Sunday, April 12, 2015

France Unit 8 - The Rhône

The following are my notes for studying the wines of the Rhône region of France. In these notes I’ll provide information about the viticultural history, topography, climate, soils, important red and white grapes and the AOCs of the regions. I also include notes on the wines tasted during in the French Wine Scholar class (FWS – 07 Rhône).

The Viticultural History of the Rhône Valley

The West and East sides of the Rhône Valley are separated by the Rhône River and the wine region is divided into two sub-regions, the Northern Rhône (referred to in French as Rhône septentrional) and the Southern Rhône (in French Rhône méridional).

The valley may look as if it was created by the river, but it is actually the result of a geological clash between the Massif Central and the Alps, which then developed a rift valley that was subsequently flooded by the Mediterranean. The granitic rocks of the northern Rhône are the remainders of volcanic activity in the Massif Central.

In the Southern Rhône the land has layers of fluvial and calcareous marine sediments that formed the Dentelles de Montmirail – a large bar of worn limestone – and Mont Ventoux. As the Alps were pushed upwards it created the valley separated the two massifs when then collapsed. The gulf created was then filled by the Mediterranean, which gradually deposited a base layer of hard limestone and marl (calcareous clay). Later, the closing of the Strait of Gibraltar considerably lowered the level of the Mediterranean, with the result that the Rhône began digging itself a deeper bed, creating fluvial terraces on either side of the valley and mixing the different elements in the hillside soils: sands, clay containing flinty pebbles. Today, the valley’s soils consist of 4 different types of rock: granite, sandy silica, limestone and clay. This bedrock plays an essential role in the way in the terroir of the Rhône Valley

In the 4th century BC, the Greeks colonized the Southern Rhône and planted grapes in Marseille, along the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, which today is France’s largest city on the Mediterranean coast and largest commercial port.

In the Northern Rhône, wine-growing developed in the 1st century AD by the Romans who built an winery at the Gallo-Roman villa of Molard, close to the Rhône at Donzère, and created amphorae for storing and shipping wine up and down the Rhône River. The Romans also founded the town of Vienne and planted vineyards and the constructed retaining walls for the terraces.

After the fall of the Roman Empire (410 A.D.) and during the Middle Ages (5th to the 15th century) the Catholic Monks became the leaders of the wine industry. In the 13th century the French King Louis VIII granted the Comtat Venaissin to Pope Gregory X. Then in the 14th century, the papacy moved from Rome to Avignon and the popes planted extensive vineyards around the city. Pope John XXII, the second of the seven Avignon popes, had a summer residence built at Châteauneuf du Pape. Benedict XII, the third Avignon pope, ordered the building of the Palais des Papes.

At the end of the 17th century, and for the next 200 years, the port of Roquemaure (Gard) became a great center for the shipping of goods by river. “Côste du Rhône” was then the name of an administrative district of the Viguerie d'Uzès (Gard), famous for its wines. Regulations were introduced in 1650 to guarantee their provenance and quality. But it was not until the mid-19th  century that “Côste du Rhône” became “Côtes du Rhône” and was  expanded to include the vineyards on the left bank of the river. Their reputation, built up over the centuries, was legally validated by the district courts of Tournon and Uzès in 1936.

In 1933 the French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system for wine was spearheaded by the vine growers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Baron Pierre Le Roy de Boiseaumariè and co-founded the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d'Origine), the organization responsible for granting AOC status, over which he presided from 1947 to 1967.  Originally it was established to protect the branding of Châteauneuf-du-Pape but later became the model for all subsequent AOC decrees establishing limits of the growing area, grape varieties, local practices, methods of cultivation, minimum alcoholic content, and harvesting period.[1]

The Rhône Classification System
While the Rhône does not have an official classification system like Bordeaux or Burgundy, there is a ranking of into four categories of AOCs:
1. Cru
There are 16 named appellations (8 in the Northern Rhône, 8 in the Southern Rhône) which display only the name of the Cru such as Hermitage, Côte-Rôtie and Châteuneuf-du-Pape. While there is no official classification ranking these wines the market demand for these wines results in higher prices. Some producers may also include on their labels individual vineyard names for their for top wines such as Côte-Rôtie-La Landonne.
2. Côtes du Rhône-Villages –Village Name
Under stricter requirements than for the Côtes du Rhône Villages 18 of the communes of the appellation are authorized to append their respective village name on the label which are as follows:
(1) Cairanne
(2) Chusclan
(3) Gadagne
(4) Laudun
(5) Massif d'Uchaux
(6) Plan de Dieu
(7) Puyméras
(8) Roaix
(9) Rochegude
(10) Rousset-les-Vignes
(11) Sablét
(12) Saint-Gervais
(13) Saint-Maurice
(14) Saint-Pantaléon-les-Vignes
(15) Séguret
(16) Signargues
(17) Valréas
(18) Visan
3. Côtes du Rhône-Villages (CDRV)
There are 95 villages (communes) that can produce Côtes du Rhône-Villages AOC all within the Southern Rhône amounting to 3,400 ha (85,00 acres) dedicated to CDRV production. Over 95% of the wines are red which must be a blend of at least 50% Grenache plus one other red grape, at least 20% of Mourvèdre and/or Syrah plus 20% of other permitted grapes. CDRV also produces rosé wine which ahs the same percentages of grapes as red wine. White CDRV can be a blend of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Clairette, Bourboulenc Blanc and Viognier in any quantity but must account for 80% of the blend. Other white grapes are permitted but they cannot exceed 20% of the blend.[2]
4. Côtes du Rhône (CDR)
Côtes du Rhône AOC is the Southern Rhône’s largest appellation and the base designation for wines from the entire Rhône Valley. There are about 40 ha (100,00 acres) under vine, which is about ½ of the Rhône Valley. Over 2/3 of the Rhône Valley’s wines are released as Côtes du Rhône AOC. There are 1,445 producers and 75 co-operatives that produce CDR. About 95% of Côtes du Rhône come from the south. In Red CDR and Rosé Grenache is the principal grape (min. 40%) in the blend. Syrah and/or Mourvèdre can be up to 60%. Carignan, Cinsault, Counoise, Muscardin, Vaccarese, Picpoul Noir, Terret, Grenache Gris and Clariette Rose can make up 30% of the blend. A maximum of 5% white varieties may be included. For White CDR 80% must be Grenache Blanc, Clariette, Marsanne, Roussanne, Bourboulenc and Viognier. Other grapes such as Ugni Blanc and Piquepoul Blanc cannot exceed 20% of the blend. Note: these percentages indicate the amount planted in the vineyard, not what is actually in the bottle.[3]

Geography of The Northern Rhône
The Northern Rhône is 72 km (45 miles) long from Vinne to Valence, beginning 32 km (20 miles) south of Lyon.  The Rhône River begins in the north in Switzerland and as it makes it way down through France it widens and then runs between Lyons and Avignon. The Rhône Valley divides neatly into north/south regions at the town of Valence.
Climate of The Northern Rhône
The Northern Rhône has a Continental climate that meets up with a Mediterranean climate. It experiences greater seasonal temperature swings, more rainfall, and fewer annual hours of sunshine than the southern appellations. The region also experiences a cold, dry Mistral wind that blows down from the Massif Central and affects the Northern Rhône at an average speed of 60 mph and do so about 150 days of the year, mostly from winter to early spring. While the wind may be strong enough at times to strip the vines it also has the benefit of drying vineyards which prevents the formation of mold and mildew on the vines.
Soils of The Northern Rhône
Heat-retaining granitic and schistous soils define much of the North: the steeply sloped vineyards of Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu and Hermitage are carved out of this bedrock. Fine sand and loess topsoil throughout the Northern Rhône is prone to erosion, a threat partially mitigated by terrace construction. Near the commune of Condrieu, the thin topsoil is rich with powdery, decomposed mica, known locally as arzelle. The soils become heavier with clay in the southern section of St-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage and St-Péray.
White Grapes of The Northern Rhône
Genetic research links Viogner to Mondeuse Blanche. It is a low-yielding late-ripening grape variety that tends to have higher sugar producing highly aromatic wines with low acidity and higher alcohol. It is the only permitted grape for the Condrieu AOC.
Marsanne (also known as Ermitage) is a white wine-grape known for its role in the white wines of the Hermitage AOC. Along with Roussanne, the two grapes are used to make white wines from Crozes-Hermitage, Saint-Joseph and the sparkling whites of Saint-Peray. It is predominantly used to produce white wines but it is also used to create sweet wines from dried grapes, the most well-known is Chapoutier’s Hermitage Vin de Paille.
The berries are distinguished by their russet color (roux in French) when ripe which is probably the origin for the grape’s name. It tends to produce wines with the aroma of flowery herbal tea. In warm climates, it produces wines of richness, with flavors of honey and pear, and full body. In cooler climates it is more floral and more delicate, with higher acidity. It can be susceptible to mildew; it has poor resistance to drought and wind and it can experience late and/or uneven ripening with irregular yields. Roussanne is often blended with Marsanne and the two are the only white grapes allowed in Crozes-Hermitage AOC, Hermitage AOC and Saint-Joseph AOC.[4]  
Red Grapes of The Northern Rhône
It is often asserted that Syrah has its origin in Persia (modern-day Iran) around the city of Shiraz. However, Professor Carole Meredith’s teach at U.C. Davis proved that Syrah is indigenous to the Rhône and that it is a cross between two obscure grapes native to France, Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche. In the Northern Rhône, the Syrah grape achieves its classic status. The wines are full-bodied, firm, savory, and manifest a host of signature secondary aromas including smoke, grilled meat, olive, lavender, and peppercorn. The wines are typically fermented and aged in large oak foudres, although some producers are now experimenting with new barriques.
AOCs of The Northern Rhône
There are 8 AOCs in the Northern Rhône, from North to South they are as follows:
Côte-Rôtie AOC
Côte-Rôtie received AOC status in 1940. The name means the “roasted slope.” It is a red wine based on Syrah but up to 20% Viognier may be added. It is the northernmost appellation in the Northern Rhône Valley, is home to some of France’s steepest vineyards with a gradient of 55° or more. The slopes rises up a southeasterly aspect behind the riverside town of Ampuis, home to. While Côte-Rôtie has grown to include other communes, the two slopes nearest Ampuis—the Côte Brune and Côte Blonde—are considered the heart of the appellation’s terroir. The wines derived from these two hillsides are said to mirror their feminine namesakes: Côte Blonde yields softer, alluring wines whereas the wines of Côte Brune are stronger and more assertive. E. Guigal is the largest producer in the appellation and the Côte-Rôtie La Landonne is his vineyard designate, a cru bottled wine that can sell for as much as the first growths of Bordeaux. Other important producers include: Domaine Clusel-Roch, Delas Frères, Domaine , Jean-Michel Gerin, Domaine Jean-Luc et Jean-Paul Jamet, Domaine Michel et Stephane Ogier, Domaine Rene Rostaing, Tardieu-Laurent.
Condrieu AOC
Condrieu received AOC status in 1940. The name is from the French coin de ruisseau meaning “corner of the brook”.[5] It is white wine appellation just south of Côte-Rôtie that produces only white wines made from 100% Viognier. The appellation has less than 200 delimited hectares (about 494 acres). Significant producers include Georges Vernay, Yves Cuilleron, and André Perret.
Château Grillet AOC
Château Grillet AOP is a monopole within Condrieu, that produces only white wines made from 100% Viognier. The whole appellation consists of only 3.8 hectares (9.4 acres.) In 1830 the Neyret-Gachet family acquired the Château-Grillet estate and retained ownership until 2011 when it was purchased by French billionaire François Pinault who also owns Château Latour in Bordeaux and the 162-acre Araujo Estate in Calistoga in the Napa Valley. Today, Isabelle Baratin manages the production and sale of the estate’s single wine: Vin Blanc de Château-Grillet of which only 10,000 bottles are produced each year. The estate also produces two Brandies: Fine du Château-Grillet and Marc du Château-Grillet. The former is distilled from the Château-Grillet wine while the latter is a pomace brandy.
St-Joseph AOC
St-Joseph received AOC status in 1956. It is located north of Cornas and the appellation’s borders have been greatly enlarged from the original delimited area near the commune of Tournon-sur-Rhône, opposite the hill of Hermitage. Today the AOC extends through Condrieu in the north to St-Péray in the south. The appellation produces red wine from Syrah and since 1979 it has been allowed to blend in up to 10% Marsanne and Roussanne which is often co-fermented which has the advantage of stabilizing red wine color and moderating tannin extraction.
Hermitage AOC
Hermitage received AOC status in 1937. The red wines are based on Syrah and producers have the option of adding a combined total of 15% Marsanne and Roussanne. Dry white wines are also produced from a blend of Marsanne and Roussanne. A small amount of Vin de Paille is also produced in this region, a style revived by Gérard Chave in the 1970s and more recently by Chapoutier. The vineyards are above the village of Tain-l’Hermitage on a south-facing hill. Four major producers dominate the terraced hill: the singular Jean-Louis Chave and the negociants Delas, M. Chapoutier and Jaboulet. Jaboulet’s premier wine “La Chapelle, is named for a small hillside chapel that stands in commemoration of Gaspard de Stérimberg, a Crusader-turned-hermit who lived a life of asceticism atop the hill. The chapel is located within the climat of L’Hermite. Other important climats of Hermitage include le Méal, les Bessards, Gréffieux, Beaume and Péléat.
Crozes-Hermitage AOC
Crozes-Hermitage received AOC status in 1937 and was expanded in 1952. It is located behind the hill of Hermitage. The appellation is fairly large by Northern Rhône standards, with its 1,238 hectares accounting for approximately half of the entire region’s 2,400 hectares (about 5930 acres). The red wines are based on Syrah and producers may add up to 15% Marsanne and Roussanne. Crozes-Hermitage are generally considered lighter and less ageworthy than Hermitage.
Cornas AOC
The name Cornas is Celtic for “burnt earth”, and the first written sources mention wine in the region as early as 885. Cornas became am AOC in 1938, but the local producers did not bottle their own wine until 1950. This AOC produces only 100% Syrah bottled as a varietal wine. The heat of the sun is maintained by the granite soil (gore) and the appellation is shielded from cooling le mistral winds, this makes Cornas one of the warmest ACOs in the Northern Rhône. The land is divided among four lieux-dits: Les Reynards, La Côte, Les Chaillot, and Les Mazards. At just over 100 hectares (about 247 acres)  under vine it is the smallest red wine appellations of the Northern Rhône. One of the most prominent producers is Auguste Clape whose grapes for Cornas and Cornas “Renaissance” are all harvested by hand, sorted and not de-stemmed and the wine is aged for 22 months in 6 or 12 hl-foudres.[6]
Saint-Péray AOC
St-Péray became am AOC in 1938. It is located near Valence and has a cooler micro-climate than most of the Northern Rhône. The vineyards are planted on clay, sand and stone soils as well as granite further north. The AOC produces exclusively white wine from Marsanne (90% of the planted area) and Roussanne, most of which is méthode traditionelle mousseux sparkling wine (80%) but some still wine is also produced.

The Northern Rhône Satellite AOCs
The Diois (pronounced “Dee-wah”) is an isolated region about 30 miles east of the Rhône River, located east of the town of Valence. The vineyards of Die are in the French department of the Drôme on the border area between the northern and southern sub-regions of the Côtes du Rhône AOC area. The vineyards are at altitudes of up to 700 meters (2800 feet) are among the highest in France and are planted on chalky argilliferous soil that retains enough of its rainwater to maintain a constant supply to the vines during the long dry summers. Winemaking in this region can be traced back over two thousand years. There are 4 minor appellations of the Northern Rhône Southeast of Valence that lie on the Drôme River, a tributary of the Rhône. Most of the production is in sparkling wine.
1. Coteaux de Die AOC
Established as an AOC in 1993. The AOC produces light, still, white wines from 100% Clairette in the area around the town of Die, between the Rhone river and the foothills of the Alps.
2. Crémant de Die AOC
Established as an AOC in 1993. Crémant de Die AOC produces two styles of sparkling wines:
(1) Method Traditionnelle was previously made from 100% Clairette but now Aligote and Muscat are now included. It is made brut in style, with a maximum 15 grams per liter of sugar after dosage.
(2) Method Dioise Ancestrale is rustic sparkling wines made with a minimum of 75% Muscat à Petit Grains with a minimum 35 grams per liter of residual sugar.
3. Clairette de Die AOC
Established as an AOC in 1942. It is a sparkling wine region produced in accordance with the traditional method, with an initial fermentation in the vat and then a second in the bottle. It is made from the Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (75% minimum) and Clairette (25% maximum) grape varieties.
4. Châtillon-en-Diois AOC
Established as an AOC in 1975. It produces still white wines based on Aligoté and Chardonnay as well as still Red and Rosé wines based on Gamay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Production of the red and rosé varieties is limited to the vines surrounding the village of the same name, whereas the white variety is produced in thirteen communes.[7]

The Southern Rhône

The Southern Rhône accounts for about 95% of all wine produced in the Rhône Valley, most of which is red wine. While Northern Rhône red wines are either entirely or mostly Syrah with a little Viognier, Marsanne or Roussanne blended the southern appellations are generally blends of several red grapes, the most important being Grenache followed by Mourvèdre and Syrah. Cinsault is also a major red grape in the Southern Rhône, but acreage is on the decline.

Geography of The Southern Rhône
The Rhône Valley divides into the north/south by a gap of 40 km (25 miles) between the towns of Valance and Montelimar, in which almost no vines are grown.
Climate of The Southern Rhône
The Southern Rhône’s climate is Mediterranean and the le mistral wind blows across the flat southern valley. Consequently many growers plant their vines at an angle so that the wind might eventually blow them upright. The hot summers are moderated by significant diurnal swings, and mild winters follow usually heavy autumnal rains.
Soils of The Southern Rhône
The Southern Rhône has predominantly alluvial soils, deposited over limestone then the landscape shifts to become rugged garrigue scrubland. Sand, gravel, and clay have been left in behind from the river and larger stones have been dumped in the valley’s mounds by post-ice age glacial melt. In Châteauneuf-du-Pape there are the “pudding stones” known as galets that consist of quartzite that have been made smooth by the river. The galets retain the day-time heat and then warm the vines at night.
White Grapes of The Southern Rhône
One of the 13 permitted Châteauneuf-du-Pape varietals. It is a late-ripening grape variety with tight bunches of large grapes, that can be prone to rot. The grape creates wines with moderate to high acidity with ample body, citrus aromas with a hint of smoke. It provides freshness and acidity in blends. The grape is found in the Southern Rhône, Provence, the Languedoc and is an important grape min the white wines from the Minervois and Corbières.[8]
Clairette Blanche
Clairette Blanche tends to produce wines that are high in alcohol with low acidity that tend to oxidize easily. These problems have sometimes been partially overcome by blending it with high-acid varieties such as Piquepoul Blanc or used to make vermouth. The grape is found in the Southern Rhône, Provence and the Languedoc. The white wines of Clairette de Die AOC are made entirely of Clairette Blanche and it is one of the 13 grape varieties permitted in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC.
Grenache Blanc
This is a white wine grape that is related to the more well-known red grape Grenache (a.k.a Grenache Noir). It is a vigorous vine which if not curtailed can lead to overproduction and flabbiness. Its wines are characterized by high alcohol and low acidity, with green-apple, stone fruit, citrus, and or herbaceous aromas and it is often blended with Roussanne. Up to 10% Grenache Blanc is permitted to be included in the red wines of the Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC. About a 1/3 of France’s Grenache Blanc is grown and in the Rivesaltes AOC, it is also used as a blending component in some of the regions vin doux naturel wines.
Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains
A member of the Muscat family, “à Petits” refers to its small berry size and tight clusters. It is a highly mutative grape and there are strains of the vine known as Frontignac and Brown Muscat that produce berries that are pink or reddish brown and it can change from one color one year to a different color the next. It is known under a variety of local names such as Muscat Blanc, Muscat Canelli, and Moscato Bianco.[9]
Also known as Araignan and Oeillade Blanche, it is makes light and neutral wines in character so it is primarily used as a blending grape as one of the 13 varieties permitted in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC.[10]
Piquepoul Blanc
The name Piquepoul (pronounced peek-pool), means “lip stinger”, it is related to Picpoul Noir and Picpoul Gris and is a native grape of the Languedoc region of Southern France, records from the early 17th century indicate that it was blended with Clairette to form the popular sweet Picardan wine (not to be confused with the Châteauneuf du Pape varietal of the same name) which was exported by Dutch wine traders from Languedoc throughout Northern Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. After the phylloxera devastated most of the vines at the end of the 19th century, the grape was not widely replanted. Today it is best known from Picpoul de Pinet AOC, the crisp light green wine of the Pinet Region in the Côteaux de Languedoc.
In the Southern Rhône appellation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC it is one of six white grapes allowed, along with Grenache Blanc, Piquepoul Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc and Picardan. The Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation also allows it to be blended into red wines.
Ugni Blanc
Known as Trebbiano in its home in Italy, it is primarily a blending grape used to add acidity to a blend. In France it is the most widely planted white grape particularly along the Provençal coast, in the Gironde and Charente. It is the key ingredient in both Cognac and Armagnac.
Red Grapes of The Southern Rhône
Also known as Carignane in the USA, Cariñena in Spain, Carignano in Italy Mazuelo in Rioja, Bovale Grande and Samsó. It is grown in France and is native to Aragon in northern Spain. It is a late ripening variety so it is grown primarily in warm regions. It is susceptible to both powdery mildew as well as downy mildew so it needs extensive spraying unless it is in a dry climate. It is not suitable for mechanical harvesting because its stalks are particularly tough. It tends to produce wines with high tannin, acidity and color. This makes it an excellent addition to red wine blends that have plenty of aroma and flavor, but lack body and depth of color. As a varietal wine it tends towards aromas of dark and black fruits, pepper, licorice, with spicy and savory accents but it is usually blended with other varietals, particularly Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre.
Often spelled Cinsault, it is a heat tolerant grape and is the fourth most widely planted grape variety in France. It is widely used for rosé wines in Provence and grows well in the Languedoc-Roussillon where it is often blended with grapes such as Grenache and Carignan to add softness and bouquet. In the Southern Rhône it is one of the permitted minor grape varieties in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape blend. In South Africa, it was known as “Hermitage” and in 1925 it was crossed with Pinot Noir to create Pinotage. It tends to make wines that are low in tannin and it is generally used in blends for its perfume with red berry aromas.
A late ripening variety that needs heat to fully develop, on its own it can produce spicy wines, berry-flavored that are soft on the palate with red fruit flavors (raspberry and strawberry) with a subtle, white pepper spice note and develop leather and tar aromas as it ages. But it tends to lack color, tannin and acidity so in the Rhône it is usually blended with Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsaut. It is also prone to oxidation with even young examples having the potential to show browning or “bricking” coloration.
Also known as Mataró or Monastrell, the grape tends to produce wines with aromas of red fruits, wild game, earthy and “barnyard” notes with high tannin and alcohol.[11] The vine can be overly vigorous and is susceptible to powdery and downy mildew.[12]
The major grape of the Northern Rhône (see notes above), in the south it plays a more supporting role to Grenache with Mourvèdre.

Rhône Valley IGPs
The Rhône IGPs are wines regulated by the INAO but are not subject to the same strict standards of the AOCs. They often use the same grape varieties as the AOCs but may also use lesser-known local varietals that are not allowed in the Côtes du Rhône as well as international varieties such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The following are examples of the types of IGPs found in the Rhône.

1. Ardeche IGP
Departmental IGP
The IGP covers red, white and rosé wines that are made in the Ardeche department in the south of France. Ardeche sits on the western banks of the Rhone river and is an important part of the northern Rhône wine region: the AOC-level appellations Saint-Joseph, Cornas and Saint-Peray are located here.[13]
2. Méditérranée IGP
Regional IGP
An IGP title covering wines made in a large area on the southeast coast of France, roughly corresponding to the Provence wine region, as well as a part of the Rhône Valley.
3. Principauté-D'Orange IGP
Zonal IGP
It is based around the city of Orange in the Southern Rhone in the north-west corner of the département of Vaucluse. The wines display similar characteristics to the Cotes du Rhone wines that are produced in the same region.

The Southern Rhône Cru AOCs
There are 8 Southern Crus AOCs/AOPs which are as follows:
1. Vinsobres AOC
Established as an AOC in 2006 for 100% red wines that must contain at least 50% Grenache and 25% Syrah and/or Mourvèdre. The vineyards are planted at an elevation of 360 meter (1,200 feet) and experience a Mediterranean climate with alpine influences and significant diurnal; temperatures shifts. The vineyards are planted on sand and clay with pockets of gravel and limestone. [14]
2. Rasteau AOC
Established as an AOC in 1945. It produces dry and unfortified reds but only from fruit grown in the commune of Rasteau itself. But it is more known for its VDN wines. See below under “Southern Rhône Vin Doux Naturel AOCs”.
3. Gigondas AOC
The AOC was established in 1971. The region has a hot sunny climate with significant summer diurnal swings as cold air descends from the Dentelles de Montmirail, a vertical comb of rock jutting out of the plain between the Rhône river and the Luberon-Ventoux mountains. The vineyards are planted northwest and west facing slopes on red clay alluvial soils. The AOC produces predominantly red wine (99%) and a very small amount of rosé (1%) wine. The red wines contain a minimum 50% Grenache, typically blended with smaller proportions of Syrah and Mourvèdre. A maximum 10% of other Rhône grape varieties (except for Carignan) are permitted to be planted in the vineyard. The wines are similar in style to Châteauneuf-du-Pape.[15]
4. Vacqueyras AOC
The AOC was established in 1990. It is located at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail and like Gigondas it also benefits from its evening cool breezes. About 97% of the wines are red based on minimum 50% Grenache, with the remaining consisting of Syrah and Mourvèdre. The AOC also produces a small amount of white (2%) based on Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier. A very small amount of rosé (1%) wine is also produced.[16]
5. Beaumes de Venise AOC
Established as an AOC in 2005, the vineyards are located on the south side of the Dentelles de Montmirail, which acts as a win break from the Mistral. The soils consist mainly of a blend of marl, limestone and clay. The AOC produces red wines based on a minimum 50% Grenache as well as Vin Doux Naturel wines.
6. Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC
Château La Nerthe released the first estate-bottled Châteauneuf-du-Pape in 1785. Today, a papal crest embossed on the shoulder of the bottle marks all estate-bottled wines from the appellation. The AOC designation was originally established in 1923 and were the first Appellation Contrôlée rules in France. The regulations were spearheaded by Baron Pierre le Roy of Château Fortia. The original AOC rules allowed 10 varieties, and were amended to 13 in 1936 and 18 in 2009.[17] The AOC consists of over 3000 hectares with various soil consisting of galets (smooth river stones), calcareous clay and sand. Grenache is generally the principal variety in red wines from the appellation and Château Rayas often makes their Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge from 100% Grenache. However Château de Beaucastel’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge is made from predominently Mourvèdre which they blend with every authorized grape variety. The required minimum potential alcoholic strength is 12.5%, the highest in France for dry AOC wines, but it is not difficult to find top-end cuvées that contain 14.5% - 15% or more. AOC regulations also require that producers declassify or discard at least 2% of harvested grapes (le râpé), to ensure against under-ripeness. Traditional producers tend to use old oak foudres for extended aging, and some may even bottle a vintage from cask as it is sold, creating great variation in individual bottlings of the same wine. Carbonic maceration, barrique aging and new vinification techniques allow experimentation. In addition, each producer's assemblage is critical to the style. While the appellation’s regulations predate every other region in France, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is just beginning to modernize itself and explore its viticultural diversity. The 13 permitted grapes of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are as follows:
1. Grenache (Noir/Blanc/Gris)
2. Mourvèdre
3. Syrah
4. Cinsault
5. Counoise
6. Picpoul (Noir/Blanc/Gris)
7. Terret Noir
8. Bourboulenc
9. Clairette/Clairette Rosé
10. Roussanne
11. Vaccarèse
12. Picardan
13. Muscardin
7. Lirac AOC
The AOC was established in 1945. It is located on the western shore (“right bank”) of the Rhône River bordering on the neighboring cru of Tavel AOC, opposite Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It is named after the village of Lirac and is spread over 4 communes. The wines can be very similar to the Côtes du Rhône-Villages and are made in red, white, and rosé versions. The red grapes include Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, and Carignan. White grapes include Grenache Blanc, Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Carignan, Bourboulenc, Clairette, Ugni Blanc, Picpoul, Marsanne, Rousanne, and Viognier. In 1863 of Lirac became the entry point for phylloxera into France, even though it has sandier soil which are commonly believed to be inhospitable to the pest.[18]
8. Tavel AOC
The AOC was established in 1936. Located just south of Lirac, it is the only AOC in France dedicated exclusively to rosé wines. Tavel has long been regarded as the premier The wines are based on Grenache and made in a dry style. The vineyards are planted with 9 varieties in 3 distinct soil types: Sharp, flat slabs of limestone called “Les Vestide”, pebbly soils called “Vallongue” and a mixture of sand and stone called “Olivet.” Each contributes its own influence to the wines, creating Rose with a deep pink hue, lots of red fruits, berry and stone fruit flavors.
Other Southern Rhône AOCs
1. Côtes du Vivarais AOC
Established as an AOC in 1999. It is located on the west (“right”) bank of the Rhône River, immediately opposite of the Grignan-les-Adhémar. The wines are produced in 9 communes of the Ardèche department, and in 5 communes of the department of the Gard. The region is cooler than the rest of the Southern Rhône and it receives more rain. The soils are shallow and consist predominantly of limestone with pockets of gravel. The AOC produces an equal amount of red (47%) and rosé (47%) made from Grenache and Syrah with a small amount of white wine (6%) from Clairette, Grenache Blanc and Marsanne.[19]
2. Grignan-les-Adhémar AOC
Established as an in 1973. It was formerly known as Côteaux du Tricastin, in 2010 it changed its name in order to no longer be associated with the troubled Tricastin nuclear plant that had a meltdown in 2008. It is the Southern Rhône Valley’s northernmost appellation located directly south of Montélimar. The wines are produced in 21 communes in the department of Drôme on the east bank of the Rhône River in a triangle bounded by Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux, Montélimar, and Grignan; opposite the Côtes du Vivarais AOC on the right bank. About 72% of the production is red wine, 22% is rosé both of which is based on Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Carignan and Mourvèdre. A small amount of white wine (6%) is produced from Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier.
3. Ventoux AOC
Established as an in 1973, it was known as Côtes du Ventoux AOC until 2009. It is located 40 km (25 miles) northeast of Avignon and is named after Mount Ventoux. About 64% of the production is red and 32% is rosé from Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, and Carignan. About 4% is white wine based on Grenache Blanc, Clairette, and Bourboulenc. Production is dominated by co-ops.[20]
4. Côtes du Luberon AOC
Established as an in 1973, it is located in the southeastern side of the Southern Rhône. It has a Mediterranean climate with continental influences. Vineyards are planted on calcerous marl, Miocene sands and limestone. About 28% of the production is red wine made from 60% Grenache Noir with a minimum of 10% Syrah, a maximum of 20% Cinsault and/or Mourvèdre and/or Carignan, and a maximum 20% of Counoise, Gamay Noir, Pinot Noir. The largest production is Rosé wine (48%) are made from the same grapes as for the red, and up to 20% of the allowed varieties for white wine may be used. About 24% of production is white wines are from a maximum of 50% Clairette Blanche, Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc and together a maximum of 20% Roussanne and Marsanne.
5. Costières de Nîmes AOC
Established as an AOC in the Rhône Valley in 2004, it was previously appellation of Languedoc. This is the westernmost AOC in the Southern Rhône. To the west, adjoins the regions of the Southern Rhône Valley, Provence, and Languedoc. It experiences very hot temperatures during the summer and near drought conditions and from June to August it regularly reaches 95°F, but in the evening it receives cooling winds from the Petite Camargue, a marshy plain to the west of the Petit Rhône. The climate of the region is also heavily influenced by the Mistral winds that reduce the humidity. About 50% of the production is red wine based on Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre as well as some Carignan. About 43% of the production is Rosé and the remaining 7% is devoted to white wine production.
6. Clairette de Bellegarde AOC
Established as an AOC in 1949. It is a very fragmented growing area that lies on the Bellegarde terrace at an altitude of 60 meters. It has a Mediterranean climate, tempered by the Mistral and Tramontana winds.[21] It is a very small single-commune appellation within Costières de Nimes that consists of only 7 ha (17 acres) that produces 100% white wines made from the Clairette grape by one cooperative.[22]

Southern Rhône Vin Doux Naturel AOCs
There are two villages that produce fortified sweet wines that have their own AOC. By law they must have at least 11% residual sugar and at least 15% alcohol.
1. Muscat de Beaumes de Venise AOC
Established as an AOC in 1945. The vineyards are planted on steep hillsides that are terraced with man-made walls of local river rocks called ‘restanque’. About 90% of the wine is produced by the local co-operative, the Vignerons de Beaumes-de-Venise, from grapes sourced throughout the communes of Beaumes-de-Venis and Aubignan. The wines are made from 100% Muscat à Petits Grains Noir and Blanc that are harvested by hand with passes through the vineyard. The grape’s must have a sugar content of over 252g/L. Mutage, the addition of alcohol to the wine, must be performed with pure alcohol of at least 96%, when the musts contain 5% to 10% alcohol.[23]
2. Rasteau AOC
Established as an AOC in 1945. It produces dry and unfortified reds but only from fruit grown in the commune of Rasteau itself. The region is more known for Rasteau vin doux naturel wines may be white, rosé, or red and they are based on Grenache Blanc, Grenache Blanc Gris, and Grenache Blanc Noir with up to 10% of any CDR grape varieties. The communes of Rasteau, Cairanne, and Sablet are eligible for the Rasteau AOC. In 2011, vignerons adopted the labeling terminology established by the producers of Rivesaltes in Roussillon. White VDN is labeled etho and red VDN labeled tuilé indicates wines displaying a more oxidative character and that must be aged at least 3 years prior to release. Fresher versions of white and red Rasteau VDN wines are labeled blanc and grenat, whereas producers may affix the term Hors d’age to wines that have matured for at least 5 years prior to release. Wines may also be rancio have been made in a deliberately oxidative and maderized style in which the wine is left in open barrels, exposed to sunlight and higher temperatures.[24]

Wines Tasted

The following wines were tasted in the French Wine Scholar class:

1. 2012 E. Guigal Condrieu

The grapes for this wine come from 30 year old Viognier vines, it is 1/3 barrel fermented and 2/3 fermented in stainless steel and it underwent 100% malolactic fermentation. It was aged in 100% new oak barrels. A clear youthful white wine, lemon in color with slight tint of green and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has pronounced aromas of orange rind, lemon-lime, stonefruits (peach, apricot), pineapple, intense floral aromas, minor notes of hazelnut. On the palate it is dry, with moderate acidity, it is full bodied and very rich with a creamy texture and a long finish. This wine sells for $53.

2. 2013 Domaine Chante Cigale Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc

This wine consists of equal parts Rousanne, Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc. A clear youthful white wine, lemon in color with slight tint of green and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean, it has moderate intense aromas of lemon pledge, melon rind, and scented hand soap. On the palate it is dry, somewhat tart with a salty minerality, moderate acidity with medium+ body and a moderate length finish. This wine sells for $30

3. 2013 Vignerons de Tavel “Les Lauzeraies” Tavel

This wine consists of 50% Grenache, 20% Cinsault, 20% Syrah, 10% Mouvedre. It is a clear salmon-pink wine with a watery rim and moderate viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of plum, cherry, raspberry, blood orange, with a hint of spice and a minor floral note. On the palate it has flavors of tart red fruits, it is dry with medium acidity, it is medium bodied with a moderate length finish. This wine sells for $14

4. 2010 Feraud Brunel Côtes du Rhône Village

An opaque red wine, dark purple at the core to ruby at the rim with moderate viscosity and staining tears. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of plums, blueberries, smoke, hint of damp earth, and violets. On the palate it has flavors of baked black fruits, figs, backed blueberries and black pepper, it is dry with coarse moderate tannins, moderate acidity, medium+ alcohol and a moderate length finish. This wine sells for $25

5. 2011 Raymond Fabre Crozes-Hermitage

An opaque red wine, dark purple at the core to ruby at the rim with moderate viscosity and staining tears. On the nose it is “clean” with moderate intense aromas of baked red fruits, stewed plums, black cherries, smoke, dried meat, old leather, and white pepper. On the palate this wine has flavors of dried blackberries, black olive, black pepper, black walnut, and burned tobacco. It is dry with silky moderate tannins, medium acidity and a moderate length finish. This wine sells for $20

6. 2011 Jean-Michel Stephan “Vin Nature” Cote Rotie

This wine consists of 90% Syrah, 10% Viognier. It is an opaque red wine, dark purple at the core to violet at the rim with moderate viscosity, staining tears with minor sediment. On the nose it is “clean” with moderate intense aromas of stewed plums, black licorice, old gym socks, charcoal, smoked meats, and a very distinct medicinal/burnt rubber quality. On the palate it has flavors of burnt black fruits, the medicinal character carries over and overwhelms the fruit, it is dry with moderate tannins, moderate acidity and a medium length finish. This is an offensive wine (like a person who does not bathe or use deodorant) that sells for $65

7. 2010 Domaine Santa Duc “Cuvee Tradition” Gigondas

This wine consists of 75% Grenache, 10% Mouvedre, 10% Syrah, and 5% Cinsault. It is an opaque red wine, dark ruby at the core to hints of garnet at the rim with moderate viscosity and staining tears. On the nose it is “clean” with moderate intense aromas of black plums, smoked meat, beef jerky, old leather, desiccated flowers and black pepper. On the palate the nose is confirmed, it is dry with moderate tannins, medium acidity, medium+ alcohol and a moderate length finish. This wine sells for $50.

8. 2009 Vieux Telegraphe “La Crau” Châteauneuf-du-Pape

This wine consists of 65% Grenache, 15% Mouvedre, 15% Syrah, and 5% Cinsault/Clairette. An opage red wine with moderate intensity, ruby at the core with a touch of garnet at the rim and medium viscosity. On the nose it is clean fresh cherries, raspberries, cherry-cola, hints of tar, white mushrooms, minor hints of spice. On the palate it is dry but the fruit is fresh, it has refined moderate tannins, medium+ alcohol, moderate acidity and a medium+ length finish. The best wine in the lineup, it sells for $80

9. 2010 Cave de Rasteau “Signature” Rasteau VDN

This wine is made from fortified 100% Grenache from 50+ old vines. It is an opaque dark red wine with high viscosity. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of boysenberry, dried plums, dates and maple syrup. On the palate it is sweet but not cloying, it is silky with moderate- tannins, it has moderate acidity, high alcohol and a medium length finish. This wine sells for $20

[2] Julien Camus, Lisa M. Airey, Celine Camus (ed), French Wine Scholar Study Manual (French Wine Society), 253.
[3] Julien Camus, Lisa M. Airey, Celine Camus (ed), French Wine Scholar Study Manual (French Wine Society), 252-253.
[4] Jancis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd Edition, Oxford University Press, 2006), 595.
[5] Karen MacNeil, The Wine Bible (Workman Publishing, 2001), 235-240
[8] Jancis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd Edition, Oxford University Press, 2006), 100.
[9] Oz Clarke and Margaret Rand, Encyclopedia of Grapes, (Webster International Publishers, 2001), 146.
[10] Jancis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd Edition, Oxford University Press, 2006), 160.
[11] Oz Clarke and Margaret Rand, Encyclopedia of Grapes, (Webster International Publishers, 2001), 140-141.
[12] Oz Clarke and Margaret Rand, Encyclopedia of Grapes, (Webster International Publishers, 2001), 459-460.
[14] ; Julien Camus, Lisa M. Airey, Celine Camus (ed), French Wine Scholar Study Manual (French Wine Society), 256.
[15] Julien Camus, Lisa M. Airey, Celine Camus (ed), French Wine Scholar Study Manual (French Wine Society), 256.
[16] Julien Camus, Lisa M. Airey, Celine Camus (ed), French Wine Scholar Study Manual (French Wine Society), 256.
[17] Karen MacNeil, The Wine Bible (Workman Publishing, 2001), 249.
[18] Jancis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd Edition, Oxford University Press, 2006), 403.
[19] Julien Camus, Lisa M. Airey, Celine Camus (ed), French Wine Scholar Study Manual (French Wine Society), 258.
[20] Julien Camus, Lisa M. Airey, Celine Camus (ed), French Wine Scholar Study Manual (French Wine Society), 258.
[21] Julien Camus, Lisa M. Airey, Celine Camus (ed), French Wine Scholar Study Manual (French Wine Society), 259.
[24] Julien Camus, Lisa M. Airey, Celine Camus (ed), French Wine Scholar Study Manual (French Wine Society), 257.

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