Tag Archives: Northern Rhone Valley

Neither here nor there (Rhone Valley, France – Day Seven)

After seven days in the Rhone Valley I feel much more comfortable with the wines, people and terroir. Of course there were a number of very cult producers that I would have liked to visit, but they are notoriously difficult to get appointments with. I think it is more important that I visited a number of key producers that work across many appelations, so that I can see how interpretations may differ or be similar. I’ve certainly had my fill of syrah and grenache based wines, but would like to get more experience with the white, rose and sweet wines of the region. It is so interesting to see how different philosophies and approaches can both produce outstanding but different wine. Take the last two appointments I had in the region; the first was with a producer that not only has vineyards in both the Northern and Southern Rhone Valley (quite rare), they also have vineyards in other regions in France, Portugal and even Australia, producing millions of bottles each year; the second producer is a much smaller cult producer only working with fruit from three appelations in the Northern Rhone Valley.

Hermitage vineyards above Tain l’Hermitage

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Winery Visits

A pleasant surprise (Rhone Valley, France – Day Six)

There are few who would argue that the most important grape variety by far in Australia is syrah, or as we call it shiraz. The range of styles produce from this grape, or a blend including this grape, is pretty big. The wines can range from jammy fruit bombs, to tannic oak monsters, to intense fine and peppery, and in many cases somewhere in between. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of mediocre shiraz made in Australia, which is not surprising as it is the most planted variety and you would struggle to find a region that doesn’t have at least some shiraz. There is a reason why Australian shiraz is so strong both domestically and overseas, and it is partly because of the quality and partly because of the value. Considering this, I find it very surprising that wines from the Rhone Valley, particularly those from the Northern Rhone aren’t the most popular imported wines. It may have something to with the fact that for many years the majority of wines produced here are too expensive for most Australians, but did not have the acclaim of Champagne, Bordeaux or Burgundy. With the increased value of the Australian dollar against the Euro, now is an ideal time to be investing in the Rhone Valley as you can still find some absolute bargains in every appellation and price category. Just don’t expect it to be like most Australian shiraz. The two producers I visited in the very Northern Rhone Valley on Day Six are both at the pinnacle of syrah production, but have slightly different approaches.
Cote-Rotie vineyards

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Winery Visits

Rising cream (Rhone Valley, France – Day Four)

Cooperative wineries are something that is pretty unique to Europe, and is possibly a little hard to understand for producers from New-World producing countries. The notion of hundreds or thousands of different growers all providing their fruit to a collaborative facility that has the responsibility of vinifying and either selling or bottling the collective wine produced is a very historic one, and it has only been the last 50 years that has seen more individual producers establish their own wineries, either from their own vineyards or purchased fruit. It must be a little bit scary trusting someone else to handle a year of your life, and also a little sad to know that it will be blended into many other wines and somewhat lost in the multitude. At the same time it must be relieving to know that you are going to get some money for your fruit regardless, rather than being completely at the mercy of the vintage and the market. In the Rhone Valley there are negociant producers who purchase wine (and in some cases fruit) to mature, blend and bottle under their own label. This model is much more familiar in the new world, as the largest producers in every country would need to buy fruit from growers often in different regions, to feed the increasing demand globally for their branded wines. This of course is in addition to their hundreds or thousands of hectares of vineyards, which is often the same size as entire appelations in Europe which many have hundreds of separate vineyard owners. Like Guigal, my appointment on Day Four was a producer based in the Northern Rhone that owns vineyards in several appelations, but relies on wine purchased from the Southern Rhone to provide the bulk of their sales.
Saint Joseph vineyards

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Winery Visits

Only a Northern Song (Rhone Valley, France – Day Five)

You can’t imagine how good it felt to return to Lyon, which is still by far my favourite city in France, having made it part of my trip in 2010. I actually spent July 14th (Bastille Day outside of France) in Lyon with a friend, and had enjoyed the fireworks display that launches from the Basilique on top of the hill above old town. Lyon is the third most populated city in France, but has the second largest metropolis. It has a long history dating back to the Roman era, and since this time has always been an important point between different parts of Europe. This made it a very strong trading point, which in my opinion is the reason that arguably the best food can be found in Lyon, ask any French person. You can also find the best and most diverse French wine here, partly because of the vibrant cuisine and bar scene, but also because Lyon is located right in the middle of four of the best regions in France; Rhone Valley to the south, Loire Valley to the north-west, Burgundy to the north, and Jura to the east. Lyon has been growing a lot recently, due to increase in business activity and also many students coming to the universities, many of them international. I’m not sure why it isn’t on more tourists route in France, but I highly recommend it for history, culture and cuisine. It was here that I spend five nights in, and took day trips down into the Northern Rhone Valley, the first day of which I visited Jean-Luc Colombo in Cornas.

Syrah has such a beautiful leaf

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Winery Visits

All things considered (Rhone Valley, France – Day Three)

The Rhone Valley is arguably one of the most diverse regions in France, if not Europe. Covering over 200 km from north to south it is one of the longest regions, and with the difference in climate and soil conditions provides many opportunities for viticulture. The region is split from Valence, about 100km north of Avignon and 100 km south of Lyon. North of Valence has a much more continental climate, cooler and well protected from winds and rain. South of Valence is more Mediterranean in climate, warmer with more wind influence. This is probably the most important difference between the north and south. Throughout the entire region, there are a multitude of producers of different size and style. Growers who may not make or bottle their own wine may be part of a cooperative that vinifies the fruit, and either sells the wine in bulk or bottle. There are more artisan producers who only produce wine from their own estates, whether in a single appellation or several. Then there are those in between, who produce wine from their own estates, and also purchase fruit and/or wine from growers to produce/bottle under their own label. It is very common for producers in the Northern Rhone Valley to operate in this model, as in the north there are not enough vineyards and they are also very expensive to purchase and manage, and so they compensate by bottling wine from the south were fruit is less expensive and in much larger supply. In several cases a Cotes-du-Rhone Rouge wine may account for 50% of the bottles sold each year. The first appointment for my third day epitomises this model (Guigal), the second has only just started to move into this realm (Chateau Font de Michelle), and the third only produces wine from their own estates across three appelations/vineyards (Domaine de la Renjarde/Le Prieure de Montezargues).

Only days away from capfall and flowers developing

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Winery Visits

Are you Rhonesome, tonight? (Rhone Valley, France – Day Two)

There are so many differences between the Northern and Southern Rhone Valleys that they should almost be called completely different names. Almost the only thing in common as I mentioned in my last post, is the fact that the four varieties grown in the north are also grown in the south. The Northern Rhone is a much more narrow and elevated valley than in the south, which opens up into wide plains with rolling hills rather than steep cliffs. This type of land actually reminds me of the way the Adige River flows south from Austria through the Italian Alto Adige and Trentino regions into Veneto. Secondly the amount of vineyards in the Northern Rhone is 3,000 hectares, which is the same amount as Chateauneuf-du-Pape alone, one single appellation of almost ten in the Southern Rhone. Thirdly the general approach for the Southern Rhone is for volume rather than quality, particularly for the Cotes-du-Rhone appellation, and there are only a few which go for quality above all else. In the Northern Rhone there is really only one appellation of eight that is more geared towards volume and compared to the Southern Rhone would be considered one of the quality appelations. In the Southern Rhone there is significantly more wine blended between areas than in the Northern Rhone, not to mention a great many more varieties blended, whereas in the north they really only use four and never blend more than two together. Probably the biggest difference is the amount of wine produced by cooperatives, much of which is sold to negociants within the Rhone Valley or outside of it and then bottled by someone else. Very rarely does wine get sold in bulk in the north; it is either sold as grapes or bottled wine. The first appointment I had for today was a negociant producer owning no vineyards (Tardieu-Laurent), and the other was the opposite, only producing wine from their vineyards in the Southern Rhone Valley (Vieux-Telegraphe).

Different sizes of barrels used to mature wine

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Winery Visits