Truth be told, France’s Rhone Valley has had me under something of a spell ever since Dad let me loose on my first, overseas buying trip back in 1988 and, after a fabulous week of driving around the lanes and villages of this corner of south-eastern France pretending to be a proper wine merchant, I arrived back in Brum, samples piled high in the boot of a hired Fiat, whilst my beloved Lancia Delta languished in the Pas-de-Calais with a broken cam belt. Undeterred, I have returned numerous times subsequently, (all of them free of mechanical incident) and on every occasion have unearthed some previously undiscovered gem to add to our range.
Given that such jaunts have been firmly off the agenda for the past year and a half, scratching my Rhone Valley itch has had to take on something of a different dimension so, whilst it seemed that the wee baby donkey and the identity of “H” had the entire country in their grip, yours truly was to be found consigned to his garret and poring over lists of some of the greatest Rhone wines to be found in the UK. The fruits of all this endeavour are to be found below and, to make life even easier for our fabulous customers (seriously, have I told you how great you’re looking today?) we’ve put together a couple of handy mixed cases to give you a flavour of some of these new offerings.
Stuff about the Rhone that you don’t have to read but which might fool the neighbours that you know what you are talking about.
The principle thing that you need to know is that the region generically referred to as “The Rhone” is, in effect, 2 regions, handily identified by their respective positions on the map – if you want to be a real smarty pants you can refer to them as Rhône septentrional and Rhône meridional but northern and southern tend to work equally as well.
Starting about 30km south of Lyon and hugging the river tightly for about 60 km the north is very much the junior partner in terms of vineyard area and volume of production (a very modest 4-5% of overall volumes) but these are, in the main, properly classy wines. The steep, frequently terraced slopes that follow the river play host to some of the greatest Syrah vineyards on the planet (and, as far as red grapes are concerned, Syrah is the only game in town up north) Cote Rotie, Hermitage, Crozes Hermitage, St Joseph and Cornas offering benchmark expressions of Syrah to winemakers across the globe.
Insofar as white wines are concerned, Chateau Grillet and Condrieu are to Viognier what their neighbours are to Syrah. When I first entered the trade, Viognier was scarcely anything more than a footnote in text books, now it’s being grown in every continent – South Africa in particular is producing some outstanding wines – yet Condrieu remains the holy grail for Viognierphiles, the best wines from this 140ha expanse of vineyards affording an almost perfect balance of perfume, texture and freshness. Elsewhere, Roussanne and Marsanne complete a trio of white varieties and provide growers of Hermitage, Crozes Hermitage, St Joseph and St Peray with the raw ingredients for some dazzling, if hard to find, whites.
As you drive (or, better still, cycle) the 40km south, you’ll find the temperatures rising and the slopes and terraces giving way to flatter, drier, more rugged terrain where a multitude of grape varieties produce a diverse range of spicy, full-flavoured reds and light, refreshing whites and rosés. Chateauneuf du Pape might be the region’s most famous name but fame does carry a price and digging around the villages of Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Visan and many more can unearth some real gems at a fraction of the price. Should you ever find yourself anywhere near Vacqueyras on July 14th I can heartily recommend the annual fete des vins held in the main street. Advance booking is essential, as is a local hotel room but it is an unforgettable afternoon and a fabulous opportunity to experience the region’s wines and hospitality.
Domaine de la Bastide
Hardly a new discovery as we’ve been working with Vincent since 2007 but his wines just get better and better as these latest vintages bear out; and, in spite of the increased shipping costs (sigh!) they remain incredibly good value.
Cotes du Rhone Rouge £9.49
La Gloire de Mon Pere, Visan £13.50
Cotes du Rhone Blanc £9.95
Cotes du Rhone Rosé £9.79
Domaine de Fargueirol
Before the revolution, one of the Revoltier family was fief at Fargueirol, with the right to bear a sword. After the revolution the family had to move and it was nearly 200 years later, in 1974 that Joseph Revoltier bought the property including 10ha of vines. Today, it has increased to 30ha of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and 10ha of Cotes du Rhone and Romain Revoltier is cellarmaster.
Chateauneuf du Pape, 2018 £25.95
Hugely impressive cave co-op in the heart of Gigondas; great representations of their appellations and phenomenal value.
Vacqueyras, Beaumirail, 2017 £19.50
Gigondas, La Reference, 2016 £22.95
Widely regarded as one of the leading growers in the northern Rhone, Le Rouvre is old vine Crozes aged in demi-muids (600 litre barrels). In fairness, it’s still a baby at the moment but if you can resist its precocious charm it will age beautifully.
Crozes Hermitage, Le Rouvre, 2018 £32.95
Established in 1948, Guigal is one of the great names of the Rhone and produces some of its most iconic (and expensive) wines. Fortunately, quality remains high throughout the range – their Crozes Hermitage is an absolute delight. We have picked up a few odd bottles of slightly older vintages at the same time but these are, literally, odd bottles so first come, first served.
Crozes Hermitage, 2018 £24.79
St Joseph, 2017 £27.95
St Joseph, 2016 £27.95
Cote Rotie, 2017 £56.50
Cote Rotie, 2014 £52.50
Cote Rotie, 2012 £49.50
Simply some of the best Viogniers to have crossed our paths. The IGP from vineyards adjacent to Condrieu is a fabulous introduction to this legendary domaine.
Viognier, Les Vignes d’à Côté, 2019 £21.65
Condrieu, La Petite Côte 2019, £44.50
Southern Rhone case Save 15% £82.95
1 bottle each of the following:
Cotes du Rhone Rouge, Domaine de la Bastide 2019
Cotes du Rhone Rosé, Domaine de la Bastide 2020
Cotes du Rhone Blanc, Domaine de la Bastide 2020
Vacqueyras, Beaumirail 2017
Gigondas, La Reference 2016
Chateauneuf du Pape, Domaine de Fargueirol 2018
Northern Rhone case Save 15% £177.00
1 bottle each of the following:
Crozes Hermitage, Guigal 2018
St Joseph, Guigal 2017
Crozes Hermitage, Le Rouvre, Yann Chave 2018
Cote Rotie, Guigal 2017
Viognier, Les Vignes d’à Côté, Cuilleron 2019
Condrieu, La Petite Côte, Cuilleron 2019
Offer prices include local but not national delivery.