Panganai Gomo, founder of The Real Grape, which organises tailor-made wine tour holidays in France, gives us a whistle-stop tour of the wines, restaurants and sights of the Rhône
The Rhône: a diverse land of rugged landscapes, culinary excellence and powerful yet elegant wines. This rich landscape comes into its own during the summer, but is equally as enchanting in autumn and spring. This is why you should make the Rhône your next must-go destination: give yourself just one week to discover the Rhône and you will wish you had given yourself more time.
THE NORTHERN RHÔNE
The incredibly varied land stretches from Lyon in the north to Avignon in the south. Lyon is the obvious place to start your adventure as it is the gateway to the gastronomic excellence of the Northern Rhône: here young chefs have led the resurgence of the gastronomic scene.
Travelling south, Vienne, just 20 miles south of Lyon and opposite the famed sloped vineyards of the Côte-Rôtie, should not be missed. This genteel town boasts impressive Roman ruins and a medieval heritage that have been preserved through the ages. The Temple of Augustus and Livia, the 1st-century AD Théâtre Antique and the la Pyramide (Plan de l’Aiguille) are impressive monuments of antiquity that impose themselves on the modern city.
Hôtel La Pyramide, a legendary establishment which boasts a two-Michelin-star restaurant is the place to stay. The restaurant of this luxury hotel is its main attraction, with chef Patrick Henriroux at its helm. The cuisine respects tradition adding a modern touch, complimented by an exceptional wine list featuring impressive wines of the Rhône. Overlooking Vienne, on the left bank of the river, are the sloping terraced vineyards of Côte-Rôtie. Emblazoned on the steep hillsides are the banners of winemakers such as Chapoutier, Guigal, Bonserine and other Northern Rhône giants. Venture further into the heart of the terroir and you find a group of smaller winemakers whose passion is utterly contagious. Winemakers like Domaine Degache Frères show an amazing understanding of the trademarks of the Northern Rhône through their offering of powerful Côte-Rôtie (Syrah), round and elegant Condrieu (Viogner) and delightfully fresh IGP Marsanne. Tasting their wines under the tutelage of the brothers at their domaine is an experience to be savoured.
As you venture south from Vienne through appellations such as Côte-Rôtie for red wines, Condrieu for white wines and south through Saint-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage and Hermitage, you may wish to stop in Valence as you make your way to Avignon. Just 45 miles south of Vienne and 80 miles north of Avignon, Valance is at the centre of the Rhône. Here, internationally acclaimed chef Anne-Sophie Pic has her eponymously-named three-Michelin-starred restaurant, where you will find a gastronomic showcase of the best produce the Rhône has to offer.
THE SOUTHERN RHÔNE
The landscape of the Southern Rhône is markedly flatter and distinct to the north. Rolling vineyards and lavender fields that explode with colour in the summer are a signature of the Provence. Les Chambres Entre Vigne et Garrigue is an old farmhouse built by Carthusian monks in 1610 that is concealed in the rolling vineyards and lavender fields of Pujaut. Aromas of lavender and pine welcome you into one of their elegant rooms. Fresh herbs from the garden are showcased in the 1 Michelin star kitchen which is overseen by Serge Chenet, a Meilleur Ouvrier de France. Although secluded, Entre Vigne et Garrigue is only 12 miles from Châteauneuf -du-Pape and 6 miles from Tavel.
How can you visit the Rhône without a trip to the town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape? Their Grenache dominated wines will surprise you with the concentrated flavours of the complex blends made with old vine Mourvèdre that bask in the heat of the potato shaped galet stones that are emblematic of the region. The village which used to be a Papal summer residence is almost entirely dedicated to the famous wine. It is centred around picturesque crossroads, restaurants and tasting rooms. Head down one of the side roads from the town centre and you will find yourself at the welcoming Domaine la Barroche. Their unique and elegant red wines showcase the concentration of old vine Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Cinsault cultivated in this iconic terroir. Not to be missed is a tasting of their only white wine, a fresh 100% Clairette that hints at exotic fruits with a heady heart of stone fruit.
Close to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the region of Tavel is a must visit to conclude your week acquainting yourself with the Rhône. Tavel is unique in the Rhône as it is the only appellation that produces rosé wines alone. These rosé wines are gastronomic which are distinctly rich with deep vibrant hues which are a distinct contrast to their paler cousins of the east of Provence. Producers such as Château de Manissy will welcome you to their historic estate where organic and biodynamic production is central to the winemaker’s ethos. The vineyards have been sustainably farmed since the early 20th century. Their dark, spicy and powerful take on rosé will be your greatest discovery of your journey.
Avignon is not an end but a destination in-of-itself, punctuating your discovery of the rich history, gastronomy and fine wine of the Rhône. This town known for its well-preserved ramparts and medieval bridge, Pont Saint-Bénézet is impressive all-around. Wine lovers who are distracted by the medieval charms should head to Carré du Palais to conclude their journey tasting through the great appellations of the Rhône. Wine lovers and gastronauts will not tire of the trove of treasures to be uncovered in the Rhône. A week’s experience is a great introduction to the region however you will soon realise, like the very best Condrieu, the Rhône will leave you wanting more!
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