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This geologically diverse region in France produces some extraordinary
wines. The amazing point is that you can find stellar, rare and costly wines
in this area, but there are many little gems to be had, also. We're amused that many
California winemakers put price tags on their wines which exceed those found on some of
the wines which are viewed as "the standards. "
Wines from the Rhône used to be viewed as price-worthy alternatives to Bordeaux and
Burgundy when those markets spiraled to dizzying levels. This situation has changed
in the past decade as superstar Rhône Valley wines now achieve prices as high as top
Bordeaux and Burgundy.
The main grape varieties here are the Grenache and Syrah for red wines,
Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne for whites.
I've listed the appellations and the grape varieties allowed for each. They're
listed north to south. While a major player in southern Rhônes, Grenache is not
normally found in the north.
Vineyards of Syrah in the Côte-Rôtie area...
with a 20% maximum of Viognier being
allowed, though rarely employed.
|Chateau GRILLET One of the few curiosities in terms
of appellation, this is the name of the winery as well as the appellation.
||Syrah for the reds with 10% maximum of white grapes
Marsanne & Roussanne for the whites
||Marsanne & Roussanne for both white
wine and a Rhône sparkling wine.
||Syrah for the reds with 15% maximum of white grapes
Marsanne & Roussanne for the whites
||Syrah for the reds with 15% maximum of white grapes
Marsanne & Roussanne for the whites
The Southern Rhône is quite variable, the second largest regional appellation
after Bordeaux. The most broad appellation here is "Côtes du Rhône" and
you'll find it on some wines ranging from very good to remarkably average. There are
some 77 or so little "burgs" which come under the appellation of "Côtes du
Rhône Villages". Of those, some 16 can actually put their village name on the
label. We've recently found good wines of the Costieres-de-Nimes,
Coteaux-du-Tricastin and Côtes-du-Ventoux designations. The most prestigious
southern Rhone appellations are the world-famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape, followed by
Gigondas and then Lirac and Vacqueyras. Tavel is a famous and, usually, expensive
Most of the southern Rhône reds are Grenache-based wines. Quality and character are
variable, depending upon the location of the vineyard, soil type, vintage and vigneron.
There are 13 different varieties allowed in producing wines such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre are the primary varieties, augmented with
Picpoul (which comes in 3 "flavors": noir, blanc or gris), Counoise, Cinsault,
Clairette, Terret Noir, Vaccarese, Roussanne, Bourboulenc and Piccardin. You
might also find a herd of others in the south, including Carignan, Grenache Blanc, Ugni
Blanc, Marsanne, Viognier, Camarese, Pascal Blanc, Grenache Gris, Clairette Rose and
something called Calitor.
Winemaking in this region varies from rustic to ultra-modern. While we've seen
cellars here with 60-gallon capacity oak barrels, the percentage of wines with significant
amounts of new oak is rather small. Most winemakers attempt to showcase their fruit
rather than the work of a barrel-builder.
Recent vintages have been reasonably good. There is not a shortage of
good Rhône wines at the present time.
- Some Rhône Selections:
Ma & Pa Guigal
- E. GUIGAL
- We've long
admired the wines of Guigal, first visiting the winery back in the early 1980s. We
stopped in again some years ago and, despite our poor timing (the harvest was just winding
down), both Marcel Guigal and his son were extremely hospitable.
Guigal owns about 150 acres of vines in the Northern Rhonne alone and
they now have some holdings in the south, too and so they operate as "negociants", too, buying fruit,
juice and wine. The remarkable thing is the high level of quality to be found up and
down the line-up. Their basic "Côtes du Rhône" has been a terrific red wine.
This is impressive. Many companies can lavish a lot of attention on
small production wines costing a fortune.
But when a sizeable company makes good entry-level, well-priced wines...now
you're saying something!
The company has grown considerably over the past decade, or so, thanks to
the high standards of the Guigal family. It's not by accident these
wines have gained a wide audience.
Of course, Côte-Rôtie here is the specialty, Guigal owning several prime parcels.
These are labeled "La Landonne", "La Mouline" and "La
Turque" and fetch amazingly high prices. Some potential
buyers view these as commodities, not as wine. Prices, as a result,
have become astronomical.
We have the 2004s in stock. We have not opened one in a while, but
these should be marvelous with all that bottle age.
- Now a large producer of Condrieu, Guigal's special bottling is tabbed "La
Doriane" and has been exceptional Viognier. La Doriane is matured in wood, so
it's got the peach-like notes of Viognier, plus the sweet vanillin notes of the new oak
Photo: A Zander filet (a type of perch) served on a bed of
vegetable confetti seasoned with curry. This was a sensational plate prepared by
Norbert & Gaby.
Guigal has introduced a new Côte-Rôtie called Château d'Ampuis. We were impressed
by the fruit, spice and sweet oak of the 1995, the inaugural vintage.
The wine continues to be a delight. The 2013 is in stock and it's a
major league, very showy Syrah.
- We're big fans of the Saint Joseph bottling called "Vignes de
l'Hospice." This is a magnificent Syrah from two vineyard
sites. It's made entirely of Syrah and the wine spends two and a half
years in brand new oak barrels. This contributes a magnificently
sweet, woodsy quality to the nose and palate. The wine is supposed to
retail for $135, but we've got it sale tagged presently at
$109.99. It's drinking well not, especially if you like
lavishly oaked Bordeaux and can imagine that mixed with some dark blackberry
fruit and a hint of wood spice. This is amazing. Limited,
We have the 2013 in the shop presently.
Guigal was once highly-regarded by young, hip sommeliers and wine
geeks. Theirs was the label of those-in-the-know. Now, perhaps
20+ years later, the label is no longer viewed as being "cool" and
the brand is viewed by those folks as akin to Silver
Oak-from-the-Rhone. Maybe 15 years ago we brought a bottle of Chateau d'Ampuis
Côte-Rôtie to a famed restaurant to pair with a Cassoulet. The
sommelier stopped by our table and we offered him a taste and the fellow was
most uncomfortable to be seen (apparently) sniffing such a pedestrian wine.
The funny thing was the wine outshined the Cassoulet (which was
disappointing...who presents a Cassoulet with something akin to a Hebrew
National hot dog, butterflied? Of course, maybe it's possible the somm
saw our wine and asked the kitchen to prepare a less-than-usual version of
The snapshots of Marcel Guigal were taken in 2017 at the amazing Prowein
fair in Germany.
We watched as Guigal, whose stand was partnered with Gaja from Italy and
Taylor from Portugal, poured basic wines for the throngs of young
Here we had ventured some 6000 miles and what were they pouring? Simple Côtes
du Rhônes in White, Rosé and Red.
Finally there was a break in the crowd and we ambled up to Monsieur Guigal
and told him we had been a trade partner going back, what?, 30+
He said "Come with me..." as we stepped behind their stand.
"Sit down here." he ordered.
And then he graciously (and generously) opened up every major wine in their
I mentioned we were fond of their Condrieu bottling called "La
Doriane." And, yes, we tasted that.
But he also shared their Hermitage Blanc and "Ermitage Ex Voto"
Blanc. Oh my!
These were really stellar.
"You know," he offered, "I think we make some really grand
white wines, but for some reason, most people know us exclusively as a red
While we tasted through the range of wines, a number of luminaries stopped
by to say hello. A prominent British eno-celebrity sat down for a
moment and had a toast with Monsieur Guigal. Shortly after that, a
famed Burgundy vintner came by and tasted a couple of wines.
Guigal, you see, is royalty in the world of wine.
Currently available: 2009 Côtes du Rhône Rouge
Côte-Rôtie Sale $72.99
2013 Saint Joseph "Vignes de l'Hospice"
2013 Chateau d'Ampuis Côte-Rôtie $159.99
2015 Condrieu "La Doriane" Sold Out
2004 Single Vineyard Côte-Rôties...Please
and we can order numerous other bottlings for you...
- A rather tiny property, this firm is located in Ampuis and produces a few bottles of
Condrieu and a few more of Côte-Rôtie.
Run by Gilbert Clusel and Brigitte Roch,
they have something like 3 hectares of Syrah vineyards and a half of a hectare of
Their son is now part of the firm and he's renting a couple of parcels of
Gamay near Lyon, hence the new sign (depicted above) with the notation of
The Côte-Rôtie sees time in new wood and seasoned cooperage to achieve a
balance and highlight the spicy, bacony Syrah fruit.
If you taste a really young bottling, the wine "merely" shows
dark fruits...it takes a few years of aging in the bottle for the wine to
develop and blossom.
Brigitte opened a couple of bottles of their 1999 Côte-Rôtie
wines for us in 2008. These were, frankly, superb. Best wines
of my French visit, in fact.
2011...the entire Team of Clusel-Roch
We have routinely had their Côte-Rôtie in the shop. It's a
reliably good bottle, but typically hits the market in its youth, years
away from its prime.
They make an even tinier amount of Viognier from the Condrieu
appellation. This is a really fine example of Viognier and it sees a
bit of wood. The wine is peachy, dry and has a mild woodsy note.
- Currently in stock: 2007 Côte-Rôtie Sold Out
2007 Condrieu List $60 SALE $49.99
DOMAINE ALAIN GRAILLOT
- Moving from Paris to the northern
Rhône in the mid-1980s, Graillot has become the
leading producer of Crozes-Hermitage wines.
Graillot had been a fan of the wines of Guigal, Jaboulet and Grippat, so
when the opportunity for a new career path became available in 1985, he took
it, renting a vineyard in Crozes-Hermitage. Now he owns these
vineyards and he's a major luminary in the French wine scene.
- His early vintages were quite good, putting him at the head of the
His wines today are as good as ever. Graillot farms about 21 hectares
of vineyards, mostly in Crozes-Hermitage, though he does have a small
holding in Saint Joseph, as well.
Today Graillot's wines
are regarded as a bit of a benchmark for the appellation, though his
neighbor (and buddy) Laurence Combier also makes remarkably good wines.
The 2011 vintage of Crozes is quite good. This is a deep, dark Syrah
with tremendous Syrah fruit and spiciness. Plummy. Dark
berries...blackberries...It's showing beautifully
today with nice spice notes and a dark berry fruit.
Graillot makes a special bottling,
selecting his favorite barrels for this wine. It is labeled "La
Guiraude". We periodically have this in stock...it's
allocated and we're fortunate to receive a few bottles from time to time.
Currently available: 2011 Crozes-Hermitage SALE $31.99
2011 Crozes-Hermitage La Guiraude Sale $54.99
- Winemaker Laurent Combier is, for us, one of the rock-stars in
Crozes-Hermitage. Ages ago, the leading light was his old school
friend, Alain Graillot. Having followed both winemakers over the
past 10-15 years (or more), we give the nod to Combier.
family has been in the Northern Rhône for a few generations.
Laurent's father Maurice had the relatively radical notion in the 1970s of
cultivating the fruit orchards in an organic fashion. The neighbors
thought he was out of his mind and dubbed him Maurice Le Fou.
But after seeing (and tasting) the magnificent fruit he was producing,
others took on the same fou notion as Mighty Mo.
Or should we call his "Mo Co"???
When Laurent was old enough to join the family business, he first attended
winemaking school and then did a couple of internships. One was in
the Southern Rhône and the other in Provence.
Coming back home, he convinced Mo-Co that they ought to make their own
wine instead of selling all the grapes to the local grower's co-op in
So, since the late 1980s or early 1990s, Combier has been a small
production domaine but with good quality and honest prices.
These days they still have fruit orchards to the tune of 25
hectares. And there's another 25 of vineyards which are also
And they have a spacious cellar for vinifying, aging and sotring their
Laurent is a fan of Burgundy wines and he says he wants his
wines to have the elegance and finesse of wines made of Pinot Noir. Of
course, Syrah is Combier's main grape, along with Marsanne and Roussanne.
By the way, he's in a partnership with two other French winemakers. They
have a wine production in Spain's Priorat. There he's involved in
producing wines made of Grenache, Syrah and Carignane. Combier, by the
way, has his pilot's license so he and his winemaking buddies periodically hop
in the plane and fly (maybe 3 hours, or so) to Spain.
We prefer his French wines, though...these are seriously good and we think he
routinely hits the mark in making elegant wines capturing the essence of
Northern Rhône Syrah.
makes a lovely entry-level Syrah from vines owned by a friend of Combier's.
The fellow now rents the vineyard to Laurent, who's farming it organically and
making this remarkably charming Crozes-Hermitage from relatively young
It's vinified to be drinkable in its youth and, oh yes...is it drinkable!
The "Laurent Combier" Crozes-Hermitage (as opposed to Domaine Combier
for the estate-grown wines) is not oak aged...
It's matured in concrete "egg"-shaped tanks.
Combier had just purchased these when that snapshot (above) was
taken. He was experimenting with that tank and now has fully embraced
The 2016 Laurent Combier Crozes-Hermitage is currently in
stock. It's got a youthful color and the fragrances are spot-on Northern Rhône
Syrah. We like the red berries, hints of green olives and tapenade as well
as the subtle pepper and spice notes. It's a medium-bodied red, not a
full-throttle Syrah as Combier's idea for this is that his restaurant friends
should be able to pour this by-the-glass in their nearby (to the winery)
bistros. Initially he made barely enough for them, but these days he's got
a larger quantity and can send some to his fan club members here in Burlingame.
The main bottling of Crozes-Hermitage is labeled as Domaine Combier.
It's entirely Syrah (they can blend in up to 15% of the white grapes, Marsanne
and/or Roussanne) and this is matured in seasoned oak so as to not cover the
marvelously berryish and spicy notes of the grape.
We have enjoyed this in its youth as it tends to be more precocious than a lot
of (higher priced) Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage wines.
In the realm of $30-$40 French wines, this is a star. We have a few
Burgundies and Bordeaux that are similarly-priced, but Combier's is one of the
Pair this with duck or lamb and do give it perhaps 30 to 60 minutes in the
'fridge to bring it down to cool cellar temperature.
It's a terrific wine in its youth and can cellar well for 5-10 years.
We sold our remaining bottles of Combier's "Clos des Grives," his
older vines bottling from a smallish parcel that's the centerpiece of his
winemaking. The vineyard produces a lower yield and the wine is
fuller-bodied and more concentrated. The wood treatment seems a bit more
lavish, so you may not like the wine if you're allergic to oak.
We requested a taste of the newest vintage, so watch this space...we'll leave
some tasting notes.
Currently in stock: LAURENT COMBIER 2017
DOMAINE COMBIER 2016 CROZES-HERMITAGE $31.99
DOMAINE LA VERDE (Vacqueyras)
- This domaine has been owned by the Camallonga family since 1963, but it
was producing award-winning wines back in the late 1800s. In fact,
the La Verde wine entered in the 1889 Paris Worlds Fair, the fair for
which the Eiffel Tower was built, a gold medal was bestowed in its
One particular item for this estate is the vineyards are in one
parcel. It's 26 hectares and the vines are what we used to consider
"elderly," but now that we qualify for the "senior
discount" at the movie theater, we have a different perspective.
The Camallonga family came to the town of Sarrians in the Southern Rhône
from Algeria and they were not new to winemaking. The clan is of Argentinean
and French heritage, so there's winemaking in their blood.
The family had some help from a neighboring winery in vinifying its
grapes. But their friend soon found he had his hands full making
wines from his own vineyards, so eventually they were on their own.
Wine was mostly sold in bulk at that time.
The new generation of the Camallonga family, young Nicolas, finished his
studies in both winemaking and marketing. He needed customers if the
estate was to bottle its wine, so he contacted our importer friend who had
purchased La Verde wines ages ago.
We happened to be in France as our importer friend was evaluating the
It's a normal wine cellar...cement tanks, stainless steel tanks
and some nice barrels.
We have had La Verde's 2015 "Prelude" Vacqueyras in
the shop...it's Grenache-based, of course with
23% Syrah, 12% Mourvèdre & 10% Cinsault in the mix. You'll find it to
be a medium-bodied wine with some of the red fruit notes and slight spice tones
typical of Southern Rhônes. It's immediately drinkable with a few years
of aging potential, but not a wine that will show much development in the
Truly exceptional is this special bottling of Vacqueyras called
ORA. It's got 25% Syrah and 20% Mourvèdre and some of the wine sees time
This is also from the 2015 vintage.
We find this a bit more robust and perhaps a shade less elegant
than the previous vintage.
It's medium-full bodied and rather supple on the palate...even
smoother with food.
The wine is ideal for winter-time cuisine...braised or stewed meats especially.
Currently in stock: 2015 LA VERDE
"PRELUDE" VACQUEYRAS $17.99
2015 LA VERDE "ORA" VACQUEYRAS $21.99
DES TRAVERS (Robert Charavin)
Charavin's grandpa Elie began selling his wines in 1931 and when World War
II ended, the domaine found even more success.
In 1976 they discovered wine bottles and corks and began employing
both. Soon customers were coming directly to the cellar door in
beautiful downtown Rasteau (well, close to what passes for 'downtown' in the
sleepy village of Rasteau) and carrying away bottles and boxes of bottles to
enjoy at home.
- Today the domaine comprises about 14 hectares, ten or eleven of them in
Rasteau and the rest in neighboring Cairanne. The
vineyards are quite mature, averaging about 40 years of age in most
instances, with the oldest parcels being around 90 years old (Merci
beaucoup, Grandpa Elie!).
Robert told us in 2011 that he'd just acquired a nice patch of 70 year old
- The soil in Rasteau tends to be mostly clay, while his vineyards in
Cairanne tend to be a mix of clay and sand.
- Old vines in Rasteau
- We've been fans of this winery for a number of vintages now. The
wines are routinely of really fine quality, well-made and showing
"precision"; precision in their viticulture, precision in
their vinification and precisely balanced, too.
- The vineyard are now being farmed biodynamically, but Charavin doesn't
make a big fuss about this. Many vintners crow about their organic
farming, but Charavin has long had respect for the vines and has
cultivated in a "responsible" fashion for many years.
These days it's a marketing point for many producers and Charavin seems to
prefer to let his wines do the talking for him.
Though he makes good white wine, it's his Rasteau rouge which is
"For the red wines, my fermentation is like that of a rosé for the
first 6 to 8 days. I like to start with a cool fermentation, so it's
around 16 to 18 degrees Centigrade. Then I let it rise so we obtain
good color, but starting it somewhat cool provides especially fine
aromatics." Charavin explains.
- Robert CharaVin avec un Verre-a-Vin
- The 2016 Rasteau is presently in the shop. It's roughly 60%
Grenache, 30% Syrah with 10% Mourvèdre. As usual, it's a fine
bottle...deep in color, teeming with fruit and a touch of spice.
It's delightful in its youth and should be good for several more years.
We recently added Robert's everyday Côtes du Rhône to our selection of
"good value" wines. This is a bit lighter than his
Rasteau. It's 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah.
The grapes are de-stemmed before the fermentation so as to reduce the
tannins and make a wine that's more immediately drinkable.
Lots of red fruit notes here...no oak...a touch of spice and a modest
price tag make for a nice little wine.
Currently in stock: 2016 COTEAUX DES TRAVERS Rasteau $17.99
2016 COTEAUX DES TRAVERS "CHAR A VIN" $12.99
Cellar at Coteaux des Travers
You'd be smiling, too, if you made wines as good as Charavin's!
More Rhône Selections