Guest Wines Tour de France
The weather had certainly changed as we started our journey through the Northern Rhône. No longer were we greeted with beautiful sunshine, instead, lots of rain! La Côte-Rôtie? More like La Côte-Rainy indeed! Still, those hillsides looked imposing and impressive!
Driving along the valley famous names started to appear on large billboards on the hillsides amongst the vines, as we had seen in books but nothing really prepares you for seeing it with your own eyes! Firstly, Guigal, then Condrieu, then Paul Jaboulet Aîné and Chapoutier to name just a few. The slopes were extremely steep and in the pouring rain, with mist hanging low on the hills, it made for dramatic scenery. It reminded me of many a place in Asia, such as Southern China or Vietnam.
Much the same as we first experienced in Burgundy’s Côte-d’Or, the vines were trained straight up stakes rather than on trellis systems, which are not so practical on the steep slopes. Geek alert: we found this fascinating to see as so far we had mainly seen the Guyot system, most widely used nowadays.
Our first stop was by appointment with a producer in Mercurol, Domaine des Remizières, but despite us endeavouring to get there on time in the rain we arrived about 14 minutes later than our estimated arrival and were refused the appointment. We were extremely grateful that the Domaine had agreed to see us on a Sunday as they would not usually be open on this day but we were so disappointed to be turned away despite our long drive in torrential rain on roads that we had not travelled on before but sadly the proprietor was unwavering in their decision. We felt that their reaction was a tad extreme but hey, there were plenty more Rhône wines to be had so onwards we drove.
So our first tasting of the day was at the cooperative winery Cave de Tain, in Tain l’Hermitage, thankfully one of the few places open on a Sunday! We were given a taste of their range to get an overview of what they produce and were pleasantly impressed, for the price of 10 euros, the Saint Joseph Classique 2012 was smooth and fruity. Unfortunately, the Hermitage Classique 2009, at 25 euros, was corked and although a little apprehensive to point this out to the advisor since there were several French people also tasting this wine who had not raised any issue, we were very pleased when he agreed and threw the wine down the drain, but not before getting other staff members to smell and taste it as part of their education on an example of a corked wine. Another WSET success there – Hoorah!
The Cornas and Hermitage reds were particularly tasty, especially the Cornas ‘Les Arenes Sauvages’ 2007 and Hermitage ‘Gambert de Loche’ 2007. As a bit of experimentation we also picked up a bottle of the Vin de Pays Syrah 2010 for all of 3.60 euros, and it wasn’t half bad whiling away an evening in our Premiere Classe Hotel on the outskirts of Avignon.
Next to visit was M. Chapoutier wine shop, also in the town of Tain. Whilst waiting for the shop to re-open after lunch, we took the opportunity to have ours sat on the railway station platform, with the impressive backdrop of world famous vineyards to gaze upon (you wouldn’t expect anything less of us, would you?).
The wine advisor at Chapoutier talked us through a wide selection of wines and treated us to taste their single vineyard Ermitage ‘Le Meal’ 2001, which had the most amazing fruitcake aromas held up by a very good structure, the 2010 vintage listed would set you back at least 230 euros! We were particularly impressed by the Hermitage Chante-Alouette 2011 from Marsanne grapes, beautifully soft with creamy cooked apricots and hints of orange, lovely mouthfeel, as well as the Côte-Rôtie Les Bécasses 2010, showing classic gamey/rubber with dark, spicy fruit.
Before leaving the shop, we thanked our wine advisor for the tasting to which he thanked us, i.e. the English, for helping Hermitage wines to exist, he then went on to explain the history further, how Merlot and Cabernet were brought from Bordeaux in 18th century to be blended with Syrah – hermitagé became the term used for blended Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet, hence hermitage came into existence, although now without wines from Bordeaux of course!
We made the most of having a day in one place and in between showers were able to walk around Tain, enjoying the views of the Rhône River as we crossed over to Tournon on the other side, a glimpse of sun even shone through for us!
On leaving Tain, we headed South, driving through Cornas and Saint-Péray, interested to see where the wines we had just tasted that morning had come from. Stunning castle ruins balance almost precariously on rocky outcrops all the way down the Rhône, which was an amazingly emerald green colour with wide and high waters. The small town of Rochemaure, had a particularly impressive castle overlooking the streets below!
The landscape strangely changes between the Côte-Rôtie and Southern Rhône where the expanse of vines disappear to be replaced by heavy industry. In contrast to our experience so far, many of the famous names of Southern Rhône, such as Gigondas and Vacqueyras, were further off the beaten track and the next vineyards we hit were at Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Luckily, we were in for a treat as the skies cleared, a rainbow stretched out above us and the sun shone across the goblet shaped vines shimmering against the large pudding stones all around. It looks so stony, it’s a wonder anything grows but it shows the resilience of the vines that reflects that special ‘terroir’.
Whilst here we sought out another of the producer’s we have bought wine from at the Paris Vignerons Indépendants Fair, Domaine de la Millière, more out of interest to see where they are based rather than expecting any kind of tasting, as it was Sunday so not general opening hours. It certainly is a beautiful area, which rather impressed us.
Extremely happy with this lovely end to our journey through Rhône, we headed towards Avignon and even managed to find our hotel by 8pm, just before it turned dark!
Next we skim the Mediterranean sea through Languedoc to arrive in South West France.