The hid­den vil­lages of the Côtes du Rhône of­fer fine wines, de­li­cious dishes and a more in­ti­mate taste of ru­ral Provence

France - - Contents -

Do­minic Rip­pon un­corks some of the Rhône Val­ley’s less fa­mil­iar wines.

Sit­u­ated in the far west of Provence, away from the ru­ral glam­our of the Luberon, the vil­lage of Séguret is an oa­sis of calm, perched above a sea of vines in the shadow of the Den­telles de Mont­mi­rail moun­tains. It was founded as a for­ti­fied set­tle­ment in the 10th cen­tury, with nar­row cob­bled streets built as en­closed ter­races that cling to the hill­side, shield­ing the vil­lage from the heat of the sun. The main street, Rue des Poternes, links two an­cient gate­ways, Por­tail de la Bise and Por­tail Neuf, with a se­lec­tion of at­mo­spheric art gal­leries, gourmet restau­rants and cosy cafés that have helped to earn Séguret its clas­si­fi­ca­tion as a Plus Beau Vil­lage de France.

For wine lovers, how­ever, Séguret is bet­ter known for its vine­yards than its ar­chi­tec­tural charm, so I caught up with vigneron Chris­tian Voeux, owner of Do­maine de l’amauve and pres­i­dent of the lo­cal wine­mak­ers’ syn­di­cate. Chris­tian ex­plained that the soils here are mostly clay and lime­stone, although vine­yards are planted in three sep­a­rate zones, the high­est of which is set on a plateau be­hind the hill­top for­est that acts as a back­drop to the vil­lage. Th­ese vine­yards reach an alti­tude of more than 350 me­tres, adding el­e­gance to blends that oth­er­wise epit­o­mise the bold flavours of the hot Mediter­ranean climate.

Séguret is one of 20 vil­lages that is al­lowed to ap­pend its name to the Côtes du Rhône Vil­lages ap­pel­la­tion, which it can ap­ply to its red, white and rosé wines. Reds are by far the most com­mon, made mostly from grenache grapes, com­pleted by syrah and mourvè­dre: they are pow­er­ful and spicy, often age-wor­thy, bear­ing some re­sem­blance to the more fa­mous bot­tles from nearby Gigondas. Séguret’s vi­gnerons have also proved adept at mak­ing fresh, berry-scented rosés, from sim­i­lar grapes, usu­ally har­vested a lit­tle ear­lier and blended with the lighter-bod­ied cin­sault. Only three per cent of Séguret’s wines are white, but the best among them are be­witch­ingly flo­ral blends of rous­sanne, marsanne, grenache blanc and clairette.

One of the most ex­cit­ing things about Séguret, ac­cord­ing to Chris­tian, is that it has en­joyed an in­flux of young wine­mak­ers, who have set up five new es­tates (out of a to­tal of 25) in the ap­pel­la­tion in the past few years. The area also at­tracted in­vest­ment from fur­ther afield, when Bri­tish en­tre­pre­neur Walter Mckin­lay es­tab­lished Do­maine de Mour­chon, high in the Séguret hills, in 1998. The es­tate now makes some of Séguret’s most highly re­garded wines.

Back in the vil­lage, I met Hugo Lev­ingston, Walter Mckin­lay’s son-in-law, at Restau­rant

Le Mesclun, where he poured glasses of the es­tate’s Loubié Rosé: a fan­tas­tic part­ner for my plate of pan-fried scal­lops and grilled tiger prawns. The sum­mer air cooled as we sat on the ter­race, tast­ing through Do­maine de Mour­chon’s range of com­plex, spicy reds as the sun set over the vine­yards be­low.

The fol­low­ing day I headed north, to the even more se­cluded and peace­ful vil­lage of Visan. With just over 400 hectares of vines, Visan is sim­i­lar in size to Séguret, mak­ing wine in all three colours. Un­til re­cently, pro­duc­tion was dom­i­nated by the lo­cal co­op­er­a­tive cel­lar, with only a hand­ful of independent wine­mak­ers, which helps to ex­plain Visan’s rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity as a named Côtes du Rhône vil­lage.

Gen­tler tan­nins

The wines re­flect their cooler, slightly more northerly lo­ca­tion, with reds made mostly from grenache and syrah, with a grow­ing share of carig­nan; the grapes are grown on grav­elly clay soils, yield­ing soft berry fruit and liquorice aro­mas, and gen­tler tan­nins than you find in many south­ern Rhône reds. Visan whites fre­quently in­clude the viog­nier va­ri­ety from the north­ern Rhône, mak­ing el­e­gant, peachy wines with plenty of body.

I drove on to Do­maine Dieu-le-fit, where I was to spend the night. Rémi Pouizin and his wife Géral­dine bought the es­tate in 2014; a grand manor house with an an­cient bis­cuit fac­tory ad­joined, which Rémi con­verted into a win­ery. The es­tate’s range of or­ganic wines in­cludes a food-friendly white, made only from marsanne, which shows de­li­ciously pure white flower and peach aro­mas, and an aus­tere, mus­cu­lar grenache-based red blend called Visan ‘Gar­rigues’.

Rémi poured gen­er­ous sam­ples, which we sipped in the early-evening shade, sur­rounded by the scents of gar­rigue herbs and baked earth, ci­cadas chirrup­ing in the grass. I sat back and lis­tened to Rémi en­thuse about Visan, the wines of the Rhône and or­ganic viti­cul­ture, be­fore gath­er­ing clouds forced us to de­camp in­doors, where the first course of a hearty home-made feast was wait­ing for us.

Do­minic Rip­pon has many years’ ex­pe­ri­ence in the wine trade, both in the UK and France, and now runs the wine mer­chant busi­ness Strictly Wine.

LEFT: Vine­yards at Séguret; ABOVE: Rémi Pouizin among the vines of Do­maine Dieu-le-fit; BE­LOW: The vil­lage of Séguret

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