It’s the season for winter-sports holidays and many of us are looking forward to packing our bags and heading for the ski slopes in the next two or three months. Winter-sports holidays are all about physical exercise, stunning scenery, fresh mountain air, a good social scene, and plenty of hearty food and drink.
The food and drink are a big part of the holiday. Who could fail to enjoy a rustic lunch in a mountain restaurant,or a lively three-course evening meal with wine in a chalet or hotel? Ah, yes – the wine.
If you like to sample the local white wine while on holiday, you may struggle on a winter-sports package holiday, many of which come with complementary wine at meal times. While free white wine is always a bonus, the wine provided by the holiday company tends to be the same across the board. In other words, holiday-makers enjoying an evening meal in France, Austria, Italy or Switzerland are likely to be all drinking exactly the same white wine. It may be perfectly palatable, but it almost certainly won’t be local.
If you want to try a local white wine you may have to frequent a local bar, restaurant or hotel or explore one of the ubiquitous regional food and drink stores. But which white wines should you look out for?
If you are skiing or snowboarding in France look out for white wines from the Jura and Savoie regions. These little known French wine regions produce some light white wines which are best drunk young. If you’re skiing in the resort of La Rosiere, seek out the vineyard in which Louis Pasteur conducted experiments for Napoleon III looking into why grape juice turned into wine.
This vineyard and others around the town of Arbois have been bought by wine maker Henri Maire who has promoted the profile of Jura wines through his “Vin Fou” or “Mad Wine” label.
The Jura region produces two unique white wine styles. The sweet vins de paille wines are gold in colour with a complex bouquet and a rich and nutty flavour. They are well worth a try. The vins jaunes are an acquired taste and should be drunk when old. This wine is deliberately oxidised under a yeast flor while matured in casks. The best examples come from the Chateau-Chalon AOC.
The Savoie dry whites under the Vin de Savoie AOC are often excellent but it is the region’s greatly undervalued sparkling and semi-sparkling white wines which are worth seeking out.
If your winter-sports holiday is based in the Italian Alps then your local white wines can be sourced from the Aosta Valley. The Valle D’Aosta DOC stretches high into the Alps and is overlooked by Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn. It includes 20 different styles of wine amongst which are blended whites and varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. Don’t expect high-quality, premium white wines – most are unpretentious and easy drinking but nonetheless enjoyable in the mountain atmosphere.
If you are over the other side of Italy in the Dolomites then the Alto Adige DOC is on your doorstep. This South Tyrol region on the Austrian border is largely German speaking so many of the white wines have alternative German names and can carry a Qualitatswein Bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA) designation. The DOC features around 10 white wine varietals. The best include Pinot Bianco or Weissburgunder; Riesling Renano or Rheinriesling and Sauvignon. Look out for Moscato Giallo or Goldenmuskateller dessert wine.
Most of Austria’s best ski resorts are located in the west of the country, bordering Italy and Switzerland whereas most of Austria’s white wine is produced in the country’s eastern regions. However, it still counts as a local wine as at least you are drinking it in the country of origin! Some of the best whites produced in Austria are made with the Chardonnay grape, sometimes known as Feinburgunder. The best Chardonnays are full-bodied and rich. Riesling is another grape showing great potential in Austria. Make sure the wine is labelled Weisser Riesling or Rheinriesling and look out for examples from Wachau or Kamtal-Donauland.
Switzerland’s wine industry is little-known outside the country as most of it is drunk domestically. The most popular white wine grape is Chasselas, which produces a deliciously dry and fresh wine which makes a wonderful partner to a cheese fondue. Swiss white wine has a number of issues which can make it difficult to select a bottle of appropriate quality. Firstly, yields tend to be too high to produce quality wine. Secondly prices are high, particularly for those producers who restrict their yield to improve quality. Finally, because Switzerland is divided into German, French and Italian-speaking regions similar white-wine styles can have many different names. Good luck!
Image by Sondrekv.