Maison Chapoutier - Rhône
Rhône Vineyards below Les Dentelles de Montmirail
The Rhône by Train
25 - 30 April 2011
This superb Rhone wine tour is led by internationally acclaimed wine writer, Andrew Jefford, author of the New Wines of France and contributor to The Spectator, FT and other wine columns. The Rhone is France’s second largest quality wine region and over the course of our six days Andrew will aim to show you its essence, to introduce you to some rapidly rising Rhone wine regions and taste with you some of the top wines in the company of the top wine makers.
The Northern Rhone vineyards start just south of Lyons. This is the homeland of the Syrah, one of the greatest red grapes and three lovely white varieties, Marsanne, Roussane and Viognier. The attractive town of Valence on the left bank of the Rhone is our base for the first two nights. Here we stay in a recently renovated family hotel near the old town centre. You may choose to upgrade to the superb 5* boutique hotel, le Pic.
For ease we have arranged for you to travel to and from the region by train, (Eurostar & TGV from London). If you are joining us from outside the UK or if you would prefer to fly or to drive down, we can help you with alternative arrangements.
The Rhone wine tour starts with a short train trip, to the Northern Rhone village of Tain l’Hermitage where we enjoy a tasting with Chapoutier. Michel Chapoutier’s quest to interpret his various ‘lieu dits’ in Hermitage, Côte Rôtie and Condrieu, and his desire to let the terroir speak clearly has led him to embrace ‘biodynamism’, which you could describe as an extreme form of organic viticulture and winemaking. We have a very comprehensive tasting private tasting here. Compared to the past, the Chapoutier wines have more precision, a more attractive mouthfeel and are technically better but importantly, have more soul.
Later in morning we visit Ferraton, a small negociant who own vineyards in the Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Joseph. The sites are impeccable and their vineyards are tended bio-dynamically. We taste wines of absolutely superb quality from both the Northern and Southern Rhone with the family.
In Tain, we’ll enjoy a further tasting over a light lunch too, trying wines from the appellations of Cornas, St Joseph and Condrieu. We return to Valence where the evening is free. You might choose to dine tonight at the great ‘Le Pic’ with its Michelin Triple rosette restaurant, run by Anne-Sophie Pic.
Next morning, we move to the Southern Rhone where we start with a tasting of those monumental, archetypical Southern Rhone twins: Vacqueyras and Gigondas. Our visit is to Domaine Le Clos des Cazaux, a leading estate of some 40 hectares in both villages. Until vines are 20 years old they are not used for their ‘cru’ appellations, not even as Rosé, and are sold simply as ‘Côte de Rhône Villages’.
Our next visit is to the lovely Chateau Unang in the foothills of Mt Ventoux. Unang has 20 hectares of south facing vines, all on clay lime soils and up to 300 metres above sea level and open to the Mistral winds making one of the best examples of a Cotes de Ventoux.. We are welcomed here to lunch with owners, James and Joanna King.
We continue to the city of Avignon with its famous unfinished bridge. Our base here is a modern 3* or you may upgrade to the 4* la Mirande. The evening is free; you can join Andrew at one of the traditional restaurants in the city centre and enjoy his selection of wines.
In the morning we have a tasting in Châteauneuf du Pape. Châteauneuf is still the premier wine of the Southern Rhone, but it is having to adjust to being more of a first among equals as Gigondas, Vacqueyras and others jostle their claims to importance. That having been said there is something majestic about great Châteauneuf. Andrew Jefford’s choice of an up and coming star producer to visit is Domaine de Cristia, run by Baptiste, Dominique and Florent Grangeon. Their Grenache-based cuvees based on old vines grown on sandy soils have been compared in quality to the iconic Chateau Rayas. Their Syrah and Mourvedre vines grow on the classic Chateauneuf giant cobbles. The Grangeon family will be happy to explain the nuances of Chateauneuf terroir to us over the tasting.
After this, we visit one of the rising star regions, Costieres de Nimes, just south of Châteauneuf de Pape. Costieres de Nimes is attracting more and more attention with each year that passes as a potentially outstanding Southern Rhone terroir. Like Chateauneuf, most of the AOC is on rolled pebbles from the former course of the Rhone, with limey clay subsoils.
Here we’ll visit Chateau de Nages, Vignobles Michel Gassier one of the appellation leaders as well as one of the largest properties in the area, run (biodynamically again) with great enthusiasm by Michel Gassier and his wife. Michel’s philosophy is that great wines are made in the vineyards, not the winery. Michel Gassier’s wines have been given innumerable awards, most recently being recognised as one of the year’s 15 top winemakers of France by Bettane & Desseauve in 2009.
In the afternoon we’ll return to Avignon, perhaps to visit the famous ‘Palais des Papes’. Avignon is a thriving fashionable city surrounded by 14th century ramparts and dominated by the impressive medieval Popes’ Palace, from where seven consecutive popes ruled. There is a maze of winding streets to explore around the Place de la Republique and the Place de l’Horloge.
On our last day of Rhone Wine touring we return to the vineyards below the peaks of the Dentelles de Montmirail. Domaine de Mourchon is an exciting domaine owned by the Scottish MacKinley family who bought old vines just up the valley from Gigondas and built a modern winery. The wines are produced as ‘Côtes du Rhône Village Seguret’, include a remarkable Grande Réserve that you’ll taste.
We finish with a tasting and lunch with the Vignerons de Beaumes de Venise with superb traditional dishes to match. The delicious aromatic ‘Muscat de Beaumes de Venise’ is probably the south of France’s most famous sweet wine and Beaumes de Venise has now been promoted to become an Appellation for reds too. The Vignerons’ quality is renowned and they are a good source from the surrounding appellations too.
The Rhône was once the most important economic and political route in the development of Western Europe. The numerous beautiful towns are steeped in history with the wines having achieved great fame in the Middle Ages. However by the early 20th Century they had fallen from grace, were largely forgotten and appreciated largely by negociants in other regions for their blending properties. The Rhone’s renaissance over the past 25 years is one of the most exciting aspects of wine in France.
Arblaster & Clarke have been arranging Rhone wine tours for many years and have some great contacts here. Don’t miss this wonderful tour led by one of the great experts on French wine in general and the Rhone in particular. (unbelievably there is firm that claims in its website headers to be the Rhone Wine Tours specialist, but has no tours to the region).