It’s hard to miss Châteauneuf-du-Pape, one of the most famous wine appellations in the world. But have you heard of Beaumes-de-Venise, Rasteau or Lirac? In this blog post, we take a look at the vineyards in the southern part of the Rhône region. Here is an overview of an area that produces some of the finest wines in the world but also boasts an incredible number of great bargains.
Follow the river southwards from Saint-Péray, and between Montélimar and Nîmes you will come to the vineyards of the southern Rhône. Whereas the north of the region concentrates on one or two grape varieties, the majority of wines from the south are blends. This immediately brings to mind the 13 varieties authorised under the Châteauneuf-du-Pape regulations – a record in France! The landscape is completely different from the northern Rhône too. The vines no longer grow on hillsides, but instead are planted on the plains, on the former river or sea bed. The Mediterranean plays an important role even if it is 100 kilometres away. The climate is very hot and dry in the summer, influenced by the Mistral (a strong Mediterranean wind), but temperatures can also fall sharply in the winter, especially on the rocky hilltops. The vines are surrounded by olive groves, the scrubland of the garrigue and cicadas – you are well and truly in Mediterranean country.
There are three grades of appellation: regional AOCs, sub-regional AOCs and Crus.
This appellation inevitably includes Côtes-du-Rhône as the vast majority is produced in the south of the region. All three wine colours are represented in the appellation although red accounts for 95% of the wine produced (predominantly from Grenache). With almost 40,000 hectares, this is the largest AOC (more than 50% of output). The wines are supple and fruity and some blends offer some of the best value for money in France. We’re thinking of André Brunel’s Cuvée Sommelongue, Domaine Charvin and the unmissable Emmanuel Reynaud at Château des Tours.
The Côtes-du-Rhône Villages appellation covers 95 villages in the Gard, Vaucluse, Ardèche and Drôme. The regulations are more stringent than for the classic appellation. Of these 95 villages, 17, such as Sablet and Laudun are allowed to declare their names and enjoy the status of Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Communaux. This is the first step towards official recognition as a Cru (Cairanne has not long been promoted to this status).
These are very extensive appellations. There are some very high quality wines at extremely modest prices, but you have to know where to look, or put your trust in iDealwine ;). From North to South this classification includes: Grignan-les Adhémar, Côtes du Vivarais, Ventoux, Luberon (Provence), Uzès and Costières de Nîmes (Languedoc). At iDealwine, we love the vibrant Domaine Galletty’s Côtes-du-Vivarais and Ferme Saint Martin‘s Ventoux!
Vinsobres: The most northern Cru (in the Drôme) was only promoted in 2005. The wines are rich and flavoursome but for the time being, remain in the shadows of other Crus. The Perrin family (Beaucastel) makes a beautifully crafted Vinsobres.
Rasteau: Known for its sweet, vins doux naturels, it achieved AOC status for its red wines in 2010. These are powerful and structured wines with very good ageing potential. We are particularly fond of Domaine de la Soumade and the excellent Gourt de Mautens who also produces white but no longer claims AOC status.
Cairanne: One of iDealwine’s favourite appellations. It achieved Cru status in 2015, and with good reason includes two excellent domaines, Marcel Richaud and l’Oratoire Saint-Martin. The appellation covers all three wine colours. Reds have the classic GSM blend, with a 20% allowance for additional varieties. Whites (more unusual), are made with white Grenache and various other Rhône Valley varieties. The wines range from entry-level and highly drinkable cuvées to very refined and distinguished, top-of-the-range cuvées. Try them as soon as you can!
Gigondas: Lying at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail (with Vacqueyras and Beaumes de Venise), this appellation produces some of the Rhône Valley’s finest and most distinguished wines. The appellation owes its success to a mosaic of soils from the secondary, tertiary and quaternary periods brought to the surface by the geological phenomenon that created the Dentelles, and the layers of clay that are so vital for conserving water in the summer. The appellation predominantly grows Grenache (80% maximum), Syrah and Mourvèdre (15% minimum). At IDealwine, we adore the sensuality of Domaine de la Bouïssière’s wines.
Vacqueyras: Along with Gigondas, this Cru is one of the finest alternatives to Châteauneuf, albeit in a fuller-bodied style. White and rosé wines can be found here but 97% of production is red. Planting reflects this – at least 90% Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, with a slightly higher proportion of the last two than in Gigondas. As in Châteauneuf, the terroir is covered with galets roulés. These pebbles facilitate drainage and release heat to the vines in the evenings. In Vacqueyras, you must try Le Sang des Cailloux, Beaucastel, and the rare but unmissable Château des Tours.
Beaumes-de-Venise: This name must mean something to you. Known first and foremost for its sweet, Muscat-based vins doux naturels (AOC Muscat Beaumes de Venise), the area’s red wines achieved Cru recognition in 2005. The appellation boasts three distinctive terroirs and produces generous but elegant reds. We especially like Domaine de la Ferme Saint Martin (and its prices are still very sweet too)!
Châteauneuf-du-Pape: This vast appellation (3161 hectares) owes its success to a mosaic of absolutely fantastic terroirs. Given its size, the appellation is not homogenous but the top estates produce some of the finest wines on the planet. As a general rule, domaines produce a traditional cuvée – a blend from different terroirs where appropriate varieties have been planted. Some of these, such as the fantastic Vieux Donjon only make two cuvées, one white and one red. Since the 1980s and 90s, other domaines have been producing single parcel cuvées, along similar lines to in Champagne, with the emphasis on one soil type, one grape variety, etc. Examples are André Brunel’s Cuvée Centenaire, l’Hommage à Jacques Perrin, Mont-Olivet’s Cuvée du Papet and Emmanuel Reynaud’s mythical Rayas (100% Grenache grown on the only sandy terroir in the appellation). Our wine enthusiasts won’t contradict us if we tell you that Rayas is the finest expression of the Grenache grape; and over the years and decades it gets better and better. Châteauneuf is a fascinating wine region and an absolute must.
Tavel: On the other side of the river, the colour changes as all wine produced in Tavel is rosé. If you prefer transparent wines, carry on your way as the wines of Tavel (with a Cinsault base) lean towards red and have clearly been produced to accompany food.
Lirac: A less well-known but rising Cru! Its reds are fleshy and elegant, its rosés are similar to Tavels and its whites are of excellent quality.
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