bottling is richer than in years past, but still intensely mineral with heady aromas of pine forest, baking spice, and toasted walnuts. The palate is decadent, with creamy flavors of pear, wildflower honey, nutmeg and bright lemon curd. The invigorating acidity makes this a versatile, food-friendly wine to pair with roasted chicken, oysters, charcuterie, or cheese. Amanda Bowman
'Mont Blanc' is named for the snow-capped mountain 30km away from Dominique's winery. This cuvée is built to age but that requires personal discipline. 100% Gringet from vines planted at 450m elevation, the 2014 was aged for three years on the lees before disgorgement. The delicate nose offers elegant floral aromas and comes across as quite austere at first. By the time you slice the soppressata and collect the Comté from the fridge, the nose will have blossomed with honeysuckle, orange zest, nuts and orchard fruits. The palate has exquisite cut with powerful minerals driving fresh pear and apple flavors. An excellent vintage that should shine in 2-3 years. Amanda Bowman
All things being relative, this cuvée made me reconsider every wine that I have previously described as balanced. "Le Feu" comes Dominique's oldest, low-yielding Gringet vines planted on steep, iron-rich slopes at 450m above sea level. Incredibly well-knit acidity adds energy and freshness to wild herbal flavors that form a continuous loop across the palate. This wine is luminous. Amanda Bowman
This Mondeuse comes from a tiny parcel on Dominique Belluard's estate. Usually this wine is made entirely in amphora but the 2016 was made using concrete eggs, 70% de-stemmed, and the rest whole cluster with a five-week maceration. The finished wine has an elegant silky texture with mouth-coating tannins. Aromas of smoky peppercorn and jasmine compliment supple flavors of juicy black raspberry, thyme, and black cherry. For best results, serve at cellar temperature and allow the wine to breathe for an hour before serving. Amanda Bowman
"Pur Jus" is Dominique's most rare bottling of Gringet. In the spirit of experimentation, this wine comes from the same parcel as his "Les Alpes" bottling and both cuvées are aged the same way in concrete egg, the only difference is that "Pur Jus" has zero sulfur added. 100% Gringet in its purest form. The ritual side-by-side taste test has given this bottle a cult-like status. Praise from the lucky few who have been able to try "Pur Jus" makes this a very limited bottle but worth seeking out. Amanda Bowman