Rhônes less travelled
Author: Oliver Barton
We list a wide selection of top northern Rhônes and Châteauneuf-du-Papes (and, rightly so!). But, there are many other appellations and wines that are commonly ignored but which can offer great interest, excitement and value. The latter is particularly relevant here as the quality of the 2016 vintage is impressive, particularly in the South, and therefore there are many gems to be found across all price points.
Let us start with the whites. The Rhône is not necessarily viewed by all as a white producing area, except for Condrieu in the North where Viognier has found its homeland. But there is a huge amount of white produced in the region, and, almost all of our producers make at least one white wine. The main reason for the lack of popularity of these wines has often been their lack of acidity, but times are changing, and growers are moving towards practices which produce fresher more nimble styles of wine. The current main innovation is the inclusion of the previously much-outdated Clairette and Bourboulenc grape varieties into the blend, both of which bring a brightness and acidic lift to the wines.
Biodynamic winemaking is a big thing in the Rhône valley, especially in the South where the warm climate and strong winds billowing down from the Alps provide a great environment for a naturally healthy vineyard. One of the first people to embrace these methods were Eric and Christine Saurel from Domaine Montirius. Their wines are soft, harmonious and easy to drink without losing their serious terroir-influenced style and tight-knit tannin structure. We offer two of their cuvées from Gigondas and two from Vacqueyras, all of which have the trademark elegance and softness, but which also have a wonderful ability to age.
Then we move to the Côtes-du-Rhône appellation, a staple and historical favourite with many across the UK for decades. The appellation itself covers over 80,000 hectares but if one investigates the geography of the region, certain villages will stand out for their quality. Visan for example is still quite under the radar but fruit from the area is of top quality and there is a great energy and enthusiasm from the growers there. On my most recent visit I discovered that 50 percent of the producers in the village were biodynamic, a figure which would be unimaginable in Bordeaux or Burgundy for example. It is here that Rémi Pouzin of Domaine Dieu-le-Fit toils away in his winery producing reds which are very pure in fruit, delicate on the palate and all-round winners when it comes to good quality drinking wines to have at lunch or dinner. Soft fruit meets gentle fine tannin, fresh acidity and a typical garrigue finish.
Another biodynamic, equally interesting grower and one new to our portfolio is Domaine la Cabotte. They are based in the geologically diverse massif d’Uchaux where they produce mineral focused whites and heady reds which possess a true expression of terroir. They own 30 hectares of pristine vineyards planted on a very shallow and poor soil which is ideal for viticulture. They work using natural fermentation without added yeast or sulphur, and they extract very gently and use minimal oak so the resultant wines are well-focused around the purity and finesse of fruit and terroir.
To finish off our list of often-underappreciated vinous delights I would like to highlight a wonderful small domaine called Le Sang des Cailloux where blue-overall wearing wine maker Serge Férigoule makes intensely flavoured wines with real character. The winery itself is lost at the end of a small road right at the summit of the Vacqueyras appellation. The landscape around it is very wild, dotted with large limestone rocks protruding from the ground. The wines are incredibly dark in colour and really show power and concentration on the palate, but they do not lack in finesse either. What we have here are testimony to the quality of the terroir in this appellation and the potential to make phenomenal wines without the mention of a “Pope” or indeed his “new castle”.
To view our full 2016 Rhône offering or to download a copy of the brochure, click here.