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!
I am pleased to announce that a very special experience awaits you. Long before Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence” made it into the international best-sellers list, Provence, the south-eastern region of France, has held a special fascination for travelers from all over the world. Renowned for its beautiful weather, natural environment, and outstanding cultural heritage, this rich region offers us a lot to see and do! If you are a wine lover and are eager to experience some of the greatest wine regions in the world, we have a journey for you. One that envelops northern Provence and the southern Côtes du Rhône and some of the finest wines in France.
Seven nights in France, based in Villeneuve-les-Avignon on the banks of the Rhône River, exploring the hidden secrets of several wine regions that meet here – The Côtes du Rhône, Languedoc-Roussillon, and the Luberon.
This intimate, small group tour (only eight spots available) features lodging in fine hotels, meals in chateaus, visits to the legendary vineyards, and tastings of some of the great wines of France. All the while, you will learn more about wine in the vineyard and at the chateau.All tours will be in English, and there will be interactions with French people.
I will be leading the tour, and I have traveled extensively in France. I will be joined by travel professional Steve Hooks of Journey Different, Inc. and localexperts, you will get the inside story of some of the great wines of the Rhône Valley and Provence and have access to places not generally available to the traveling public. This small group experience, only eight people plus guides, will give you the opportunity to interact with the guides, the winemakers, and sommeliers. You and a few other wine lovers will share gourmet meals and luxury transportation.
You have the opportunity to join us for the wine experience of a lifetime!
ACCOMODATIONS: You’ll be staying in a five star Relais & Châteaux property, the Hôtel du Prieuré in Villeneuve les Avignon, just a few minutes from the city of Avignon. Hidden in the heart of the village, its serene atmosphere and spirit invite you to relax and unwind. Le Prieurépresents an air of rare and simple charm, it is a haven of peace, a country hotel… in a picturesque town!
Hôtel Le Prieuré
DAY BY DAY PROGRAM:
SUNDAY (Oct 9): Arrival at Marseille or Lyon airport and transfer to Hôtel du Prieuré in Villeneuve les Avignon, a typical Provençal village across the Rhône River from Avignon, where you can easily stroll to many restaurants and bars. A special welcome dinner at our hotel in the evening.
MONDAY (Oct 10): Visit to Costières de Nîmes, Château Mourgues du Grès for a tour and wine tasting. Lunch will be at the winery. In the afternoon: a visit and tasting at Dalmeran winery’s (AOP Les Baux de Provence) in the Saint Rémy de Provence region. Dinner at Bistro’ du Moulin restaurant in Villeneuve lès Avignon.
TUESDAY (Oct 11): We visit Châteauneuf du Pape, its vineyards and the castle ruins; a guided visit of a chateau and tasting of its wines. Wine tasting and wine and food pairing in a very exclusive cellar, Les Cave Saint Charles, in the heart of the village. After lunch we head to Orange to visit Theatre Antique. See the exceptional evidence of Ancient Rome. On the UNESCO World Heritage list, it is the best preserved theatre in Europe. We will have dinner with wine at our hotel.
WEDNESDAY (Oct 12): Discover the Gigondas appellation. Lunch in the village square under the sycamore trees then afternoon tasting in Vacqueyras. Dinner at Les Jardins de la Livrée in Villeneuve les Avignon.
THURSDAY (Oct 13):Those who desire it can stroll to the local market on Thursday morning, only 200 meters from the hotel – But we’ll need to leave by 10:00 am. We visit the appellations of Tavel and Lirac. Visit Tavel’s famed Château de Manissy for a tasting and BBQ in the park. In the afternoon, walk through the vineyards and taste in Lirac. Dinner at La Table de Sorgue, a restaurant renowned among winemakers, with excellent food and an amazing wine selection.
FRIDAY (Oct 14): Late morning (at 10.30) Visit Avignon with some possible time for shopping and lunch on the Popes Palace’s square. In the afternoon, head to Chêne Bleu, outstanding winery nestled in the Dentelles de Montmirail hills for a visit of the winery and tasting. Dinner at Chêne Bleu.
SATURDAY (Oct 15): Last but not least: a day in the Luberon. Morning tour of the typical perched villages of Gordes and Ménèrbes. Lunch in an authentic and exclusive setting next to the old mill in Goult: “Chez Giuseppina.” Slow down, relax and enjoy an excellent meal in the Luberon hills with local wines. A final surprise evening will close our tour.
SUNDAY (Oct 16): Transfer to the airport for departure.
“If food is the body of good living, wine is its soul.” ~ Clifton Fadiman
TOUR COSTS:Full Price is $7600/ LIMITED TIME ONLY $6990/person for double occupancy (based on payment by check; a surcharge applies if PayPal is used). Single occupancy rooms may be availab5 le for an additional charge. A deposit of $1000/person holds your space and price. The limited time price is just that, so get your deposit in!
Visit our special website – DeluxeWineTours.com – for information, to download the complete flyer, and to register.
QUESTIONS? – Leave them in the comments section below and they will be answered. Leave an email address if you want to be contacted privately, or contact Jim at JimLockardTravels@yahoo.com.
Our friends at Lazenne.com (LINK), makers of wine luggage and wine travel accessories, have posted an excellent article giving five reasons to purchase wine at the winery. Here is a quote from the article by Chrissie McClatchie for Lazenne:
“In France alone there are over 300 AOC’s (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, or Controlled Designation of Origin), some counting just one or two producers (Palette in Provence) to hundreds (the simple Bordeaux AOC). Considering the scope, it’s easy to imagine how many of these wines don’t leave their region of origin. I lead wine tours through the Bellet AOC in the hills of Nice, one of France’s oldest and smallest appellations, boasting only eleven vineyards. With such a small production, the wineries can little keep up with the local demand, let alone consider opening up export markets. For most people, therefore, purchasing direct is the only access they have to wines which are simply not available in their home country.” – (LINK TO FULL ARTICLE)
I would add that many of the same reasons hold true when you are visiting domestic wineries – good values, wines that are not otherwise available due to limited production, and knowing the provenance are also reasons to buy at the winery in California, New York, or Virginia.
Dorianne and I will be visiting California’s Central Coast twice in the next two months, and Napa-Sonoma-Mendocino areas early in the new year. We are looking forward to tasting and buying some amazing wines.
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.
I haven’t posted in a while, because Dorianne and I have been focusing on some writing projects and dining in our apartment for the most part. We are sill in Villeneuve-les-Avignon, the picturesque village across the Rhône River from Avignon in northern Provence.
This weekend, we were invited by our friend Richard Major, who lives in Mazan in the Ventoux region, to a party being hosted by an ex-pat American couple celebrating one year of living in France. There would be ex-pats from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and other nations, plus a few French neighbors. So, of course, we were interested in attending. I won’t use any names here, because I did not get permission to do so. Here is the sunset from the home.
The home was located in the hills above Bédoin, a picturesque (they are ALL picturesque) village near the base of Mont Ventoux. The couple, from California, and their two children seemed very happy with their choice to move to Provence. We also spoke with a number of other ex-pats and a couple visiting from the U.S., also from California, who own a home nearby, but still live in the States.
The dinner was pot-luck, and there was a good bit of local wine. The Ventoux Region (LINK) is known for Grenache, Syrah and Mouvèdre, with Cinsault and Carignan – the usual Rhône Valley suspects. In the Ventoux A.O.P., no varietal can be more than 30% of the blend. Here are some images of some of the wines served at the party.
Suffice to say, Dorianne and I were impressed by the lifestyle and the conviviality of the English-speaking ex-pats in this part of Provence. It gave us more food for thought about our future home base.
After an overnight at Richard’s in Mazan, we headed for a day in Tavel, the only A.O.P. in France where only rosè wines are allowed; and then over to Châteauneuf-du-Pape for lunch and a visit to Les Caves St Charles, which will be detailed in a separate post.
It was a very special day. If you stay off of the highways, this part of France is a treat for the senses – beautiful panoramas of low hills, valleys, fields of grapes and olive trees, rustic farmhouses – simply beautiful. We traveled down one-lane roads through vineyards and tiny villages, smelled the aromas in the air, and heard almost nothing – silence. It was a very peaceful way to travel.
Tavel (LINK) is located on the right bank of the Rhône River, bordering the Lirac A.O.P., and very close to Avignon. First, let’s look at A.O.C. and A.O.P.
The French government, not too long ago, officially announced that the long standing A.O.C. (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) system for wine is being replace by an new quality ladder with the top step being an A.O.P. (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) (LINK). So, since about 2009, the correct designation is A.O.P.– – That’s just F.Y.I.
We chose Château de Manissy (LINK) in the Tavel A.O.P. from a list online. We are very glad that we did. Owned by the Holy Family’s Missionaries, it has produced rosè wines since the beginning of the 20th century and acquired a famous reputation with the “Tête de Cuvée” wine, a barrel-aged rosé. The monks turned over the viticulture and wine-making to a young many from Tavel, Florian André, who was in his early 20’s at the time. MonsieurAndré has continued some of the traditions of the monks, and oversaw the conversion to an organic winery in 2009. He has also modernized some of the techniques, while keeping that barrel-aged rosé in production. By the way, the monks still live in the Château.
We arrived a bit early for our 2:00 pm appointment, so we wandered the grounds a bit before being met by Anaïs, the Tasting Room Manager. She took us out to the vineyards and we discussed the viticulture of the region. It turned out that her English was so good because she spent a year (2013) working at Tablas Creek Winery in Paso Robles, known for their Rhône varietals and techniques. As it happened, Dorianne and I were in the Tablas Creek wine club in 2013. Anaïs told us that her father is the winemaker at Famille Perrin/Perrin & Fils in Tavel, and they partner with Tablas Creek in a number of ventures. Small world.
It also turned out that our guide on a previous tour (LINK) of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas, Valentina of MistralTour.fr, used to work at Château de Manissy. Smaller world.
We did a tasting and then toured the wine-making operation.
First, we tasted a white from another area of vineyards and a Côtes du Rhône – Rosé of Grenache 40% – Carignan 40% – Cinsault 10% – Syrah 10%. This wine, not from 100% Tavel fruit, was closer to the rosé wines of the larger Provencal region. It was lighter and crisper than the wines to follow. They also make some other wines from vineyards outside of Tavel, all were good and very reasonably priced, but they are not why you want to visit Château de Manissy, or the wines you want to try.
The rosé wines of Château de Manissy, and of Tavel in general, are unlike other rosé wines from Provence. They tend to have a deeper pink to red color and be bolder. This is true of the 2013Tavel Rosé that we tasted, a blending of principally Grenache, Clairette, Cinsault and Bourboulenc, from about 40 years old vines. This is a bolder, more structured rosé with a sense of terroir, unusual in a rosé. There is also a nice balance of fruit – this wine manages to be refreshing and structured enough to pair with chicken or other fowl. This wine is a good representative of the moden Tavel A.O.P. rosés.
Then, we had the unique2013 Tête de Cuvée, the barrel-aged roséthat is the last vestige of the monks’ style of wine making. This is a unique roséin almost every respect. It is aged in small oak barrels, bottled in brown glass like a red wine, it pairs with beef and other meats, it is made to age for decades, and it is made to consume year-round. It is a blending of Grenache, Clairette, Cinsault, Bourboulenc and Carignan. It is mentioned but not listed for sale on their website, and there is very little information about this wine on the internet that I could find. This would be a wonderful wine for Thanksgiving Dinner, strong enough to stand up to turkey and gravy and such, but supple enough to match pretty well with all the other appetizers and side dishes that show up at that feast that is so hard to find good wine parings for. We have two bottles that will travel home with us for this purpose. Oh, and the 2013 Tête de Cuvéewas priced at 11€ or about $12.00 – one of their more expensive wines!
It is also worth noting that Anaïs told us that we were the very first visitors in 2015 from the United States. I found this surprising, but then again, Tavel is not well known in the U.S. If you are looking for rosés for the remainder of the summer and into the cooler days of autumn – see if your wine retailer has wines from Tavel – you won’t be disappointed.
I will post about the other part of our day – a return to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, in the next post.
Last week, Dorianne, Grace and I joined our friend Richard Major, who was raised in the Luberon region for an afternoon drive thought the region. We started with a wonderful lunch at his home in Mazan, sharing a couple of bottles of local wines, then drove through a beautiful gorge into the Luberon Valley. As we approached the town of Bonnieux, one of the places where Richard grew up, he turned into a driveway marked Château La Canorgue (LINK). “Let’s see if they are still open,” he said – it was 6:45 pm. As we drove up the driveway through the scenic property, Richard said casually, “The winemaker, Jean-Pierre Margan and I went to high school together. I haven’t seen him for forty years.”
We digested that bit of information as we pulled into the parking area, and Richard spotted Jean-Pierre standing outside of the tasting room. They engaged in conversation while we went inside, where we met his daughter, Nathalie, who now represents the 5th generation of winegrowers at this storied property.
This beautiful property was featured in the movie “A Good Year” (A Big Year) with Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard directed by Ridley Scott. They produce 100% organic wines(LINK) .
It was getting late, so we got right to a tasting of several of their wines next to a wall that contained a few dozen award certificates that the Chateau had amassed over the years.
We started with their Château La Canorgue label Luberon Rosé, a blend of Grenache Blanc and Syrah. A nice, refreshing wine.
Then we tasted their Château La Canorgue label Luberon White Blend (LINK), a winner of the Gold Medal in the 2015 Concours Général Agricole Paris. This blend of Rousanne, Marsanne, Clairette and Bourboulenc makes for a very refreshing, complex wine. An excellent white wine – something that I was coming to realize as a trait of this area in the northern reaches of Provence, normally known for the reds produced here.
Next, we tasted their La Canorgue 100% Viognier (LINK), a wine that cannot carry the Chateau label because it does not meet the AOP (formerly known as AOC) regulations for blending. Nathalie Margan said that this wine was so good as a single varietal that they just went ahead and labeled it this way. It is a very fruity and light wine that would be excellent with shellfish, and has a very pleasing, long finish.
Moving to the reds, we started with their second label, Béret Frog, a blend of Cabernet, Grenache,Merlot &Syrah that sells for about 7 euros a bottle. It is a good everyday wine, with some complexity, but is more of a table wine that would be a cut above most vin ordinaire.
Next, the Château La Canorgue label Luberon Red blend (LINK), a blend of 60% Syrah, 30% Grenache, and 10% old vine Carignan and Mourvedre. This is the flagship wine of the property. It is a first-class wine, with great structure, a nose of dark fruit and minerals, and flavor of the terroir balanced nicely with fruit and cassis, and a smooth long finish.
Finally, the 2012 La Canorgue Red, a limited production 100% Grenache. A truly delicious wine with a nice tannic structure. This small production wine is generally absent from the internet, but you can order it from their website.
We purchased 8 bottles of wine to take back to our apartment near Avignon, and headed out to explore another village or two and then have dinner back in Mazan. A great day in The Luberon Valley. If you get up this way, don’t miss Château La Canorgue, a beautiful location with some wonderful wines.
Château La Canorgue, Route du Pont Julien, 84480 Bonnieux
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.
Dorianne and I are happily ensconced in a nice AirBnB.com apartment in a beautiful village called Villanueve lès Avignon, just across the Rhône River from Avignon. We will be here for six weeks, so five to go. It has been pretty hot here, as is normally the case this time of year (think Southern California with a bit more humidity), so we look for refreshing meals and refreshing wines, which has, for the most part meant rosé wines. Of course we have had some whites and a couple of local reds (they chill them here in summer) from the Luberon, Languedoc-Roussillon and Province, but rosé has been our go-to wine 3/4 of the time. They have been good with lunch, with our late afternoon wine-cheese-and-olive snack (all local, of course), and with our dinners.
We have paid from 4 euros to 17 euros per bottle, and found very little difference in the quality of the wines. Some are a bit sweeter than others, some need to be really cold to drink well, but the degree of separation for most of these wines is minimal.
One rosé from Corsica’s (LINK) Vin de Course AOC had Nielluccio, Sciacarello and Grenache as its varietals (not pictured). The wine was a delight and cost 4.50€, or about $4.80 for a bottle.
But mostly, we are drinking the wines of the regions that abut Avignon, which include Luberon, Languedoc-Roussillon, Chateauneuf du Pape, and Provence. I am not sure which, if any of these wines are available in the U.S. or other countries. All I can say is, this summer if you can get your hands on rosés from Southeastern France, do it. We will be touring some local wineries and regions over the next few weeks, so look for more posts about this magical place.
During the past decade, rosé wines have gone from the very low end of the wine spectrum to a place much closer to, if not the top, then the upper-middle. This is, in part, due to the overall improvement in everything in wine from viniculture to winemaking skills and techniques across the industry. As a result of these developments, almost all wines, especially mid-range and lower end wines, have improved.
But rosé has gotten even better, because some great winemakers have begun to produce rosés, especially in California and Oregon. Provence, the recognized king of rosé regions, has also upped their game. The result is a much higher quality set of options for summer wine drinking – or any time that you would like to enjoy a nice, light, crisp and, increasingly, complex wine.
As noted in the earlier post on Go-To White Wines for Summer, Dorianne and I tend to reverse our normal ration of 75% reds to 25% whites and rosés in the summertime. We drink fewer reds and those tend to be lighter reds (we may even serve them chilled a bit).
So our Go-To rosés for Summer – the value wines that we go back to again and again – are
Both of these wines are crisp and dry, fruit-forward wines. The Chateau de Nages is from the Rhone Valley and is 60/40 Grenache/Syrah aged in oak barrels. The Acrobat is a Pinot Noir and is aged in stainless steel.
A little higher up the price spectrum is a wine that I have had several times over the past decade, but is not available every year, at least not where I have looked. The wine is Turkey Flat Rosé from the Barossa Valley in Australia. The grape is Shiraz and the wine is always dry and crisp with some minerality enhancement to the fruit that one expects from a rosé.
As always, I recommend that you explore around your local wine shops and other retailers and see what rosés they are stocking. Have a conversation with the folks in the shop to see what they recommend based on what you like. I have found some interesting wines this year, including a Cabernet Sauvignon rosé from South Africa. There are also some very well-crafted California rosés this year – but at higher price points than the French rosés, including Provence, Bordeaux, and the Rhone and Loire Valleys.