Friday, March 9, 2012

Hi All - the travelogue continues:

This Week - HILL TOWNS of the COTES DU RHONE (part deux)

This week takes us to Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Beaumes de Venise - homes to some most interesting wines.

First stop is maybe a quick nip into La Bastide Saint Francis, which is actually down on the flats just outside the small town of Violes, But they have vineyards up in the AOC of Gigondas, and make some very nice its on the way.

Or, another potential visit is to Domaine Saint Damien - another 'along-the-way' stop down on the valley floor. This is a small producer of very fine Gigondas reds. And as a little guy, its one I can relate to.

Now up into the town we go. The BIG stop in town is the Caveau de Gigondas - the cooperative wine-tasting center located in the middle of town. They just finished an extensive remodel, and the new space is really nice - much roomier to handle more guests, while retaining a nice warm feeling. They offer tasting of more than 65 domaines (and some 80 or so wines), so you could spend all day here doing comparative tastings. The very informative staff is great, and very patient in helping people get a feeling for the wines of the AOC. There are SO many to choose from!! I try to limit myself to 4 or 5 each time I visit - so I can really concentrate on the similarities and differences.

Lunch this day is in the town square at one the restaurants with outdoor seating - as the weather is surprisingly mild for early March, and eating outside just seems 'right'.

After lunch its back down the hill, and off toward Vacqueyras which is just 4 miles down the road.

Some producers who are located along the route and between the towns own vineyards in both AOC's, and so produce both red wines. It can make for interesting comparisons of the terroir - if the winemaking style and the techniques are the same (since its the same producer) than the variations in the wines may very well be based on where the grapes come from. Typically Vacqueyras wines tend to be a bit more muscular, while Gigondas can be more refined. This would perhaps be a reflection of how far up on the hillside the vineyards are located.

Only continual drinking and discussion will tell...some many wines, so little time................... :-)

First in Vacqueyras, we go to visit Clos de Caveau- a ways up in the hills above the town. Their vineyards are located at the estate, and higher in elevation than most in Vacqueyras. They produce both Vacqueyras and Cotes du Rhone reds.

Next is a stop at Chateau de Montmirail, whose caveau is in the town center. This producer is one of my favorites, and has yet to disappoint. They make a very good selection of Vacqueyras, Gigondas and Cotes du Rhone wines. This is one of those stops for comparative tasting.

Now - onward to Beaumes de Venise, home of the renowned dessert wine: Muscat de Beaumes de Venise.

First its up the hill and way back into the hillside to Domaine de Durban. These are folks that have been my 'neighbor' at the wine fair in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and they make a great Beames de Venise red wine as well as a rose and the typical white dessert wine. Their red is a lovely soft grenache/syrah blend - a real quaffer. Its a bit of a hike to their domaine, but the wines, and the views are well worth it.

Back down the hill and into town. Many of the local winefarmers do not make their own wines, but rather only grow the grapes (white grapes) and then sell them to the cooperative - where they are combined with others in the region to make their famous sweet dessert wine. the cooperative offers a wide selection - ranging from semi- to very-sweet. They make a wine to fit every pallette. This will be the final stop today, because to taste anything red after the sweetness of the muscat just won't work.

So - back to the maison.

Next week - The Luberon Valley!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Hi All

I know, its been more than a week!

Up this week: HILL TOWNS OF THE COTES du RHONE (part un)

This trip we start with the little town of Seguret. This home to about 200 folks is built into the side of the hill toward the northern end of the hills - the Dentelles de Montmirail. They are the eastern border of the Rhone Valley. And it is here that most of the Cotes du Rhone Villages are situated.

We start by going up to, and then past, the entrance to the town and push our way up the hillside to Domaine de Mourchon. Established back in 1988 by Walter McKinlay, this domaine produces outstanding Cotes du Rhone and Cotes du Rhone Villages (Seguret) wines.

In addition to being a producer, they also act as a negociant (buying juice from farmers and then aging and re-selling the wine under their label "Mourchon"........sound familiar!?!?

As can be seen on the way up/down, their 'estate' encompasses just about every square foot of land that is plantable up on the hillside.

Now, back down the hill to the town itself. It is one of the sleepiest of the hill towns - as home to just 200, it is tiny, and its narrow lanes enhance its beauty. A few small shops, one restaurant and one caveau for winetasting makes this a quick visit. But a MUST VISIT it is...for the outstanding view of the Rhone Valley. This 180 degree vista really shows what the Cotes du Rhone is all about.

Descending further down to the valley floor, its off to Sablet...all of about 3 minutes away (around here, all the towns are close to one another..the trip from Avignon to Seguret is only about 45 minutes).

Sablet is the quintessential hill town. With its church spire sitting high above the center of town, even in the distance its charm is apparent. One of the great 'photo opportunities' of the area.

Its only a quick jaunt up to the center of town for lunch in the main square. Then available restaurants are small but charming, and the offers of salads, pizzas and wine on the terrace makes for a great meal.

Either before or after, it makes sense to make a quick stop in the Office of Tourism in the town. They provide a lot of info on the town and the surrounding area, as well as the opportunity to try a wine or two form the 'AOC Cotes du Rhone Villages Sablet'.

Back down the hill we go for a quick visit to one of the local producers. To choose from today are: Domanine de Pasquiers -on the road to Seguret - a producer of both Sablet and Gigondas wines; or Domaine de Verquiere - a solid producer of Sablets and Cotes du Rhone and my neighbor in the stands at last year's Fete de la Versaison in Chateauneuf-du-pape.

But the choice for today is Domaine de Boissan. Christian Bonfils and his family run this small domaine at the foot of the town. He has been a friend and a great resource for information when I first made the purchase of my property. Together with his son, they make a variety of white and red Cotes du Rhones, including both Sablet and Gigondas. With his 'urban vineyard' in front of the house, he is the epitome of the small winefarmer.

That's it for today.

Next week, I will continue the Cotes du Rhone Hill Town tour, working my way south through Gigondas, Vacqueyras, and Beaumes de Venise!

Stay Tuned!!