The Rhone Valley or the Roasting slopes as it is popularly known as, with the meandering Rhone River which changes its course to give this region its delicious wines, was my wine destination this summer.It is the home of Syrah, Grenache and Viognier grapes. I was looking forward to my wine journey ..vineyards are life themselves, creating wines that can be the centre of conversations adorning tables, telling their stories once poured.
I had booked a ½ day Tannin wine tasting tour with Vincent Pontet, Guide Oenotouristique & Maître de Chai, Lyon Wine Tours which promised to taste of mostly reds made of Syrah and Whites of Viognier.
Promptly, driven to this beautiful region by Vincent, just 42 km from Lyon in France …with a group of 5 more like-minded wine lovers, the drive itself was a treat.
Driving through the vineyards and the roasting slopes with the Rhone river meandering its way with us, we stopped to view the slopes and Rhone from above …
We reached our first stop, at Cote Rotie, the house of Guy Bernard. It is a well-established estate in Lupin and Semons.Two of the prestigious appellations are offered here from Northern Cotes du Rhone ;
The Roasted Coast:
Situated, just south of Lyon, on one of the oldest and the steepest vineyards in France, planted by the Romans, theyare under a semi-continental climate, dry harsh winters and hot summers with rains throughout the year. The Northern Rhone is around 40 miles long and accounts for only 4-5% of wines from this region.The river Rhone begins at the Alps and meanders its way to the Mediterranean sea supporting the production of beautiful and luscious wines of Northern Rhone.
Cote Rotie is cooler than any other Northern Rhone appellations, adds more to the freshness and acidity of the wines. They produce elegant and seductive wines which are medium to full-bodied. They age very well and some of them age to 20,30 or 40 years are a treat to drink.Only red wines are allowed to be produced and only 2 grapes; the Syrah and Viognier are to be used in a Cote Rotie Appellation wines out of which only 20% of Viognier to be included in the blend.
On can pair them with grilled red and white meats, stews and some hard and soft cheeses.
The house of Guigal, who is considered a pioneer to make these wines famous, produces some of the most delicious wines.We visited the house of Guy Bernard.
We got our bearings and mini geography session by Vincent over a map of the region and then …our tastings began.
The Coteaux de Bassenon, our first pour, 2015, is a 100% Syrah grape wine. In Northern Rhone, Syrah has peppery and earthy tones.
This would be matched well with lamb, spare ribs or and rich Indian food.
Deep red with purple hues
In the barrel for 18 months, with 20% of new wood.
Delicate and Silky finesse
My next pour was Les Meandres
100 % Syrah Grape. Elegant, fruity with notes of spices.
Pour at 17-18 deg C. Matches well with red meats and cheese.
100% Syrah grape, has a deep red, with hints of black currant.
Drink between 5-15 years.
THE VINEYARD OF CONDRIEU:
This vineyard is spread over 3 departments (Rhône, Loire, Ardèche) and 7 communes (Condrieu, Vérin, St Michel / Rhône, Chavanay, St Pierre de Bœuf, Malleval and Lemony).
It is on the right bank of the Rhone, on steep hillsides, at the foot of the Massif du Pilat (Regional Natural Park).The steep slopes keep the soil from eroding and retain the warmth of the sun.
The Condrieu is a wine of registered designation of origin since 1940.
It also nearly disappeared following the great attack of phylloxera, then the abandonment of vines during the two wars. It represented only a very small area: 8 ha in 1965, 20 ha in 1986 and 150 ha now.
The wine produced by this vineyard is a white wine, rich in alcohol, fat, supple, but with freshness.
It is very fragrant, it exhales floral aromas like violet, fruity notes- apricots, peaches, or citrus fruits.
The Bassenon is a Condrieu made from 100% Viognier grape. I had not tasted a Viognier before and I liked what I tasted. It can be a great aperitif, also pairs well with fish and cheese and should be poured at 10-12 deg C.
We left Domaine Guy Bernard to try out the wines of another renowned and bigger winemaker,
Passionate about growing and making wine, Pierre Gaillard moved to Malleval and founded his estate over 30 years ago now.
At the heart of the Rhone Valley, it produces a wide range of high-quality wines.
Vineyards in the northern part of the Rhone Valley, Planted on steep slopes ranging from Cote-Rotie down through to Cornas in the South.
As we entered the tasting room, we had a view of the magnificent cellar where hundreds of barrels were left to mature.
Vincent made sure we tasted an array of wines:
Condrieu 2015 and 2016: 100% Viognier grape
Delicate and complex with interesting floral and fruity scents. The richness and the finesse of the terroir express itself in the wine.
It matures to 7-8 months in fine oak and 10% in new oak.The wines are stirred on lees for the entire maturing period, as a result, it develops a complex, tropical fruit and floral aromas, is light and aromatic.
I preferred the 2016 vintage.
Cote Rotie, 2015
Fruity, Fleshy and refined. Grown in Ampuis, it has 90% Syrah and 10% Viognier grape varieties, planted on various types of soil.
The maturation is 18 months in fine oak. It is distinguished in its youth but also after ageing for 10-15 years.
These wines are associated with the tannins of Syrah but the Viognier brings about additional aromatic complexity.
Tasting preference: Was a bit heavy for me.
Cote du Rhone Les Gendrines, 2016
Fresh and floral tones from the granite laden slopes.
100% Viognier grape.
These are planted on fine granite laden sandy hillsides, facing east, contrary to the parcels of Condrieu.
Maturation is 7-8 months in Oak and 5% of new oak. The stirring and use of lees during the entire maturing period preserve the wines’ mineral characteristics all the while enriching the structure of the palate.
IGP Syrah Rose, 2016
Fruity, aromatic and fresh.
Made with 100% Syrah. This is made according to the Saignee technique from stainless steel vats of red wine.It bears the stamp of several noble terroirs resulting in a balance of its tasty flavours and freshness.
It has strawberry and raspberry notes.
After sipping wines from a great terroir it was time to head back to beautiful Lyon.
If you ever find yourself in the Rhone Valley do catch up with Vincent and enjoy this wine journey with the meandering Rhone.
Story contributed by Sunaina Dhir Shivpuri