On the Trail

In Bugey with Yves Duport

Keith Mabry

I met Yves Duport through Bruno Lemoine, our European agent for Fluery Champagne, one of our closest direct import producers. Bruno and I connected years ago through our buyer Gary Westby and when I mentioned to Bruno I was heading down to Bugey in search of interesting sparkling wine producers, he mentioned the name Duport as being “the guy” in the region. I did a little outside research to find out that Yves is one of the few organic and bio-dynamic producers there and that his wines were popular amongst those in the know.  Not that there are many people who know about Bugey and those who do probably best know Bugey-Cerdon, a semi-sweet/tart sparkling wine produced in a sub-region to the north of Yves’ village.  I, however, was not on the hunt for Bugey-Cerdon.  I was interested in the dry sparkling wines for which Yves is best known.

The appellation of Bugey is a small wine-making region only planted to about 500 hectares, not far from the Swiss border in the foothills of the Alps.  Often lumped in with Savoie, its neighbor to the east, it graduated to full appellation status in 2009. The region produces crisp and clean wines of various types, including Duport's specialty: bubbles. I made the appointment beforehand, but got lost on the way after transposing some numbers into the GPS, so I was an hour late in arriving. Yves was very understanding, however,  and was very cordial. He speaks English quite well which made everything that much easier. His house and winery are in Groslée, a tiny village along the Ain side of the Rhône River before it loops around to divide the region from the Savoie. 

There are three main regions in Bugey: Montagnieu, Cerdon, and Belley. Duport's property is located in Montagnieu which is the area best known for dry wine production known for the altesse and mondeuse varieties—specialties of the region. I was there primarily just to taste his sparkling wines, but he also makes gamay, pinot noir, syrah, and chardonnay. I am always drawn to a region for what makes it unique, i.e. the native varietals, but everything Yves produces is outstanding in quality. He took over the growing business from his father who had previously sold most of their fruit to local cooperatives for production. After taking the reigns, however, Yves decided to go into business for himself and began producing a number of expressions under his own label. After tasting through his selections at the winery we took a trip out to some of the vineyards to get a better understanding of the land. His winery is located in a valley, but all the vineyards themselves are up in the hills. Being so close to the Alps, the cooler climate and rocky soil creates a freshness and cleanliness in the wines just like the mountain air itself. His Montagnieu vineyard is one of the most dramatic I have ever seen; its incredibly steep slopes composed of fractured limestone-marl, appearing as if someone took big slabs of concrete and smashed them into bits and pieces. It was absolutely gorgeous.  Both the Altesse de Montagnieu and Mondeuse come from his holdings on this hill. 

The Altesse is a succulent white, generous with persimmon and pear flavors, suitable for local chicken and fish dishes but a great crossover with Asian foods.  The Mondeuse is a briary spicy red.  Think hypothetical gamay and syrah mash-up for flavor profile.  More medium to medium-full bodied in style it is both zesty and bright fruited, perfect for pork and mushroom dishes.

As mentioned earlier, Yves is most famous in the region for his sparkling wine. The basic cuvée called "Origin'L Reserve" is a composed of pinot noir, chardonnay, and aligoté, all from vines grown organically in limestone soils. The wine has a wonderful mousse with a decisive mid-palate that finishes clean and crisp with a hint of chalk. The other cuvée is called the "Vieillissement Prolongé" which utilizes chardonnay and pinot noir along with native varieties like altesse and mondeuse blanc. It finishes softer, more elegantly, and with a slightly oxidative note, reminding me of great aged Champagne. Both are about as close in quality to real Champagne as anything we carry in the store, but each for a price below twenty bucks.  Both are also the perfect pairing for grenouilles—the local Bugey specialty of fried frog legs with butter and garlic. Yves wanted me to taste this fantastic combination first hand, so we headed into the village's main restaurant for a traditional crock pot affair. There’s something quite special and distinctive about these wines. They have more depth and detail than just a standard French cremant, but that might be just Duport's dedication shining through. For a look at our complete lineup of Yves Duport wines click here.

-Keith Mabry