Today's Tour de France Stage from Bourg-Saint-Andéol to La Caverne du Pont-D’Arc passes through the diverse Rhône Valley. The vineyards of the Rhône Valley naturally fall into two parts, the north, producing less than a tenth of the total Rhône wines, almost all fine wine, and the south, much more extensive and with quite different landscapes, and wines. We’ve picked some of our favorites from the different sub-regions.
The Northern Rhône has a moderate continental climate with a slight Mediterranean influence resulting in warm summers and cold winters. The Mistral, a cold dry wind blowing from the north with great force for most of the year, dominates the continental climate. This can be very destructive for the vines and, in extreme conditions, the leaves and fruit can be blown off the vines, destroying the harvest. For this reason, the vines are often trellised individually onto small ‘wigwam’ pole structures.
The Syrah grape dominates the Northern Rhône. Some blending is involved in the winemaking but mainly for white wines, and small percentages of white grape varieties in red wines. 24472 Cornas, Les Méjeans, Jean-Luc Colombo from the foothills of Cornas, is an intensely fruity and fresh wine. It was aged for about a year in one and two year old barrels, showing raspberry, blackcurrant and blackberry with floral hints as well as some coffee and spice notes.
Syrah is the oldest recorded noble grape variety. It has been planted in the Rhône Valley for at least 2000 years, and has always been respected as a fine wine resource, even though it only covers 2% of all French red wine plantings. Until 150 years ago, Northern Rhône Syrah wines were blended into top Bordeaux reds to lend the Bordeaux wine makers substance in poor vintages. 28345 Crozes Hermitage, Petite Ruche, M. Chapoutier is a well-rounded, blackcurrant and raspberry scented wine. It is vinified in cement vats and aged for roughly nine months in tanks before bottling. The wine shows a fresh palate with plenty of ripe fruit and finesse on the finish. Since 1996, all wine labels of M. Chapoutier have included a Braille version, as a tribute to Maurice Monier de la Sizeranne, original owner of the famous La Sizeranne vineyards and the inventor of the form of Braille widely used today.
The Southern Rhône runs along the Rhône River from Montélimar in the south to Avignon. It is a much larger region than the north in regards to volume, producing over 90% of the Rhône Valley’s wines. The climate is truly Mediterranean and much warmer than their northern neighbor. However, it is also affected by the cold Mistal wind.
The Southern Rhône is known for its blended wines, dominated by the Grenache grape. The skin of the grape is quite thin when heavily cropped, lending it to the production of rose wines as well with low tannin levels. Grenache accounts for at least 40% of all red Cotes du Rhône, it’s most usual blending partners are Syrah and Mourvedre. 25238 Côtes du Rhône, Les Abeilles Rouge, Jean-Luc Colombo is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. The wine is made from old vines, a minimum of 25 years old. Small red fruits, coriander and bay leaf on the nose followed by a fresh and silky palate, with notes of liquorice and spice. 31576 Côtes du Rhône Rouge, Vin Gourmand, Dauvergne Ranvier, a blend of Grenache and Syrah grown on a mixture of clay-limestone and sandy soils. The nose leads with red fruits and hints of black pepper; the palate shows red and black fruit alongside some spice, making this wine a classic example of a solidly constructed Côtes du Rhône.
Over 90% of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is red but the wines are hugely variable in style. The wines are easy to like, being spicy, rich and strong. Châteauneuf-du-Pape can have each of a total of 18 permitted varieties in its blend (this used to be 13 but different colours of the same grape are now listed as separate varieties). 27191 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Clos de L’Oratoire des Papes, Ogier is an iconic wine, made from mainly Grenache from a single vineyard site. The nose is spicy with surprising floral notes of grass and acacia, evolving onto more classic notes of red berries, menthol brings a breatiful freshness.
In 1954, a spate of sightings of flying objects, described as flying saucers or flying cigars were reported over southern France. Lucien Jeune, the mayor of Châteauneuf-du-Pape took action in order to protect the vines around his village commune. His village council quickly passed a municipal decree to keep aliens out of local skies and vineyards, even overflights were banned. Whether he was serious or just attempting to gain publicity for the local wines is unknown. Either way, the popularity has increased and no aliens have been spotted in the vineyards!