The original title of this topic is “Little Known Southern Rhone Gems”, which I took to mean less well known wines of quality and/or unusual type. However, after initial research I began to re-cast the meaning.

You will be aware that most of the Southern Rhone, Côtes du Rhône, wine area is East of the Rhône itself: mostly in Vaucluse, partly in Drôme. Vaucluse is the home of Châteauneuf, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Beaumes-de-Venise… and most of the well known Côtes du Rhône Villages [CDRV].

Bordered on the West by the Rhône river, Vaucluse is part of Provence for administrative purposes. However the other side of the river, technically part of Languedoc-Roussillon, is Gard – which is also considered part of the Southern Rhône wine area.

As you will know, the best wine in S. Rhône is in the individual village appellations (e.g. Gigondas) and the next level down in the villages that are allowed to add their name to CDRV (eg Sablet, Cairanne).

At these two levels (individual Rhone AOC and named CDRVs) Gard only produces about 23% of Southern Rhône Wine (though the inclusion of the large Costières de Nîmes area takes this up to 42%). So it’s not so surprising that the area is a bit neglected.

Whereas the East side of the Rhône is home to the most famous Southern Rhône AOC (Châteauneuf-du-Pape; Gigondas; Vacqueyras; Beaumes-de-Venise; Rasteau; and Vinsobres), Gard has only two AOC in their own right: Lirac and Tavel – which are most famous for Rosé. In addition (further south around the town of the same name) there is the Costières de Nîmes AOC, which is balanced between the S. Rhône and Languedoc in position and style.

 

NB - Both Rasteau and Beaumes- are now AOC for red wine too. Vinsobres (in the NE of the region) is also AOC.

NB – Both Rasteau and Beaumes- are now AOC for red wine too. Vinsobres (in the NE of the region) is also AOC.

 

At the level below AOC are the Villages allowed to add their village name to the label of Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC. There are 18 of these, but only 4 in Gard: Chusclan, Laudun, Signargues & Saint Gervais.

(BTW Vaucluse has 10 [Cairanne, Puymeras,   Massif d’Uchaux, Plan de Dieu, Gadagne, Sablet, Séguret, Roaix, Valréas, Visan] while Drôme has 4 [Rochegude, Rousset-les-Vignes, Saint-Maurice-sur-Eygues & Saint-Pantaléon-les-Vignes]).

Is there a discernable difference in style between the two sides of the river? Naturally, you’ll make your own mind up about that, but there are some objective differences.

Of course the red grapes are the same: mostly Grenache; substantial amounts of Syrah; smaller amounts of Mourvèdre and Cinsault among the reds. On the white side there are Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Picpoul. Only the presence of the last is really a West Bank trait.

Also Rosé is relatively uncommon in the East, but much more often found in the West and is the main product in Tavel, where it is sometimes promoted as “the winter Rosé”

However there is considerable difference in soil types. Most of the East side is based on clay with seams or bases of limestone and granite. This combination gives heavy, powerful wines and tannins and longevity to the reds. On the West side only Lirac has a similar geology, and permits big powerful wines – whites as well as reds.

In the rest of the West, however, sandy and gravelly soils are much more common giving lighter than expected and softer wines.

Further South gravel is widespread in Costières de Nîmes, allowing deep rooted vines and allowing access to water in the intensely hot periods. The cool on-shore breezes also ensure a high temperature difference between night and day. This is good for vines, developing higher acidity and leads to fresher and lighter wines than might be expected from the Southerly latitude.

These facts tally a little with my limited and subjective impression: that rather like the landscape, the wines are a little more open and herbaceous than their more eastern counterparts. Euro for Euro they are also a bit better value. In my view the wine styles are a little more rustic and, except for the big Liracs, a touch more immediate. In addition, they have been spared the International hype of the bigger names in the Vaucluse and (to be fair) like the majority of the whole area built to accompany the (olive oil, herbs and tomato) cuisine.

We’ll taste 6 wines from Gard on Ocotber 2nd, for the WING group to decide if those impressions are borne out. Notes will be posted in 4 or 5 days….

Until then…..

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