The vineyards of the Southern Rhône Valley are in the region of Provence. This is the western part of Provence where you find towns such as of Avignon, Orange and Nîmes. Names filled with the history of Popes and Romans. A landscape dotted with lavender fields, quaint villages and olive groves. It is a lovely region for a vacation, when that time comes. In the meantime, bring a piece of these beautiful places to your home by tasting the wines of Southern Rhône.
Southern Rhône is a huge wine region with a number of different wine styles. Red wines dominate but you have some fantastic and full-bodied whites, as well as France’s most famous rosé wines from Tavel. The grapes grow up in the mountains, on the plain and in the Rhône delta.
This article was originally published on Forbes.com.
Côtes-du-Rhône is the large over-all appellation. It covers an area of almost 100,000 acres (40,000 hectares) on both sides of the mighty river Rhône as it makes its way south to the Mediterranean. Around 70 villages are entitled to the Côtes-du-Rhône Village appellation and a few of these can also put the name of their village on the label, for example Séguret, mentioned below.
The highest level in the Rhône appellation hierarchy is the around 15 villages that have their own appellation. These are often called “cru” in France. For a cru, you will only see the village name on the label. Some famous examples are Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Luberon, Vinsobres, Beaumes-de-Venise and, of course, Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape has been famous for a long time and, consequently, the producers here are able to charge high prices for their wines.
The other wines in the Southern Rhône Valley region are often excellent value for money. There has actually been a small revolution in quality for the past 15-20 years. Southern Rhône is definitely a place to look for wines with character at a reasonable price.
“This part of France is a paradise for those looking for tasty, complex yet easy-drinking red wines made from Syrah and Grenache”, says Kate McKinley at Domaine de Mourchon.
This high-quality family estate is close to the pretty town of Séguret, perched high on a hilltop. The vineyards are at an altitude of 1150 feet (350 meters). “In the summer it is hot but it is cooler than down in the valley”, says Kate. “It allows the grapes to hold on to their natural acidity a little bit longer.“
The weather here can be challenging but fortunately the much planted Syrah and Grenache grapes are very resilient. Especially if the vines are old. Kate and her family have some very old ones. Actually, it was the old vines that made it possible for them to buy this lovely place.
20 years ago, Kates father, Walter McKinley, was living and working in Scotland. But he started to look for a retirement project. He wanted a beautiful place to live in. Being a keen wine lover, this area was perfect. “It wasn’t so easy to buy vineyards though”, says Kate.
“70 % of the land here is owned by farmers who sell their grapes to the cooperative. Fortunately for us, one family wanted to sell this particular parcel because it was not productive enough. The vines were old and the slopes on the hill were difficult to work with machines. But it was interesting to us, as we wanted to make fine wine.”
The steep slopes allow for more sun exposure. The soil is poor. The top soil is very shallow, not even 8 inches. “When we plant a vine here”, says Kate, “it is going to have to work hard straight away. We want our vines to struggle. We water them a little for two years, then they are on their own. The roots need to find their way down.”
The vines produce less fruit so fewer bottles but the wines gain in concentration. “When I first arrived here it took me some time to realize that less is more”, she says.
All this shows in the wines. The yields are low and the concentration is definitely there. It is not extremely powerful wines; it is more a concentration of flavours.
Domaine du Mourchon is now certified organic. “We have an ever-present wind that keeps the vineyard strong and dry and reduces the risk of fungus diseases”, says Kate.
The whole range of wines is excellent. Here are some examples. The top wines are the Family Reserve.
Domaine de Mourchon Family Reserve Syrah 2017, Séguret Côtes du Rhône Villages is a dark-coloured, well-structured wine with leathery and cassis aromas. Very intense fruit on the palate. Delicious. ~$34-40 (~30-35 euro)
Domaine de Mourchon Family Reserve Grenache 2017, Séguret Côtes du Rhône Villages is a round and elegant wine with red, ripe fruit, a bit spicy and with a refreshing finish. Excellent. ~$34-40 (~30-35 euro)
Domaine de Mourchon Tradition 2017, Séguret Côtes du Rhône Villages is made from 65% Grenache, 25% Syrah and 10% Carignan. It is well balanced with red fruit and some spices. It is refreshing and easy-drinking but still structured. ~$17 (~15 euro)
Domaine de Mourchon La Source 2018, Côtes du Rhône Blanc is a pleasant white made from varieties typical for southern France : Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Clairette and Bourboulenc. It is floral, aromatic, fresh and easy-drinking. Cool fermentation in stainless steel tanks. ~$11 (~10 euro)
The McKinley family likes to experiment. The newest project is a 100 % Syrah with no sulphur added. The juicy fruit is very attractive. You take a sip and you want to take another one. As good a sign as any that you like the wine.
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