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Exploring AOC Costières de Nimes, Rhône Valley

Costières de Nîmes was a pleasant discovery for us, far from the more heavily visited areas of Provence to the east. The Rhône Valley’s southernmost wine region sits on a plateau that stretches north from the Camargue delta region 50 kilometers to the south. From some hilltop vineyards, one can see Arles and an outline of the Frank Gehry-designed The Luma Arts Foundation complex, which has turned that ancient Roman city in Provence into a contemporary arts destination.

View from a Costières de Nimes vineyard

Vines have been cultivated in Costières de Nimes since the days of Ancient Greece. The area was also occupied by the Romans after they conquered Egypt during the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. The region and its namesake city, Nîmes, display the imagery of a crocodile tied to a palm tree, from the pavement to street signs and a few whimsical sculptures positioned here and there. The crocodile represents Egypt, and the palm tree is the Roman symbol of victory.

You can find the crocodile and the palm tree throughout the city of Nîmes.

Winemaking began to flourish in Costières de Nîmes during the Middle Ages, and the region’s wines became the preferred selection of the 14th century Papal Court when it occupied nearby Avignon. A boost to the viticultural economy occurred in the 20th century with the construction of both Pierre-Paul Riquet’s Canal du Midi and Philippe Lamour’s Canal du Bas-Rhone which facilitated transportation from the region.

An AOC since 1986, Costières de Nîmes‘ production is red wines (55%), rosés (40%) and whites (5%).  Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah are the dominant red varieties (80%); Carignan and Cinsault are also used.  Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Roussane are the three main white grapes, followed by Bourboulenc, Clairette, Vermentino and Viognier. The reds are sultry and juicy with dark blackberry and raspberry notes; the whites are aromatic with a touch of salinity thanks to the region’s proximity to the sea and the soil. The climate is classic southern France – Mediterranean Sea breezes mixed with cool mistral winds from the north and more than 200 days of sunshine.

Rockin the vineyards with Jérôme Castillon, Château L’Ermitage, AOC Costières de Nîmes, Nimes, Rhône Valley

Our first visit was Château L’Ermitage. Owner Jérôme Castillon took us on a bumpy open-air Land Rover ride through the hilly vineyards to shows us the rocky terrain covered with garrigue, a particularly herbaceous Mediterranean brush that contributes to the earthy herbal character of the wines. Thanks to the proximity to the Rhône River, the soils are alluvial with many large pale pebbles, called galets.

More rocky vineyards with Costières de Nîmes vignerons, Anne and François Collard, Château Mourgues du Grès

Later, we visited more, even steeper and stonier vineyards at Château Mourgues du Grès with proprietors François and Anne Collard. At their winery, which was formerly a convent, a few other local producers joined is to present their wines along those from  Château Mourgues du Grès, including: Maison Gabriel Meffre (Anthony Taylor), Mas des Bressades (Cyril Marès), Château de Valcombe (Nicolas Ricome).

A tasting with Costières de Nîmes vignerons. (left to right): Nicolas Ricome (Château de Valcombe), Cyril Marès (Mas des Bressades), Anthony Taylor (Maison Gabriel Meffre), Ann Collard, François Collard (Château Mourgues du Grès)

In the evening, we had dinner in Nîmes at the Museum of Roman History (Musee de la Romanate. This is a newer addition to the city of Nîmes. It’s a large modern edifice with a rooftop garden and panoramic views. We read in this article that the architect, Elizabeth de Portzamparc, was inspired by a Roman toga. We’re not sure we get that, but we did get – and enjoyed -the wines we tasted during our meal at museum’s on-site restaurant, La Table du 2 Brasserie by Michelin Star-rated Chef Franck Putelat. The producer was fourth generation vintner Fanny Boyer, Château Beaubois.

Maison Carrée (“square house”) is a perfectly preserved Roman temple in the heart of Nîmes

If you visit the region, seeing Nimes is a must. It’s filled with history and is nice for strolling and spotting crocodile and palm tree imagery. Among the many sights of historical note, two include the giant ancient amphitheater that now serves as a performance space and the Maison Carrée,  a completly preserved the ancient Roman.  More on visiting Nimes here.

We also recommend this article in The New York Times Style Magazine

Domaine des Clos was formerly a winery. Now it is a lovely hotel restored and owned by Sandrine and David Ausset.

A note on where we stayed…We loved our two nights at Domaine des Clos, a boutique apartment-hotel with spacious grounds and very good food (we had three meals there- breakfast, lunch and dinner). Owners Sandrine and David Ausset, both native to the region, left their corporate jobs in Paris to spend years renovating this abandoned 18th century wine estate. Sandrine is passionate about ayurvedic health and offers special retreats.

We came; we saw; we tasted- and enjoyed- the wines of Costières de Nîmes, Rhône Valley

Our trip was arranged by Inter-Rhône which has very helpful information on the Rhône Valley on its website www.vins-rhone.com. We also recommend www.costieres-nimes.org

Listen to The Connected Table SIPS with Anthony Taylor, Maison Gabriel Meffre, who discussed the region and styles of wine produced in Costières de Nîmes.

Ir’s considered Good Luck to touch the nose of the crocodile in Nimes.

 

 

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Lavender Fields Forever: Sipping Luberon Rosé in the Rhône Valley

When July rolls around we’re longing for Provence and the chance to see first-hand the lavender fields in bloom. It’s still on our bucket list; we are not there, yet, despite having spent many lazy, late summer days visiting friends with a house in the Luberon, usually end of August.

Lavender fields in bloom in the Luberon during summer The wines have timeless appeal year-round.

But we did have the chance to visit the Luberon in May for a wine tour of  the southern Rhône Valley.  The weather was warm and dry, and the buses of tourists were still thankfully sparse. May is a great time to visit before the summer crowds descend. While no lavender was in bloom, there were other blooms a’plenty. Numerous bright yellow wildflowers and orange-red poppies dotted the fields, and orchards were filled with blooming cherry and apricot trees. 

We’ve always been fans of Luberon rosé and tasted several during our visit. The styles of rosé in the Luberon can range from crisp and dry to fresh, floral and fruity. Rosé wines make up 52 percent of the wines produced in AOC Luberon  which was established in 1988. Vines are cultivated on both sides of the Luberon mountain range at altitudes of 200 to 350 meters above sea level, which adds to the wines’ freshness and purity. The primary red grapes are Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault. Soils vary from limestone to clay and red sand. The climate can range from Mediterranean warm to very cool nights.

It was a busy market day when we visited the Maison de la Truffe et du Vin du Luberon in Ménerbes to taste a few wines with three producers:  Lionel Bourgue, Domaine de la Citadelle,   Nathalie Margan, Chateau La CanorgueChristian Ruffinatto, Domaine Ruffinatto –  and Thomas Montagne Chateau de Clapier.

At Maison de la Truffe et du Vin Menerbes with Christian Ruffinatto, Domaine Ruffinatto; Nathalie Margan, Chateau La Canorgue and Thomas Montagne, Chateau de Clapier

Later in the afternoon, we visited Château la Canorgue, a 200-year-old family-owned estate in Bonnieux and the first organic winery in the Luberon.  The winery is run Jean-Pierre Margan with his daughter, Nathalie, who represents the fifth generation of winegrowers. The wines are recognized around the world.

Vineyards at Château la Canorgue in Bonnieux.

Visitors may recognize Château la Canorgue from Filmmaker Ridley Scott’s “A Good Year,” with Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard. The estate was a setting for the movie. The Margans remain nonplussed when tourists arrive to snap fan photos. While at Château la Canorgue, we sat down with Nathalie Margan to discuss  styles of AOC Luberon rosé, which range from a light pink grapefruit citrus squeeze to an embrace of fresh wild strawberries.

AOC Luberon Rhône Valley rosés possess terrific minerality, complexity and freshness. These are not one-size-fits all rosés; a sense of place is evident from the first sip. You just want to reach for a salad chèvre chaud, fresh grilled seafood with vegetables drizzled with local olive oil.

 

Simple, fresh-grilled vegetables are perfect with Luberon rosé wines

 

Listen to our visit with Nathalie Margan on The Connected Table SIPS. Click image below or visit iHeart.com at this link

For more information on AOC Luberon and its wines, visit: www.vin-luberon-fr

 

 

We love the Luberon! With Nathalie Margan at Château la Canorgue

 

 

 

 

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Sipping with Susana Balbo, Argentina’s First Woman Winemaker

Susana Balbo, Founder of Susana Balbo Wines, has a career history of firsts: The first Argentinian female winemaker, first Argentinean woman to become a global wine consultant and first Latin American woman to chair the W20 Summit. She has served as a member of Argentina’s parliament representing the Mendoza region, and she served three terms as President of Wines of Argentina during which time Argentinian wines gained global recognition and achieved record export growth.

Argentina’s Susana Balbo is woman of many firsts.

Balbo believes to lead is to set an example for future generations. Interestingly, her original dream to study abroad and become a nuclear physicist in the 1970s was discouraged by her parents. She told us at the time, things were different politically in Argentina, and her parents wanted her to stay closer to home in Mendoza. Instead, Balbo studied viticulture and became the first woman in Argentina to earn an oenology degree. Initially, she worked in her family’s viticultural business and then spread her wings and expanded her credentials by working with Michael Torino Winery, Martins and Catena Zapa and then consulting for numerous global wine brands in South America, Australia and Europe.

Susana Balbo Wines in Mendoza

After 20 years producing and consulting for other wineries, she founded Susana Balbo Wines in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza. Balbo said her vision was always to make high-quality wines  with beautiful fruit and elegant balanced finish, approachable when young but with promising ageabilty. Today, Balbo runs her eponymous winery with her daughter Ana, a graduate of University San Andrés in Buenos Aires, and son José, a graduate of Unversity California at Davis.  www.susanabalbowines.com

Luján de Cuyo is a cool, mountainous sub-region in Mendoza known for its Malbec

Balbo spends much of her time on the road. We were lucky enough to catch a few minutes with her to share her vision on leadership and mentorship for women on The Connected Table SIPS. Balbo discussed why she chose to embrace both the role of entrepreneur and public servant, holding a position in Argentina’s parliament and leading the W20 Summit, whose mission is to create a more sustainable business and civil environment for women in South America and beyond.

A portion of this sponsored podcast was donated to Les Dames d’Escoffier’s Carol Brock Scholarship, in recognition of the Founder of this prestigious organization of leading women in food, fine beverage and hospitality. www.ldny.org  www.ldei.org

Click this image to listen on iHeart. Also available on iTunes, Spreaker, Stitcher and “The Connected Table Page” at Sante Magazine.


The U.S. importer for Susana Balbo Wines is Folio Fine Wine Partners. Here area few selections we tried:

Brioso 2016. A blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cabernet Franc, 16% Malbec, 7% Petit Verdot. Aged 15 months in 100% new French oak barrels. It shows sweet red and black fruits, subtle oak and a great backbone of tannins and elegant grip over florality from the Cabernet Sauvignon. Great aging potential.

 

Brioso Signature White Blend 2017 45% Semillón, 30% Torrontés, 25% Sauvignon Blanc. 4 months in 60% first use French oak barrels and 40% second use. An aromatic wine with floral and citrus notes combined with touches of fresh grass, white fruits and orange.  Its finish is mineral and persistent. Great potential for aging.

 

Nosotros 2013 – 100% Malbec aged 16 months, 80% in new French oak and 20% in second use French oak. This is Balbo’s iconic wine, vibrant. intense and elegant, a balance of dark fruits and spice. Great aging potential.