Where does it come from:
The origin of Altesse has been the subject of some debate. It has been suggested that it's identical to Furmint, the noble Hungarian variety used to make the great sweet wine Tokaij. However others suspect that it is indigenous to the hills of Savoie. Today there are fewer than 1,000 acres under cultivation, mostly in France, though there is a small quantity in Switzerland.
What's it like for the farmer:
Altesse needs gentle care, as it is quite to susceptible to the most common forms of grape rot.
Ermitage de Pic Saint Loup, Pic Saint Loup,
Languedoc, France, 2012
Distributor: Winebow, 236 W.36 St, New York, NY, 10001
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At Blue Ribbon our favorite growers are those that like to challenge themselves. Sometimes the challenge is planting a variety that needs that extra degree of care and attention. Oftentimes it's an insistence on working the hard way in the vines because that's the only way for them to get the results and quality they desire. In the case of the brothers Ravaille at Ermitage de Pic Saint Loup the challenge was even attempting to grow vines in the place they chose.
The Languedoc is one of the wilder viticultural hubs in Europe, with rocky Mediterranean coastlines pushing up against dense forest and mountains marked by brush and boulders. Steep hillsides, winding roads and sparse topsoil make this a hard place to do anything. From an ancient Languedoc family, the three Ravaille brothers chose a piece of land that had been left to shepherds and their flocks and carved out a vineyard from among the rocks, planting only the traditional varieties of the region. They set about making wines that reflected the hot sun and cold nights of this place, high up in the hills.
Twenty-two years later they are still going strong, producing wines of remarkable energy and freshness that bely the roasting summers that draw holiday makers from London and Paris. Our Wine of the Week is "Tour de Pierre," a blend of about 50% Syrah rounded out by Grenache and Mourvedre. A remarkably complete wine for this price, the iron-rich clay soils give this bottle more grip and substance than some of the domaine's other cuvées. The cool blue fruit and spice of the Syrah are given a juicy shot in the arm from the Grenache, with the Mourvedre bringing a dark herbal component to the table.
Growing wine is about as difficult a way to make a living as one can find. The brothers of Ermitage de Pic Saint Loup are exemplary in their commitment to hard work, without taking shortcuts. Please come on over to a Blue Ribbon bar this week and taste what it's all about!
Wine Director, Blue Ribbon Restaurants