By Wink Lorch
The French have surprisingly few wine shops in relatively affluent town centres compared to the UK or the USA for example. Yet, if you are a wine lover travelling through France with no time to visit a wine region and buy direct from a producer, a wine shop with a well-chosen selection from the nearest wine region and someone there to advise you is just what you need. The dearth of good wine shops is slowly being addressed with a new breed emerging, sometimes incorporating a wine bar and often owned by highly trained sommeliers, oenologists or simply by an enthusiastic amateur.
For those of you returning from a ski trip in the French Alps, I can recommend two new wine shops/bars that fill this gap in major towns on the routes to and from the ski resorts.
Until La Java des Flacons was opened two years ago by the lake on the edge of the beautiful town of Annecy (departmental capital of Haute Savoie), you could not find a wine shop with a decent selection of the local Savoie wines. The shop is owned by the very affable and highly experienced sommelier Bruno Bozzer, who for ten years was the sommelier for the local 3-star Michelin restaurant Marc Veyrat and previously worked for Louis Jadot in Burgundy. He has created a veritable Aladdin’s cave of wines in a modern, spacious environment.
The Savoie wines are in a corner, but all the top names are there, including some rare cuvées not usually available. They include wines from biodynamic producers such as Belluard, Maillet and Domaine Prieuré St-Christophe along with regional classics such as Dupasquier and Magnin. The rest of the shop is packed full of everything French from Languedoc and South-West finds to top classic Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhône. There’s a bar in the corner where at least a dozen wines are available by the glass or bottle at modest mark-ups and a sofa to relax on. You can choose a plate of tasty French or Italian charcuterie or even a dozen oysters if you prefer. Whether you want one special bottle or plan to make an investment, Bruno and his team do everything to advise you. They also run monthly tutored tasting evenings.
In Albertville, famed for being home to the winter Olympics of 1992 and not much else, but en route from the big Tarentaise resorts like Val d’Isère, Tignes and Courchevel, last autumn I discovered a tiny shop, on the main shopping street, named Syrah and Co. owned by Nicolas Le Goff. From a hotel and catering background, Le Goff has created the shop as a relaxed meeting place and chance to discover mainly organic wines. Many of the same Savoie names as those stocked by Java des Flacons are here including a selection of vintages from Prieuré St-Christophe and the fascinating Domaine des Ardoisières whose vineyards you might have driven past. Wines are available by the bottle to drink at the bar for a €8 corkage charge and 12 wines rotate by the glass costing around €4. Note the shop/bar is not open at lunchtime, but remains open late into the evening if there is a demand, and you can choose to accompany your wine with a plate of charcuterie, cheese or mixed vegetables.
I should also mention the well-respected and more established shop called Vins Duvernay in Annemasse, near Geneva, which stocks a wide range, but that I haven’t yet visited.
If driving back to the UK, you can pick up a case of unusual Savoie wines to taste at home, and if you’re flying you could perhaps find space in your suitcase for a couple of bottles, couldn’t you? Better still, come back to visit the region in 2009 and make sure you use my wine travel guide to the region.
La Java des Flacons, 49 Avenue du Petit Port, 74940 Annecy le Vieux.
Tel: 04 50 23 31 39
Open 10.00-20.00. Closed Mondays.
Syrah & Co, 12 Rue de la République, 73200 Albertville.
Tel: 04 79 38 46 99
Open 10.00-12.30 and 15.00 till late. Closed Mondays, Tuesday mornings and Sunday afternoons.
Vins R. Duvernay, 12 Rue Charles Dupraz, 74100 Annemasse.
Tel: 04 50 92 20 20