Since moving to Lyon, France this past summer (LINK to Post About Moving to France), much of our time has been spent attempting to learn French (definitely a work in progress), finding our way around town (easy as Lyon is a very walkable city with great public transportation), and traveling back and forth to the US (which will become increasingly less frequent).
I will do another post as a sequel to the one about moving to France soon. For now, let’s talk wine.
Lyon is located in the Rhône-Alps Department (there are 100 departments, or states in France), in the upper part of southeastern France. We are just north of the Rhône Valley at the confluence of the Rhône and the Saône Rivers. A few kilometers to the north, Burgundy begins with the Mâcon region; to the west, Beaujolais is a few kilometers outside the city; to the east, the underappreciated Jura region is a short drive away. Wines from all these regions and more pour into Lyon, a city of about 500K with 2.2 million in the metropolitan area.
There are only two large supermarkets in the city limits, both at malls. Big box stores are restricted to outlying areas, meaning that mom & pop businesses thrive. Every neighborhood has multiple small boulangeries, boucheries, fromageries, green grocers, and wine caves. Small grocery stores have wine departments featuring representative wines from the surrounding regions, mostly from larger producers. The caves (wine shops) have more wines from smaller producers and a few higher-end bottles, but almost all the wines are reasonably priced and would qualify as “everyday wines.” (LINK to @EricAsimov column on Everyday Wines from the NYTimes). We are drinking these wines for the most part with our lunches and dinners at home – spending an average of 10 to 12€ per bottle (top shelf at these stores) – sometimes much less – and enjoying most of them very much. This is why I have not been blogging and Tweeting as much about the wines I am drinking – they are, for the most part, not stand-out wines, but they are good!
My admittedly limited personal research thus far has revealed an interesting fact: THE FRENCH DON’T LIKE TO SPEND A LOT OF MONEY ON WINE.
I don’t know why this surprised me – but I just have not encountered the kind of wine conversations that I had with friends in California. It is more likely to encounter a boxed wine at a dinner party than a higher-end Burgundy or Châteauneuf du Pape. And, by the way, I have had some very drinkable boxed wines here. But I was a bit surprised that the Mecca of fine wine is largely populated with folks who prefer to spend under 10€ a bottle (and 3€ can get you a very nice rosè from Provence). Even when higher-end wines are served at dinner, the conversation is not about the wine. Perhaps a quick recognition of whoever provided it (usually the host), but that’s about it.
Dorianne and I eat at restaurants once or twice a week. Lyon is a gastronomique capital – many of the great Parisian (and New York) chefs train in the many cooking schools here. Lyon has more Michelin Star restaurants per capita than any other city, so food is a big thing here. And this extends downward from the Michelin restaurants all the way to the Bouchons (think bistro but serving Lyonnaise cuisine) and comptoirs. It is difficult to find a bad meal here, and some very nondescript looking places are working magic in their tiny kitchens. And as for wine, once you get out of the Michelin range, the wine lists tend to be fairly modest, featuring value-priced bottles and vins de la maison, usually from a tap or box. The wine list prices are usually at regular retail or just a bit above.
So, my everyday wine experience here in Lyon has been mostly with everyday wines from the wine regions surrounding the city. I will say that French wine producers seem to understand that the French don’t like to pay a lot for wine. The 13€ Burgundy Pinot Noir I get at the local wine cave tastes equivalent to a $30 or $40 bottle of Burgundy purchased in the US. We are enjoying very good wines for very reasonable prices – and feeling very grateful in the process!
My wife, Dorianne, and I decided to move to France about 9 months ago. We have been “on the road” since early 2015, when we sold our home in southern California. Since then, we have spent about half of our time in Europe and the other half in North and Central America. We have visited 23 countries and 16 states. I have blogged about some of our wine-related adventures.
After thinking that we would probably settle in Spain, we chose France for two main reasons: first, we feel more at home in France, second, we like the hours that the French keep – not quite so late as in Spain. Both countries have great food and wine, and both have a “work to live, not live to work” lifestyle, so it was a close call for us, especially since Dorianne is conversational in Spanish and neither of us are in French. But France called us, no matter where else we traveled.
We have been to France about 8 times since 2005, staying from a few days to several months, in places such as Paris, Avignon, Nice, Bordeaux, Lourdes, Aix-en-Provence, Burgundy, the Loire Valley, and Lyon.
We decided on Lyon for a few reasons:
It’s a city, but smaller, less expensive, and less congested than Paris.
It has a well-preserved historic section (Vieux Lyon, where we are currently staying), and beautiful architecture throughout the city.
It has a great culinary tradition.
There are four wine regions nearby (Burgundy, Beaujolais, Jura, and Côte du Rhône).
An international airport and access to high-speed rail (Paris in 2 hrs.).
A good chamber music community (Dorianne plays the violin).
So, we began our research – after a brief visit in November, we began to do online research, looking at expat sites and chat rooms, travel blogs, French sites (including government sites on how to get visas, etc.), and real estate sites. We decided to rent for a year or so to get a feel for in which area of the city we wanted to settle.
What we discovered is that it is very difficult to get a work visa for France unless you are hired by a French company or working for a foreign company and will have a temporary assignment in France. The law says that to qualify for a job, there must be no French citizen who can fill that job, and then, no EU citizen who can fill it. Unless you meet those criteria or are going to invest and start a business and hire ten French citizens, you can forget a work visa. There are no investment visas in France, such as the Golden Visa for real estate purchases in Portugal, Spain, Greece, or Malta.
We applied for a long-stay visitor visa (there are time constraints) (LINK)(LINK). Essentially, we had to show that we could afford to live in France for a year, had health insurance that covered us there, and were not wanted by the law. We submitted a stack of papers and had a short interview at the French Consulate in Los Angeles (you must apply in person at the embassy or consulate nearest to your US residence).
Once approved, you get a visa in your passport, which they hold for a few weeks, so plan accordingly. You must enter France within 3 months of receiving the visa. We got our Visa in May and had it dated July 12, 2017 to July 12, 2018. You must enter France within seven days of the first date. The visa is good for the entire EU.
We arrived in Lyon on July 13th, my birthday, and celebrated with a dinner at the Institut Paul Bocuse (LINK) – the restaurant of the famed culinary school operated by France’s greatest chef. It is run by students, and you get a Michelin-quality meal for a great price. They have a small but nicely selected wine list as well – and the wine prices are about the same as regular retail. I blogged about an earlier visit (LINK).
We initially stayed at a friend’s apartment, but moved to an AirBnb for, we thought, a month or two, while we looked for a long-term rental apartment. That’s when we found out how difficult it is to rent an apartment in France if you are not a citizen or permanent resident (it’s also difficult if you are a citizen). It is illegal to rent to someone who has anything less than a work visa. And short-term rentals are limited to 3 months. We found that there are landlords who are willing to overlook the requirements, but they demand multiple French co-signers for your lease. It is also illegal to pay rent in advance (say pay 6 months or a year). The French laws are very much in favor of tenants, so the landlords take every advantage they can. We are still in an AirBnB.
We are still open to a long-term rental, but we will be away for December and January at least, so we will wait until we return to look further. Actually, it is easier to buy here than to rent – the limitations on visas, etc. do not apply to real estate purchases. So, we may end up buying sooner than we expected. Prices in the Lyon area are cheaper than Paris, but there are not many bargains in the categories that we are looking for.
Another important tip: if you want to do things like get a French cell phone or a transit card (TCL Carte in Lyon), you must have a French bank account. French banks do not operate like US banks in at least one sense – they don’t seem to particularly want new customers. We entered a branch bank to ask to open a checking account and were told that they next appointment to do so was two weeks away. At a different (downtown) branch, we got accounts right away, but we must do everything via that branch. You can do some things online and at ATM machines, but the system is very parochial.
Once we had the account, and got some funds into it (another issue), we got cell phones and transit cards. You also need a French bank account to rent an apartment long-term, by the way. Once you have a French bank credit card (which work sort of like a combination of credit and debit cards in the US – you need to have funds in your account and can only get credit for up to 500€), you will find it easier to use than US cards in restaurants and shops.
As for our first two months in Lyon – life is grand! We are eating very healthy, fresh food from the thrice per week farmers’ markets (marchés) in our Croix-Rousse (4thArrondisement) neighborhood. Also, there are plenty of bakeries (boulangeries), butchers (boucheries), prepared food shops (epicères & traiteurs), and fresh fruit & vegetable shops as well. Oh, and every neighborhood has several wine shops (caves).
There are also plenty of restaurants, brasseries, bouchons (Lyonnaise version of a bistro), comptoirs (counters), and coffee shops. And wine bars, too. The food is amazing in just about every place you eat (we avoid the chain restaurants other than some of the local chains which have two or three locations in Lyon).
During August, just about everything that is locally owned and not a national or international chain closes for vacation for anywhere from two to five weeks. So, we drank a lot of supermarket wines during the month, which in France, is not a bad thing. There are very cheap to lower-mid-range (1.8€ to 18€ per bottle) wines from all over France, including Burgundy and Bordeaux in every supermarket. The wines are mostly from larger producers, of course, and you don’t see the premier cru labels there, however, the overall quality is very good. We were drinking wines from Tavel, Gigondas, Châteauneuf du Pape, Moulin a Vent, Burgundy, and others from the supermarket (supermarché) shelves. I was also introduced to boxed wine at a local party, and was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the Luberon Valley Syrah sold in a 5-liter box for 25€.
THE FRENCH EFFECT
I’ll close with this interesting tidbit. Despite eating and drinking a large variety of foods and wines, I have actually lost a few pounds since arriving in Lyon. My best guess is that there are a few factors in this welcome phenomenon:
The lifestyle here is to walk. I probably average 2 – 3 miles per day at least.
We are mostly preparing our own meals, and eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. And there is wine and bread every day, too.
I think that when you shop daily and eat fresh foods (even from the supermarket – avoid those center aisles with the processed foods), and those foods are grown on smaller farms (very little industrial farming in France), your body reacts differently to the foods you eat.
I’ll be posting more wine-centric posts as time goes on. We are itching to explore the wine regions in the area in person and to delve more deeply into the Lyon wine scene. So, stay tuned.
I would be very interested in your comments about being an expat or about your experiences with visiting France and other wine capitals in the comments section below.
I can begin by saying that we only visited a portion of the region. We were based in the northern part of Provence, in the village of Villeneuve-les-Avignon on the Rhône River, where two major wine regions converge: Languedoc-Roussillon and Côte-du-Rhône. In our immediate area were over a dozen A.O.P.’s, or Appellation d’Origine Protégée, which replaced the A.O.C. or Appellation d’origine Contrôlée designation in France in 2009 (LINK). So there were plenty of wines to taste and vineyards to visit very close to us.
And, this trip was not just about wine (!) it was also a time for Dorianne and I to write, to explore the history of the region and meet people, and to see if we might want to settle here someday soon. And, as it turned out, to see if I am going to extend my new winetour business to this area.
I have already blogged about several of our experiences during our stay (best key word to search is Provence), and Tweeted just about every wine we had on my Twitter account – @JimLockardWine.
But, some additional tidbits.
We first encountered Lauren, proprietor of the marvelous Arts, Design, and Wine Shop in Villeneuve-les-Avignon on the day we arrived. The shop is on the town square and has a nice selection of local wines plus design items from wristwatches to sunglasses to home décor items and wine glasses – all very nice stuff, by the way. Lauren spent some time living in Los Angeles, so his English is excellent. We asked him about the local wines and he gave us a lot of information and sold us our first two bottles of local wine, a 2014 Château d’Estoublon le Rosè and a 2014 Château La Verrerie Blanc, a Provençal Rosè and a white from the nearby Luberon Valley. We were off an running.
It was Lauren who told us to serve the area wines, including most of the reds, chilled – Châteauneuf-du-Pape being an exception. And, after asking if we had appropriate glassware in our apartment, Lauren loaned us two sets of very nice wine glasses for our stay, which was six weeks. He also pointed us to MistralTour.fr(LINK) and the amazing Valentina Cavagna, who took on a memorable tour of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, and to Domaine de la Verrière in Crestet that I blogged about previously (LINK). So Lauren is the kind of key person that you want to look for on journeys such as this – the one who knows the local scene and, ideally, loves to talk about it.
Dorianne and I had most of our meals in our two bedroom apartment [AirBnB.com listing – (LINK)], so we bought wines, mostly rosès, from Lauren and other local shops until we began visiting the wineries. Local wines start at around 3€ and go up, the top end being under 30€, except in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and one or two other places. Wine here is a great value. We found a nice sweet spot for rosès at around 10€ per bottle.
If I take away two main revelations from this trip, it will be these:
The rosès of Tavel, the only O.P. in France devoted exclusively to rosè wines. These wines were a revelation of complexity, some even being age worthy. Definitely a departure from the standard Provençal rosè, in the way that a great Napa Cabernet differs from an everyday supermarket Cabernet. The other rosès were fine to drink, but the Tavels raised the bar quite a bit. It’s the sort of thing that you don’t know you are missing until you have some.
The white wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Lirac, and Gigondas were also a pleasant discovery. I did not know that whites were a factor, r even necessarily present, in these regions, and the complexity, beauty and approachability of these wines converted me instantly. If you can find white Châteauneufs in your area, try one. Cold, but not too cold – maybe out of the fridge for 15-20 minutes before serving. These blends of Grenache Blanc and Rousanne with small amounts of other varietals are among the best white wines I have ever tasted. Lirac in particular was a revelation – Châteauneuf – style wines, same varietals, different side of the river, at much lower price points, often made by the Châteauneuf wine makers themselves.
I know that there is much more to the Provençal wine scene – we did not get to the south on this trip, although we have been there before. I do think that the north, with it’s proximity to the Rhône River Valley is where the bulk of the better wines are cultivated and made.
As far as places to visit in northern Provence, I strongly recommend Avignon for the history and the food and wine in some of its better restaurants; the hill towns in the Ventoux and in the Luberon Valley, where good wine is cheap and the history and the landscape are so captivating; Nimes for really spectacular Roman ruins and a great old town center; and Gigondas for great wine and a very vertical hill town overlooking the Rhône River Valley. It gets pretty cold in the winter in the region as the Mistrals, the cold north winds, blow through the valleys, but spring, summer, and fall are all beautiful in Provence. But you probably already knew that.
We will be leading tours here beginning in the second half of 2016, so stay tuned.
This past Saturday, Dorianne and I returned to Châteauneuf-du-Pape (LINK) for lunch and a tasting at a wine cave – a retail wine store. It was a beautiful day, and we drove through the lovely Provençal countryside, with its vineyards, orchards, scenic homes and farms, and lush vegetation. Our friendly GPS took us along about 5 kilometers of single-lane road through vineyard after vineyard before we entered the town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the most storied Appellation (LINK) of this part of France.
Lunch was at Restaurant Le Pistou (LINK) on a little side street off of the main town square. We sat outside and expected a light lunch, but the servings were very large – gambas salad for Dorianne, and grand gambas with salad and vegetables for me. As you can see, the plates were sizeable. We washed this down with the house white – a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Before this trip, I did not know that whites were made here – but they are, compromising about 6% of the total production. The whites of Châteauneuf-du-Pape stand alongside the storied reds as excellent wines.
Le Caves Saint Charles (LINK) was highly recommended in Tripadvisor.com (LINK), which we used as a means of sorting through the dozens and dozens of caves du vin in the town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. We wanted to ensure that we were tasting really good wines. After deciding, we made an appointment via email to meet the owner, Guy Brèmond, for 3:30 pm. We were a bit late, having had some trouble locating the cave – our GPS being little help – and in finding a place to park. When we arrived at the cave, which is at the top of the highest hill in town, only overlooked by the nearby ruins of the original Château of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it was locked up. We knocked on the door to no avail. We called the number, and did connect. It turned out that Guy was later than we were, having been stuck in traffic in Marseilles earlier. After a few minutes, we were in the temperature controlled cave, which is under the home of the owner.
The actual cave structure of Le Caves Saint Charles dates from the 13th Century. There is another section underneath that dates from the 12th Century that is going to be renovated in the coming year. The cave in use has four rooms carved out of the rock with stone walls and vaulted ceilings – a lobby area, the tasting area, a small storage area and an area converted into a modern kitchen. There are bottles of wine in wooden boxes from the 45 producers that Guy represents throughout the cave rooms. We started in the tasting area.
Guy Brèmond is a Master Sommelier and a very personable and outgoing man. Once we established that Dorianne and I knew something about wine, although not that much about Châteauneuf-du-Pape, we were off and tasting. He spoke in depth about the philosophy and history of the appellation, and about the way the wines are made and the misconceptions that many have about Châteauneuf-du-Pape. We tasted 8 wines, two whites and six reds. The reds were made in three different styles, or methods.
The 90 minutes or so that we were at Le Caves Saint Charles with Guy Brèmond went by quickly. I kept having the feeling that this was a really special experience, and it was. The depth of his knowledge of wine in general and Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines specifically, combined with his enthusiasm, was a bit hypnotic. I will share now that we did purchase a mixed case of wine at the end of our visit to have shipped to California; but we were intending to do that when we arrived, if the wines were good. Guy is a very good businessman, but there was no pressure to purchase beyond what may naturally arise when you are in a fabulous environment, tasting exceptional wines, with an enthusiastic and knowledgeable host.
Now to the wines – to be tasted in huge stemmed glasses, by the way:
We began with two whites. As I said, I was surprised to find whites here, as I have never seen them in the U.S., nor read about them. We had tried a Mont-RedonChâteauneuf-du-Pape white shortly after arriving here in Provence and found it delicious.
First, we tasted a 2012 Domaine de Nalys Blanc (LINK)(LINK), a blend of 40-56% Grenache blanc, 14-34% Clairette, 13-27% Bourboulenc, 3-10% Roussanne, 1-5% Picardan, 1-3% Picpoul. The white wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are, like the reds, complex. This wine gives you a lot to experience on the nose, in the mouth, and through the finish. There is green fruit, minerality (always), some floral notes on the nose; apple, pear, and hints of earth and anise on the tongue; with a smooth lingering finish that returns to the mineral notes from the bouquet. This wine would be exceptional with lighter cheeses and seafood – oysters and shellfish in particular. We bought 3 bottles at 31€ and change.
Next, we went to the 2013 Domaine de la Janasse Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc (LINK)(LINK), a blend of 40% Grenache Banc, 40% Clairette, and 20% Rousanne. This is a beautiful wine from one of the most highly regarded producers in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. A wine that is very drinkable now, but should age well. The nose is peach and floral, but with that ever-present minerality; mouthfeel is rich and viscous with hints of vanilla; long, smooth finish. We bought 3 of these, too, at 34€ and change. (That’s half a case so far.) I think that we will continue to explore the whites of Châteauneuf-du-Pape; in fact, I am certain of it.
As we move to the reds, I should point out of few things (this will be a rather long post). As we taste, there is a lot of conversation going on. Dorianne is full of questions. I ask a few myself. Guy Brèmond is expounding on each wine, each producer, their philosophy, their practices, the market, his business, and more. It is quite lively and very interesting.
There are a number of misconceptions that are very common when it comes to Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines:
Many people do not know about the white wines, as their small production limits their distribution.
Many believe that all Châteauneuf-du-Pape reds come from thirteen varietals. There are, depending upon who you speak to, anywhere from 14 to 18 varietals in the appellation. Some do not count the white varietals other than Granache Blanc. Others count only some of them. So there are, essentially 13 varietals of red, but some of the white varietals may be blended into the red wines. The appellation currently allows 18 varietals under a Châteauneuf-du-Pape label.
Many believe that all Chateauneuf-Du-Pape reds must be blends. This is not true. For example, you can have a 100% Granache, which we have tasted (not at the Cave). Most reds are a blend of three to five varietals. The basis for almost all Châteauneuf-du-Pape reds is the classic GSM Blend – Granache, Syrah, and Mourvedre.
Why so many varietals in a small appellation? Guy says that it was because when the appellation was developed and the rules created in 1923 (amended in 1936 and 2009), all of the varietals under cultivation at the time were included. This “democratic” move forestalled the inevitable infighting that might have jeopardized the pact.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is part of the Côtes du Rhône, or the Rhône Valley Area. It has 3161 hectares, or 7811 acres under cultivation. Total production is 2,686,841 gallons, or about 21,000 cases per year. 94% is red and about 6% is white. (LINK)
So on to the reds. We tasted six, from three different philosophies of making Châteauneuf-du-Pape red wines, as described by The Wine Cellar Insider website (LINK):
The Traditional, Modern & Neoclassical styles – “Much of the difference between traditional and modern, is the ripeness of the grapes, effective yields, amount of stems used and most importantly, the percentage of new oak barrels used in aging the wine. Producers making wines in a more traditional style do not use oak, preferring to age the wine in older, neutral, massive barrels, cement lined vats or foudres that are widely used in the region. They do not destem the grapes. In other words, they follow the traditional practices of the region. There are numerous high quality traditional Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines made all over the appellation today” (LINK). So the use of smaller oak barrels designed to impart its characteristics onto the wine is a hallmark of the Modern Method. The Neoclassical Method is a hybrid of the other two, some oak barrels are used, but only for a portion of the harvest.
Our first two red wines are from the Modern Method:
First, a 2012 Clos Saint Jean “Vieilles Vignes” Châteauneuf-du-Pape (LINK), a blend of 85% Grenache with the remainder a mix of Mourvedre and Syrah (Guy says that Syrah is used only for “cosmetic purposes” – to provide a richer color). This is a big wine, full-bodied, with deep red fruit and minerality on the nose and the palate. A wine that will age well, I think. If this is typical of the Modern Method, it is very much like a California or New World wine – bold, high alcohol, fruit forward. In my research, I noticed that Robert Parker generally gave higher marks to Modern Method wines.
The next Modern Method wine is a 2012 Domaine Roger Perrin Chateauneuf-du-Pape(LINK) the website lists an average blend of 70-75% Grenache, 15-20% Syrah, 10-15% Mourvedre, 2-5% Cinsault or Clairette and 1-2% Counoise or Vaccarese. Another big, fruit-forward wine. Dark red fruit, a bit of mushroom on the nose, minerality throughout. Very similar to the Clos Saint Jean, but with a bit more finesse.
The next three wines are from the Traditional Method:
First, a 2010 Domaine du Pegau Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee Reservee (LINK), a blend of 80% Grenache, 6% Syrah, 4% Mourvedre and 10% other varietals. This is an amazing wine – you can immediately see the difference between this method and the Modern Method – something that would carry through with the rest of the wines tasted. It is more mineral than fruit, more elegant than bold, with a beautifully balanced structure of tannins. This is my style of wine. But we did not buy this one.
Next, a 2010 Château Fortia Châteauneuf-du-Pape Tradition (LINK), a blend of 65% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 15% Mourvedre. Aged in foudres (concrete tanks). This wine is pretty much everything that the Domaine du Pegau is, but it takes it to a higher level, but is very much its own wine. You get some barnyard on the nose, which begins to dissipate after a few minutes, but remains. I did not find it off-putting, but some may. There is ripe fruit in there, but it is subdued in a minerality – dirt, terroir – that permeates the wine. On the palate it is very nicely structured and balanced and the fruit began to come through. This is a wine that will age well and one that would benefit from decanting. We bought 3 of this one at 35€.
Next, a 2010 Beaurenard domain Cuvee Boisrenard Chateauneuf-du-Pape (LINK), a Grenache blend but the winery does not release specifics as far as I can tell – only that up to 13 varietals may be included in the wine. Parker 91, Wine Spectator 97 points. A long, smooth finish. The initial tasting bottle had been opened too long, Guy opened a new bottle and got us clean glasses. This one, too, could benefit from decanting a while. We probably would have bought some of this wine, too, but a case was our limit, and we couldn’t pass up the next wine.
Finally, a wine in the Neoclassical Method – meaning a mixture of traditional and modern. A Château Jas de Bressy Châteauneuf-du-Pape (LINK)(LINK), a blend of 80% Grenache; 15% Syrah and 5% Mourvèdre. This wine has lots of mushroom on the nose and a nice peppery sense as well. Fruit is secondary to the minerality on the palate, plus a sense of chocolate. The tannins were there to ensure a relatively long life for this wine. A very nice wine. We added three of these at 36€ and change to round out our case purchase.
After our tasting, we had a quick tour of the rest of Les Caves Saint Charles with Guy Brèmond. There is another small storage room in the cave and a modern kitchen also where gourmet dinners are prepared to pair with these amazing wines. Guy also takes his act on the road, bringing dinners to private homes in the U.S. with a Michelin-Star chef. You can find out more about this at his website (LINK). This experience has been the wine highlight of our six weeks in France. I am very grateful to have discovered so much about the joys of Provence, and the wines of this amazing region.
As a wine blogger, I really like to explore the wine regions I visit. We are in the Avignon area for six weeks, and I had been itching to get to Châteauneuf-du-Pape to taste some of their fantastic wines on-site and to learn more about the culture and process of this renowned region. At the recommendation of Lauren, proprietor of the wonderful Art, Wine, and Design Shop in Villeneuve-les-Avignon, I called Valentina of MistralTour.fr and set up an all-day tour this past Friday. Dorianne and our daughter, Grace, joined us. Most of the photographs in this post were taken by Grace – here is a (LINK) to her website.
Valentina is a delight – an Italian who lives in France and speaks perfect English; she is very vivacious and professional. She is an excellent guide.
Our tour took us to the Village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where we went up to the ruins of the original chateau and surveyed the beautiful countryside laced with vineyards in all directions. Along the way, Valentina talks about all things wine – she really has a good degree of knowledge and makes everything clear. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a storied wine region centered around the town of the same name. The AOC (LINK) allows for 18 varietals (not 13 as is commonly believed). From Wikipedia.com:“Both red and white varieties are allowed in both red and white Châteauneuf-du-Pape. There are no restrictions as to the proportion of grape varieties to be used, and unlike the case with other appellations, the allowed grape varieties are not differentiated into principal varieties and accessory varieties. Thus, it is theoretically possible to produce varietal Châteauneuf-du-Pape from any of the eighteen allowed varieties. In reality, most Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are blends dominated by Grenache. Only one of every 16 bottles produced in the region is white wine.”
I was unfamiliar with whites and rosés from this region, but let me tell you, there are some amazing wines here. U.S. retailers and restaurants should be getting on the bandwagon for the whites and rosés of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas.
Then we drove just down the road to Chateau de Vaudieu (LINK) for a tour and a private tasting with the winemaker, Christophe. Chateau de Vaudieu dates from 1767. They have 70 hectares (173 acres) of grapes under cultivation, all around the chateau.
Lirac is an AOC just across theRhône Riverfrom Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It has similar varietals and soils, and the wines are a bargain. Quite a few Châteauneuf-du-Pape growers bottle Lirac Wines.
Next, we went into the village to the wine shop of Domaine Durieu, where the winemaker was also present for part of our stay, then we tasted four of their wines. I should add that Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are among the best in France. No photos here.
Then a long drive through he region to La Verrière, in Crestet up on a mountain, where we had a wonderful lunch, a conversation with the owner (Nicole Rolet who co-owns with her husband, Xavier) and the winemaker, and tasted the award winning Chene Bleu Rhône wines (LINK); then we had a complete tour of the facilities. This is one of the most beautiful wine estates I have ever seen in France, and after speaking with the principals, I can see why.
This team produces some excellent wines and they have created an atmosphere of success at their beautiful property. The wines were smooth, well-crafted, beautifully balanced and simply delicious. They are available in the U.S. and elsewhere, so check their website (LINK) for more information, or Google the wine names.
Note that the Chene Bleu wines are made outside of the French AOC system – Nicole and Xavier felt too bound by the rules of the local AOC, so they deviated, and it has been a battle for acceptance. Of course, the wines speak for themselves and have received numerous awards and recognitions.
Then we were off to Gigondas, another storied region, for a tasting at Domaine des Bosquets (LINK), owned by the same family as Chateau de Veudieu. We tasted several wines with the owner/winemaker at this location as well. Winemaker Julien Bréchet hosted our tasting. The Gigondas is very similar to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with a focus on Grenache and Syrah as the primary varietals. The main difference is the type of soil – less gravely and with more limestone and sand than Châteauneuf-du-Pape, plus a higher elevation with more verticality to the vineyards. The wines at Domaine des Bosquets were similar in style to those from Chateau de Veudieu– smooth, well-structured and elegant. The Gigondas is a great wine region.
Then we explored the nearby hilltop town of Gigondas a bit before heading back to our apartment.
It was an amazing day that filled my need to explore somewhat more n depth the areas we visited and to learn more about the wines. We made purchases at every stop! This is a very rich region, part of the overall Rhône Valley Region, so there is much, much more to explore. So we will have to do some more exploring on this trip, and we will have to come back.
And again, I cannot give enough praise to Valentina of MistralTour.fr (LINK) – she is a professional and makes your time together very enjoyable, while giving you as much, or as little inside information as you would like. And her prices really are a bargain.