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Rhone Part 7, Sunday: We are in the village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape today. We park near the tower…

… We park near the tower and survey the gravel, limestone, and clay soil in these hallowed vineyards. The Grenache vines are very old, thick, and twisted, just beginning to sprout new shoots for the Season. The Syrah vines are distinctly thinner in appearance. As we descend into the village, the bell tolls; it’s Sunday after all and the parishioners file into the 14th Century church. The village, along with Avignon, has a rich and historic Papal tradition. This is a charming, cute town. Our tastings in the venerable wine region begin with Domaine de Marcoux & Domain Tour St. Michel (again, see Part 5 for our visit to the actual Domaine). We taste truly outstanding wines today, including 2010 Domaine Albin Jacumin, ’09 Chateau de Ruth, ’09 D. de Galuval Cuvée Emile, and ’09 D. Gilles. They are blends of various strictly controlled varietals, many of them are 90% Grenache, 10% Syrah, some with smaller amounts of other varietals.

Now we drive south to Montpelier and thus ends our Rhone valley wine tour. We experience over 150 wines from about 60 wineries. A fraction of what was available to taste in the 6 days of ‘Découvertes en Vallée du Rhône’, which takes place every 2 years for the wine trade. Next one is in 2013. So what do I think of the Rhone valley and its wines? It is an enchanting, beautiful place to visit and the wines are elegant and enticing. For
now, let’s all agree to meet up again in the Rhone valley of France! Bonne nuit.
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Rhone Part 5, Friday: Tastings in Chateau de Grignan then on to Chateauneuf

Chateau de Grignan

This chateau is a large imposing facility high on a hill. Dozens of wines tasted. A great representation of Rhone.

Now on to Chateau de Suze-la-Rousse, the home of the Wine University in the area. The wines of Grignan, Vinsobres and Cotes du Rhone, Cotes du Rhone Villages, are marvellous here. For example, 2006 Domaine Coste Chabrier Vinsobres (92 pts). We also enjoy single varietals by racing celebrity Vermeersch. The Aligante is soft, the Carignan is earthy, the Grenache shows effects of micro-oxidation, and the Syrah is definitely the most tannic. Next, we’re off to Abbaye de Bouchet where we meet another 30 exhibitors, including the proprietor of tiny Domaine de l’Amauve. Small batch wines of excellent quality.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape

To finish the day in style, we attend a small gathering of wine importers at the invitation of Domaine Tour Saint-Michel in Chateauneuf du Pape for an evening tasting and dinner. The winemaker is Mireille Fabre, one of the great women winemakers. The family greets us warmly and shows us the operation. They have authentic hors d’ouvres out and a Chateauneuf variation of Beef Bourguignon that Mireille and her mother have been simmering for hours.

The evening starts with a sampling of Deux Soers 09, then 08; both great. 50% Grenache Blanc, 50% Clairette, half from tank, half from oak barrels. Sophisticated whites!

Now to reds. Cuveé des Deux Soers 2010. 90% Grenache, 10% Syrah. Very nice. Next, the Cuveé du Lion 2010. Even better. 75% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 5% Mourvèdre. This is a tank sample now, it will go in oak soon. Next, Cuveé du Lion 2009. Same blend of varietals. This one has seen oak, some newbarrels, some older. It displays medium red with a nose of earthy berries, followed by flavours of currants and red berries, with spice box and muted minerality. Long finish. Sensational.

Winemaker Mireille Fabre hosts and pours

We finish our visit to Tour St. Michel with a look at the family’s classic car collection, each of the ten vehicles in its own garage. This has been one of the most charming winery visits I’ve ever encountered.

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Rhone Part 6, Saturday: we drive from home base in Cairanne to a chateau and then to Pont-du-Gard…

… In Pont-du-Gard to visit with 39 wineries who’ve set up for the day. We’re in the shadow of the Roman aqueduct & bridge. A very picturesque setting. We taste wines from Tavel – home of famous rosé wines, Lirac and many more Cote du Rhone wines. Memorable wines:

– ’09 Domaine Coudoulis Cotes du Rhone (grenache, syrah, cinsault)
– ’07 Domaine Brice Beaumont Lirac St. Pierre (grenache, syrah, cinsault, mourvedre, carignan)
– ’09 Domaine Cabanis Jardin Secret, Costieres de Nimes

Now we drive south to Avignon. 14th Century walls surround the old city and the magnificent Palais des Papes, home to several Popes beginning in 1309. This is the largest Gothic palace in Europe.

Dinner tonight is so perfect, I’m pretty sure I’m in another realm! We dine in a restaurant called Campagne, Vignes & Gourmandises in Sainte-Cecile-les-Vignes. Lentil cream soup with scallops (chicken stock with very finely chopped lentils & cream), Poached Guinea Hen with fingerlings in a delicate white wine cream sauce, and cheese platter to finish. The 2009 Domainr de la Janasse Viognier was a perfect complement.
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Rhone valley part 4 continued…

Rhone Part 4, Thursday: it warms up quite a bit today with lots of sun. Beautiful Gigondas village is a setting of stone edifices, narrow lanes and steep hills. I’m tasting Gigondas, Vacqueyras, & Beaumes de Venise today. I’m finding truly excellent and affordable wines here. The further south I go, the more robust and serious the wines become. The Northern wines are structured, elegant, delicate beauties. These wines are generally big, fruit driven, and food friendly.

Tonight at the Black & Wine event at Carré Gourmand restaurant in Gigondas, I’m enjoying the 2008 La Syrah de Pénélope Gigondas. A dark and mysterious lady, she exudes a dusty, leathery, dark berry bouquet with flavours of blackberries, vanilla bean & dark chocolate, with firm tannins. She finishes surprisingly softly and satisfies completely. An intriguing lady of Cotê du Rhone.
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