I had the good fortune to visit the various Rhone valley wine regions for seven days. The areas within are visually beautiful. The wines of the North can best be described as elegant and delicate. In contrast, the wines of the South are rustic and full of personality. Probably my favourite wines of Planet Earth.
This has been one of the great experiences of my life. Share it with me.
The Rhône valley produces a host of exciting wines under various Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) designations. The major appellation in production volume is Côtes du Rhône AOC.
The Rhône is usually divided into two sub-regions, each with its own vinicultural traditions. The Northern Rhône (Rhône septentrional) and the Southern Rhône (in French Rhône méridional). The northern region makes red wines from the Syrah variety, sometimes blended with white wine grapes, and white wines from Marsanne, Roussane and Viognier grapes. The southern sub-region produces a large range of red, white and rosé wines, often blends of several grapes. The most famous appellation is Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Here are the links to the wonderful experiences of all seven days. Enjoy!
I don’t know about you, but personally, I’m not impressed often enough with the red wines people bring to the house when I’m entertaining.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful for the gift, and even more thankful that they’ve come so I can enjoy their company. That means a lot to me. But let’s face it, there are a lot of just so-so wines out there, especially reds. Part of the reason is that it costs more for the winery to make a decent wine than many of us are willing to pay. We should up our budget a bit.
We should up our wine budget.
This is the single most effective way to acquire better wines. Buy less often if you have to, at least your purchase will be enjoyable.
That said, I don’t want to necessarily place the burden on my guests to buy more expensive wines. Not cool. But maybe I can drop a few hints on great wine regions, eh? Yeah, I think I’m on to something.
Go for Wine Regions that Deliver!
Ok, so now for a little list of lesser-chosen wine regions that generally produce truly great wines (with one or two varietal suggestions from each). Some of these come at a slight premium, but won’t break the bank:
Kremstal, Kamptal, Südsteiermark, Austria (grüner veltliner, riesling, sauvignon blanc)
Abruzzo, Italy (montepulciano d’abruzzo)
Southern Rhône, France (Côtes du Rhône Villages, usually with multiple varietals, including grenache)
Languedoc-Roussillon, France (just about any type, especially grenache based blends, but don’t get the cheapest)
And now here’s an example of a Côtes du Rhône Villages that a dear family member brought over during the holidays. A delightful wine that impressed me immensely.
Domaine Grande Bellane Valreas Cotes du Rhone Villages 2010
A blend of 30% grenache and 70% syrah, this wine speaks volumes to the palate. My first impression is that it has a gorgeous palate, with complexity and balance. Not too much of any particular flavour nuance, not too intense with tannins. Just right. The deep colour and aromatic bouquet lead to wonderful flavours of dark cherry, plum and subtle spice within an elegant, yet slightly rustic overall presentation. It pairs beautifully with red meat, game, and a wide variety of other foods.
Remember the name. There are great restaurants in Paris and not so great. Drouant is great! When in Paris, be sure to dine here www.drouant.com
This historic Parisian restaurant was founded in 1880, and has been the recipient of the famous Goncourt and Renaudot prizes since 1914. Antoine Westermann became owner and chef in 2006.
The restaurant was just a one block walk from our hotel, the Hotel de Noailles at 9 Rue de la Michodière, 75002 Paris. It was all very proper. The Sommelier came first to take our wine order and make some pairing suggestions. We settled on Le Vendangeur Masqué Bourgogne (means masked picker) Chablis, see photo. A bit about the producer here, and about the wine here:
Alice and Olivier de Moor make pure, natural wines from small plots in Chablis.
They have been tending their organic vines near their village of Courgis for over sixteen years. Corgis is northwest of Dijon. The area is cold, leading to low yields from the vines. Both Alice and Olivier share the winemaking.
All grapes are picked by hand. Only natural yeasts are used and the wines are matured in oak barrels that are generally one to four years old so that the oak does not dominate the delicate chardonnay flavours.
The waiter then came and took our food orders. We went for braised lamb in gravy with full garlic cloves and of course, French fries. The fries were the best I’ve ever had.
Other Typical Menu Items
Souper, dès 21h30…
Nos suggestions à déguster dans l’ordre ou, le désordre…
Pâté en croûte de Drouant – 25 euros
Tartare de saumon à l’aneth – 17 euros
Minestrone de légumes au pistou – 18 euros
Salade d’endives & de pommes, Fourme d’Ambert – 17 euros
Suprême de pintade de Challans rôti,
fricassée de pomme de terre Grenaille
& de champignons – 23 euros
Tartare de boeuf,
frites maison & salade verte – 27 euros
Dos de cabillaud poêlé, jus au persil
& fricassée de légumes de saison – 29 euros
Millefeuille à la vanille Bourbon – 14 euros
Le Paris-Brest – 14 euros
Le Baba au Rhum de Drouant – 16 euros
Le Crumble aux pommes, glace à la vanille – 16 euros
What a fine experience it was to have a vertical tasting of Sablet wines all the way back to 1990 here. And great to meet Jean Autran from Domaine de Piaugier. Outstanding wines of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. Rustic yet elegant, rich, yet sometimes delicate. Sensuous flavours in the glass.
Sablet is a commune in the Vaucluse department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in southeastern France. It is a fortified Provençal village founded in the 800’s and rich in history.
Great little drive back to our Bed and Breakfast in Cairrane through misty blackness punctuated by little galaxies of light, each a village nestled in the Alpine foothills here in the Southern Rhone.
I’m at Chateau Jean Faure in St. Emilion. I feel like I’m home. The sunny disposition, soil, and general feeling of this place seem familiar and magical.
The chateau’s historic roots, its reference terroir, and a passionate owner: Olivier Decelle make it very special. Monsieur Decelle explains: “This is a historic terroir. There are two main parts to the terroir of Saint Emilion, limestone and clay. Here we are in the clay and iron dross part, and in fact it is more Pomerol, the plot touches Château l’Evangile in Pomerol, it neighbours Cheval Blanc, and this section over here is close to Petrus and Château Figeac, which is 50 % Cabernet Franc. This gives a lot of tension and structure to the wines. They may be difficult to understand when you first taste them, but they’ve received exceptional care and have a personality that delights me.”
We had a chance to get a tour of the wine cellars, vineyards, and the section of the chateau where you can stay.
Chateau Jean Faure is an 18 hectare estate in St. Emilion. They have old vines that are 40 years old. Vinification is in 80 hectoliter concrete vats that are shaped slightly differently than you find in many St. Emilion cellars. The vats are wider, similar to those in Burgundy.
Stephane Derenoncourt is consulting winemaker. The estate has one of the largest concentrations of Cabernet Franc and Malbec planted in the entire Bordeaux appellation. Production is close to 8,000 cases per year.
Grapes are carefully placed in small temperature-controlled vats without being crushed. Fermentation occurs with indigenous yeasts. The cap is punched four times per day with a minimum of pump overs. Maceration is about 21 days. Maturation is for 18 months in French Oak Barrels. The final blend is a combination of 50% new oak (with malolactic fermentation in barrels) and 50% in concrete vats.
The estate offers a single wine.
2010 Château Jean-Faure St. Émilion Grand Cru
The wine is a blend of 54% Cabernet Franc, 40% Merlot and 6% Malbec. Deep garnet colour and a subtle nose of black raspberries, licorice and dusty earthy scents. The palate is elegant and fresh with a long finish. This is a balanced, complex, sweet, full bodied St. Emilion. And it was a grand year for Cabernet Franc in St. Emilion.
A rustic elegance dominates. The building was gutted and refurbished in 2006, with ample original beams and stone blocks. This is a beautiful place to stay; just a short drive or an easy walk into the historic and ridiculously gorgeous village of St. Emilion.
Beautiful Gigondas village, in the Southern Rhône, is a setting of stone edifices, narrow lanes and steep hills. I am here to taste the iconic wines of the area: Gigondas, Vacqueyras, & Beaumes de Venise. I’m finding truly excellent and affordable wines here.
The further south I go in my travels of the area, the more robust and serious the wines become. Northern Rhône wines are structured, elegant, delicate beauties. Southern Rhône wines are big, fruit driven, and food friendly. This charming old village is presided over by 11th-century Ste. Catherine’s church, sitting up high, with its clock tower, belfry and old sundial. It’s a fairly large complex of buildings and grounds still in operation. The narrow cobblestone streets below are lined with stone houses and shops.
While in the village, be sure to dine at Carré Gourmand restaurant. I ordered a medley of appetizers and enjoyed them with 2008 La Syrah de Pénélope Gigondas. Dark and mysterious, exuding a dusty, leathery, dark berry bouquet with flavours of blackberries, vanilla bean & dark chocolate, with firm tannins. The finish is surprisingly soft, satisfying completely. An intriguing wine of Cotê du Rhone.
… 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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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.
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.
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.
… 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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