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Wines from the lower Rhone Valley

The Rhone river has been an historically important waterway in the southern part of France for thousands of years, and it also figures prominently in the viticulture of France. Rhone valley wines - red, rosé and white - have been produced and celebrated since the time of the Greeks, and count today for a powerful portion of French wine production.

Regions of the lower Rhone Valley

Côtes du Rhone
Côtes du Lubéron
Côtes du Ventoux
Costières de Nîmes
Côteaux du Triscatin
Diois

 

COTES DU RHONE

Among the Rhone valley wines, the Côtes du Rhone are the most prolific and also the most highly regarded by wine connoisseurs. We’ve decided to concentrate on Côtes du Rhone for now, and to start particularly with the southern Côtes du Rhone.

Côtes du Rhone appellation wines are produced at three levels, the top wines being the Crus (5 appellations), the second tier the Côtes du Rhone Villages (16), and then the Côtes du Rhone regional AOCs, which make up 80% of Côtes du Rhone production and cover hundreds of communes.

The Côtes du Rhone cru wines are Gigondas, Vacquéyras, Châteauneuf du Pape, Tavel, and Lirac, and are shown on the map at the right with red boxes. Click on the map to see a clearer, larger version.

We start with the Côtes du Rhone crus of Tavel and Lirac.

 

The southern Côtes du Rhone region...
(click on the map to enlarge)

CDRMap.jpg (120622 bytes)

COTES DU RHONE

Don’t
Rule Out
Rosé


While we can certainly be forgiven for turning up our noses at the very notion of rosé wine, we should be more forbearing. Notwithstanding the frequently awful taste of much of the wine sold made and sold in America under the guise of rosé — we’re thinking  here of the many ignoble “blush” and “pink” wines — there are wonderful rosé wines made in the south of France. They’re tasty, refreshing, usually inexpensive, often available in American wine shops, and definitely worth trying.

Rosé normally achieves its color from dark grape skins, which have been left in the mash just long enough to provide that lovely tinge of color. Rosés can’t compete with red wines for depth and richness of character, but they can be fascinatingly complex. And they have that pretty, visual edge over white wines that their name implies.

They’ll go with any food appropriate for white wine or they’ll stand in as a lighter substitute for red wine at lunch. Rosés are great in the summer, or with lighter meats or fowl when a refreshing taste is your fancy. Here in the south, the French drink rosé frequently, in fact much more often than they drink white wine.

We recently visited two small rosé producing areas, Tavel and Lirac. The two abut each other, just on the east side of the Rhone, south of Orange but north of Avignon. Tavel has a justly developed worldwide reputation for the excellence of its rosés, which form the backbone of Tavel’s production. Tavel was drunk at the table of Philippe Le Bel and Louis XIV, praised by the gastronome Brillat-Savarin,  and also by Ronsard and Balzac. Voila!  But not so fast...

Neighbor Lirac, another cru, pushes its red wines as its premier product, but it produces very fine rosés and whites, too. In fact, in our own little tasting experiment, the Tavel came in third behind the Lirac and an inexpensive bulk nonvintage vin du table rosé (bought by cubie of course).




A 1998 Domaine La Rocalière ($4) from Lirac beat the pants off the much more expensive Cuvée Royale 1999 Tavel ($9). The Tavel had an overpowering alcoholic early nose and taste which one of us (who has never cared for Tavel) deems characteristic of Tavels in general. This taster believes that Tavel has achieved its reputation and higher price niche as the result of effective marketing expenditures, something its smaller and less well heeled neighbor to the north, Lirac, hasn't done so effectively.

The Lirac tasted like one of the best white wines you've ever sipped, with a little hint of "winey" red wine taste. The bulk rosé, which, in fairness, was purchased in Tavel, was light and tasty, but didn't stand up to the food quite as well as the Tavel or Lirac. Better with food, the Tavel still had that annoying first impression on the mouth and nose.

Bottom line:  Hooray for rosé! (but skip the pricey Tavels). 

More Southern Côtes du Rhône Wines
Northern Côtes du Rhône Wines

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