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AOC Cairanne: Discovering the Newest Côtes du Rhône Cru

Established in 2016, AOC Cairanne is the newest of the Côtes du Rhône’s 17 crus. Located on the left bank of the Rhône River thirty minutes from Avignon, the village of Cairanne is perched on a rocky outcrop, surrounded by vineyards. In the distance one can see the craggy peaks of the Dentelles de Montmirail.

Considered a gateway to the southern Rhône Valley, Cairanne’s climate is Mediterranean- dry and sunny with frequent gusts from the mistral winds which cool and purify the air, an ideal setting to cultivate healthy vines. Many vines in this region are more than 50 years old.

Cairanne Village-LAURENT PAMATO
The village of Cairanne is located in the Vaucluse department of the Rhône Valley. Photo: Vaucluse Tourism. Copyright: Laurent Pamato

Red wines make up 96 percent of Cairanne’s production. AOC guidelines require that the reds be a minimum of 40 percent Grenache, blended with Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan, but no variety can exceed 30 percent of the total blend. The end result are red wines that display sultry spice, fresh red fruits, smooth tannins, and elegant finesse.

Though only four percent of total production, Cairanne whites, also follow stringent AOC guidelines, comprised mainly of Clairette, Grenache Blanc or Roussanne. Bourboulenc, Picpoul. Viognier or Marsanne may be used in smaller amounts. The whites are all aromatic with a bright balance of floral, fruit and spice.

Selection of Cairanne wines

Conservation is important in Cairanne where 26 percent of planted areas are organically farmed, and sulfites are kept to extremely low levels. Most of the vines are gobelet-trained to safeguard against the wind and to preserve the freshness of the fruit. Cairanne is divided into three growing areas. To the west near the Aygues River, vineyards are planted on steep terraces with extremely stony topsoil over calcareous clay. The hilly slopes just north of the village are alluvial clay and silt with limestone. In the flat southern region, the vegetation is shallow scrubland, known in the Rhône Valley as les garrigues. Each contribute to the consistent style and character of Cairanne wines which producers unanimously refer to as more “refreshing and elegant.”

Cairanne is a winemaking community consisting of 50 independent vignerons, 35 négociants and seven cooperatives. Locals talk about a youthful vitality in Cairanne; after all, it is the newest Cru in the Côtes du Rhône. The reference is also a nod to the region’s younger winemakers who are working together with an eye on preservation, sustainability, and recognition for AOC Cairanne in the global wine market.

With Jean-Etienne Alary , Domaine Alary, in the rocky vineyards
For more information visit: www.vins-rhone.com

Here are the producers we met and their U.S. importers:

Domaine Brusset. The Brusset family has been producing bottles wine since 1947 in Cairanne as well as in other appellations in the southern Rhône Valley. (Adrian Chalk Selections/MS Walker)

Domaine Alary. Jean-Etienne Alary is one of Cairanne’s young winemakers whose families have been producing wine in the region for many years. Domaine Alary has existed since 1692. Jean-Etienne represents the 11th generation. (Weygandt-Metzler Importing)

Domaine André Berthet-Rayne. André Berthet-Rayne’s great grandfather started with 15 acres; his father, Paul expanded it substantially. Today the winery is run by André with daughter, Alexandra, taking on winemaking duties. (Santa Armosa NY)

Domaine de l’Oratoire Saint- Martin. Brothers Frédéric and François Alary represent the 10th generation of this winemaking family whose winery dates back 300 years. (North Berkeley Imports)

Domaine Les Hautes Cances. This winery was acquired in June 2019 by the Amadieu family, négociants based in Gigondas. They also produce a second label in Cairanne named Pierre Amadieu. (Alain Bradley Imports)

Domaine Boisson. Sixth generation winemaker, Bruno Boisson, studied and worked in Burgundy for several years, which is why the wines have a Burgundian flare to them, notably the barrel-aged white, L’Exigence (Verity Wines)

Domaine Le Grand Bois. An estate founded in 1920 by Albert Farjon now run by his descendent, Mireille Farjon, and her husband, Marc Besnaudeau, who worked as a sommelier in Paris before joining his wife’s family business. (Weygandt-Metzler Importing)

Maison Brotte. The Brotte family are négociants with three estates in the Rhône Valley including Domaine Grosset in Cairanne (Monsieur Touton Selections)

Learn more about AOC Cairanne. Listen to The Connected Table SIPS. Each podcast is 12 minute.

Domaine brusset
With Laurent Brusset, Domaine Brusset
Domane Roche
With Romain Roche, Domaine Roche
Jean-Marie Amadieu, Pierre Amadieu, and Frédéric Alary, Domaine de l’Oratorio Saint Martin
At Domaine Berthet-Rayne with André Berthet-Rayne , daughter Alexandra, wife Marina and son-in-law, Axel
With Bruno Boisson, Domaine Boisson; Mireille Besnardeau, Domaine Grand Bois; and Thibault Brotte, Brotte

 

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Lirac – Stylish Wines from the Rhône Valley’s Right Bank

One of the Côtes du Rhône’s first cru appellations (established in 1947), AOC Lirac is a wine lover’s gem. The wines were prized among European nobility and the Avignon papacy in the 14th and 15th centuries. In the 18th century, local magistrates in Roquemaure started to authentic the origin of Lirac wines by branding the casks with “C.d.R.” Lirac wines were the first in the region to use the term “Côtes du Rhône.” Today, Lirac wines continue to draw a strong following among sommeliers and other wine aficionados.

Lirac is rare among the 17 Rhône crus for its range of red, white, and smaller amounts of rosé wines. AOC guidelines require all to be blends, mainly using indigenous varieties. Red wines, which comprise 85 percent of Lirac’s production, must contain a minimum of 40 percent Grenache. The remaining amounts are usually Syrah, Carignan, Mourvèdre or Cinsault (the latter is popular for rosés). Around 10 percent of production is white. Clairette is the superstar white variety in Lirac followed by Bourboulenc, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne and, to a smaller degree, Picpoul and Ugni Blanc. The white wines lean toward aromatic with balanced acidity. While overshadowed by the reds in the global market, Lirac’s whites are well worth seeking out.

A windy day among the vineyards in Lirac. In this vineyard vines date back 140 years.

During our visit in early March 2020 (thankfully before the travel shutdown), a robust mistral blew in, practically knocking us over. The locals are used to the mistral wind which average 180 days of the year. Lirac’s climate in the southern Rhône Valley is Mediterranean, but a mistral can have you reaching for scarves and jackets even under a brilliant sunny sky.

These winds, unique to this part of France, combined with more than 220 days of sunshine, play a key role in shaping Lirac’s terroir. They help purify the air to keep humidity low, chase away pests and nurture healthy vines.

The round river rocks in Lirac’s vineyards are called “galet roules”

Another key factor are Lirac’s three soils. Alluvial river soils scattered with large round stones, known as galets roulés, produce intense red wines with dark fruit and savory spices, offering long aging potential. Limestone soils deliver minerality and aromatics, a hallmark of the whites which are fruit and floral with balanced acidity. Sandy soils produce fresh lighter wines, low in tannins, ideal for Lirac’s fruitier style of rosés

Sunday at the covered market in Avignon

Avignon serves as a great base to visit both Lirac and Tavel, its next -door neighbor which only produces rosé wines. If you stay in Avignon, a visit to the Palais du Papes (the Popes’ Palace) is a must, and allow plenty of time (advanced reservations are suggested.). We had the chance to spend a Sunday in Avignon where locals and tourists gather at the covered market for casual Sunday dining or to pick up provisions. It’s great people watching!

bottles Lirac wines
A selection of Lirac wines we discussed on The Connected Table Sips

We visited with several Lirac producers during our trip. When asked how they would define “Lirac style,” they all underscored “freshness and lush” as a backbone of the wines and what they refer to as “the Rhône Valley’s “right bank style.” In contrast, left bank wines, such as those in Chateauneuf-du-Pape just across the river were described as “concentrated and more intense.” A number of producers in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, have invested in vineyards in Lirac.

Melanie and David in the vineyards
In the vineyards at Chateau de Montfaucon with owner, Rodolphe du Pins
With Fabien de Chaunac, Château de Ségriès
Map showing Lirac
For more information visit www.vins-rhone.com

Lirac is home to many independent wineries; many are family-run Here are the producers we met and their U.S. importers.

Château de Ségriès. This historic winery is one of the first in the appellation. by Count Henri de Régis de Gatimel inherited Château de Ségriès in 1940 and was one of the first to replant vines in the region. The Count was the first to petition that Lirac be awarded AOC status, which occurred in 1947. (U.S. importer: Kysela Pere & Fils).

Château de Montfaucon.  The center piece of this estate is a lovingly restored fortress dating to the 12th century owned by a noble family. Proprietor Rodolphe du Pins showed us a pre-phylloxera vineyard dating back 140 years. (Winebow)

Domaine Maby. Owned by the Maby family for generations, the estate’s sixty acres covers Lirac, Tavel and Côtes du Rhône. (DB Wine Selections)

Domaine La Lôyane. Started by a family of growers dating back four generations, the winery is run by  Romain Dubois and his wife, Laure.  Organically run, this winery is home to five vineyards including one whose Grenache vines are 150 years-old!  (Elixir Wine Group)

Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine  The Lafond family has been making wine in the Rhône Valley since 1780. “Roc-Epine” was established in 1970 and started to bottle wine in 1978. The name commemorates “Roquepine,” a famous horse race.  (Skurnik Wines)

Château Mont-Redon. The original name, “Mourredon,” dates to 1344, when the property was part of the Pope’s land; it was recognized as a vineyard in the 18th century. Today this winery, is owned by the largest landowner in Chateauneuf-du-Pape who saw the potential in making wine in Lirac.  (F. Wildman)

La Maison Ogier. In 800 A.D. with “Ogier the Dane” fought with Charlemagne’s soldiers and settled in the area. The family entered the wine business in 1859.  Ogier was founded in 1948. Today it is a leading negociant in the Rhône Valley. (Folio Fine Wine Partners)

More info: www.vins-rhone.com

With Lirac producers
With Laure Dubois,  Domaine la Lôyane, and Jean-Baptise La Fond, Lafond Roc-Epine at Restaurant la Louisa in Lirac.
At La Fourchette restaurant in Avignon with Pierre Fabre, Château Mont-Redon, and François Miquel, Ogier

 

With Richard Maby, Domaine Maby
With Richard Maby, Domaine Maby

Listen to The Connected Table Sips. Discover Lirac!

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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