In 2013 I ran five tours to the Rhone Valley. On each tour we got straight down to business from Lyon Airport. A 45 minute drive took us to the to small village of Ampuis, home to some of the biggest names of the Northern Rhone. En route we enjoyed spectacular scenery, witnessing first hand the legendary steepness of Côte Rôtie hillsides, with the Syrah vines barely clinging on.
All tours kicked off with a tasting lunch at a local restaurant, enjoyed with a selections of Northern Rhone wines. We visited Vidal-Fleury, an major Rhone producer, and began to get to grips with the differences between the famous appellations, from Côte Rôtie in the north, through Condrieu, Saint-Joseph, Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas and on southwards into the Cotes du Rhone, and Yves Cuilleron.
We stayed in Valence, beside the Rhone river, a lovely combination of historic old city and a fine modern one, ideally situated to access the Rhone to both north and south.
Our first full day took us to the hallowed vineyards of Chateauneuf du Pape, with our first stop at the acclaimed Domaine Grand Veneur, owned by Alain Jaume, where we tasted through a high quality selection of basic Cote du Rhone reds, through to old vine red Chateauneuf du Papa as well as some top quality and somewhat rarer white Chateauneuf du Pape made from Grenache Blanc. On each tour we had lunch right in the centre of the town of Chateauneuf du Pape, at the now sadly shut La Mère Germaine. We enjoyed a classic French lunch with panoramic views out across the vineyards to the south.
After lunch we visited Domaine de la Mordorée in neighbouring Lirac, which shares almost identical terroir with Chateauneuf du Pape but is in its more famous neighbour’s shadow. Mordorée are organic and biodynamic and have carved out a reputation for being one of the best estates in the appellation.
Our day in Côtes du Rhone country, took us first to Domaine l’Ameillaud in Cairrane. Here we gained a fabulous insight into the millions of years of geology of the region, and tasted their range of wines incorporating Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Mourvèdre.
The McKinlay family established Domaine de Morchon in 1998 when they bought twenty hectares of mature vines and set about creating a winery and a retirement project! Perched on hillside with stunning views of villages with famous names such as Gigondas, this was the most fabulous visit. Son in law Hugh Levingston took us up into the vineyards, and entertained us fabulously with stories of the estate, including the full time effort required to establish an English owned vineyard in deepest France. The family put on a superb buffet lunch of local delicacies in their stunning garden.
Our final day took us north back up the Rhone to Tain l’Hermitage, the home to the eponymous appellations of Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage. First stop was at Domaine Fayolle where Celine Nodin, who with her brother Laurent Fayolle, is continuing a family business growing wine on the domaine since 1870. She explained the history in the old cellar and described their philosophy of healthy vines and sustainable production methods. She conducted a lovely tasting of their range of Crozes-Hermitages Syrahs and Saint-Péray Marsanne.
After free time to find lunch, climb the famous hill, past some very famous named vineyards, or sample some chocolate as the Valrhona outlet (a short walk from the centre of Tain) we convened at Chapoutier. The visit comprised a very entertaining video which gave us a deep insight into the philosophy of the Chapoutier family and revealed the significance of Michel Chapoutier (the phrase “what a guy” seems appropriate). Our tasting included Saint-Péray and white Crozes-Hermitage (also made from Marsanne) and some very fine reds. We finished with a visit to the shop, to pick up some vintages not available in the UK, and to admire the varied exhibits.
Our final dinner in the old historic town of Valence enabled us to celebrate the fabulous gastronomy that the region is famed for.
“The visit to the Rhone Valley proved to be yet another superb wine tour organised by Tim Syrad. The differences between the wines from the North and South Rhone was well demonstrated and it was quite an experience to see vines engulfed by the hot, flat ‘galet’ stones on our visit to Chateauneuf du Pape. The quality variations between wines from different ‘appelations’ proved interesting and, as ever, the tasting lunches were excellent. Many thanks Tim for providing a great wine tasting experience!” – Keith Grant, South Oxfordshire