The Sun-kissed Rhone

The village of Gordes
Last month I attended a small, intimate tasting of Rhone wines at the new Maple Leaf Hotel here in downtown Toronto. As a lover of Rhone wines, I was very honoured to have been invited to such an event. When I learned that the famed winemaker, Michel Gassier was also going to be there, well, that was the icing sur le gâteau.
Pont du Gard
The southern Rhone has such a special place in my heart. I hold many sentimental feelings to this beautiful region from my various past adventures. While everyone gushes over the architecture and art of Paris, my dreams remain south among the vineyards and lavender fields. I still have a few bottles of wine sitting rack which I lugged back with me from my most recent trip. Whenever I wish to re-live my adventures there, I yank out a bottle and savour ever last drop. Pictures really don't do the south of France justice. You really just have to go there to understand the true beauty of it all. The entire region is laced with sunshine, Roman ruins, vineyards, beautiful villages and most importantly, gracious people. I remember walking one morning in a small village just outside of Avignon with some freshly baked croissants only to see some locals sitting on patios with small glasses of rose wine. I found that so civilized!
The natural beauty of the Calanques

There is so much to see in this small but diverse region. Centuries of history have left a mark on every corner. While I fully support our local Ontario wine industry, I do posses a love-affair with the Rhone wines. You could say that I often cheat on Ontario with the Rhone. Shh...

The wines are warm, welcoming and come in a array of price ranges. If you're looking for an every day red to pop open on a Tuesday night or something a bit more expensive as a gift, this region can supply. If you're looking for an enjoyable wine for a good price, look no further than the different regions of the Rhone.

As stated on Jancis Robinson's website:

"This is the region of France's most user-friendly wines...Perhaps it's because the southern Rhône is the gateway to, a land of olive trees, cicadas, sunshine and Impressionist summer landscapes." -

Here is map of the Rhone Valley:

Quick Facts:
  • The Rhone Valley is one region with two parts: Northern and Southern Rhone.
  • The Northern Rhone produces less wine than the south and can often command higher prices.
  • Main grapes used in the Northern Rhone are Syrah (red) and Viogner (white).
  • The reds from the Northern Rhone are often meant for ageing.
  • Climate of the Southern Rhone is more Mediterranean.
  • Wines in the South are made mostly made as blends with Grenache being often the predominant variety in the reds.
  • Tavel is the area in the South that is known for its Rose wines.
  • The prevailing Mistral Winds aid in ripening the grapes as well as to thwart disease and rot.
  • There are more and more vineyards that are going organic or biodynamic.
  • Delicious, reliable wines for great value can often be found!

Sorting Grapes
The wines from the Rhone Valley are categorized by quality levels. Starting with your basic Cotes du Rhone going all the way to Cru. These categories signify where the fruit is allowed to be sourced from and what kind of restrictions are in place for that fruit, such as minimum ripeness etc. The generic Cotes du Rhone can be from anywhere within the region whereas the fruit for Cru must come a very specific place and has the most strict quality standards.

  • Cotes du Rhone
    • Fruit can be sourced from any area within the Rhone although most, if not all, comes from the South. This will be your basic regional wine.
  • Cotes du Rhone-Villages
    • Slightly more restrictive as to where the fruit can come from with further quality controls on the fruit. Village names are not permitted on the label. The fruit can come from many of the allowed villages at this classification.
  • Cotes du Rhone-Villages (with village name)
    • The fruit can come from one of the designated villages that show slightly higher complexity in their wines. Slightly more restrictions on the production than the Cotes du Rhone-Villages.
    • For example: Cotes du Rhone-Village Cairanne. 
  • Cru
    • From specific villages in both the Northern and Southern Rhone. Wines with this designation face the strictest quality control levels.
    • These wines won't have the "Cotes du Rhone" in front of the name. Only the village name. Some villages are Gigondas, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Vacqueyras,Vinsobres,Rasteau, Saint-Joseph,Tavel and Hermitage.

Michel Gassier
Winemaker extrodinaire!
I first became acquainted with Michel Gassier over Twitter believe it or not. I had just enjoyed a delicious bottle of his 2007 Chateau De Nages JT Costieres De Nimes. I reviewed it on the popular site The review automatically got pushed to Twitter and he re-tweeted me! Not only is he a fantastic wine maker but also very social media savvy. Of course, after that, I "liked" him on Facebook, followed him on Twitter, read his LinkedIn profile, subscribed to his YouTube channel and his blog. Hmm, I can't help but feel like a cyber-stalker. As a perpetual student of wine, I'm very interested in these behind-the-scenes postings that Michel uploads. He discusses all aspects of winemaking from viticultural to the vinification practices he uses. Now you can understand why I was so looking forward to meeting him. I was able to ask many (perhaps too many!) questions face-to-face. His English was superb I must say.

The Arena of Nimes Roman amphitheater
Built around 70 AD

The wines by Michel Gassier come from the region in the southern Rhone, known as Costières de Nîmes. In the map above, the region is located in the bottom left.

"The most southern of the Rhône Valley 
vineyards...The Costières de Nîmes vineyards are the link between two regions that make up the cradle of the wine civilization: 
Provence and the Languedoc."

Wines tasted

On the website, you can find details about each wine from how it was made to the ideal food pairings.  What really impressed me about the wines by Michel Gassier, was the wonderful acidity found in them since they do come from such a warm climate. It really was a shame to spit during the tasting. What's wrong with a liquid lunch? :)

For detailed tasting notes and other information, click the links below.
Note that the wines on the website may be from different vintages than tasted.

Les Pilers 2010 Viognier

The 2009 was available at the LCBO but it's all sold out!

A delicious Viognier showing acidity with peach and citrus fruit. The 2009 retailed for $15.95 which is a great price for the quality of this wine. Can't wait for the 2010 to come. I just love a good Viognier. A white to look out for.

Lou Coucardie 2010 Red Blend

60% Mourvèdre, 30% Grenache and 10% Syrah.
AOC Costières de Nîmes

This wine has personality. It's bold and concentrated with ripe fruit and spicy notes. Good tannins and texture. Decant before serving.

Nostre Pais 2009 Red Blend

35% Grenache Noir, 25% Carignan, 20% Mourvèdre, 15% Cinsault & 5% Syrah
AOC Costières de Nîmes

This was my favourite of the wines tasted. All the wines were fantastic but this one in particular resonated with me. This wine just had a wonderful complexity! There was a beautiful aroma, not much heat, good acidity, fruit and herbal notes. What I loved about this wine was the apparent minerality and freshness. That's what I love about Michel Gassier's wines. They're just so well made and balanced.

A wine video by Michel Gassier...I learn so much from these!

The next series of wines were from the new Dauvergne Ranvier.
Olivier Zorel, who is with the export department, was there to talk about the wines of this joint venture between Francois Dauvergne and Jean-Francois Ranvier.

Francois Dauvergne
Jean-Francois Ranvier

Dauvergne Ranvier
Gigondas 2007
"With no vines, no cellar and not a lot of money, how do you create a winery? It’s from this question was born a unique savoir-faire explains François Dauvergne: As we had no vines but we wanted to create our own wines, we had to establish strong relationships with winegrowers in the Rhône Valley. In exchange for our advice and good compensation, we select the best plots of vines which the growers then work for us following our guidelines. "
Dauvergne Ranvier

Dauvergne-Ranvier has a very large portfolio with wines representing much of the Rhone Valley:

The three photos of wines here are available at the LCBO. I'm happy about that because I can give these wines a nice home in my wine rack.

Wines tasted (click on the link to read critic's tasting notes):
Dauvergne Ranvier
Vacqueyras 2009
2010 Dauvergne-Ranvier Luberon Red
2009 Dauvergne-Ranvier Vacqueyras
2009 Dauvergne-Ranvier Saint-Joseph
2009 Dauvergne-Ranvier Crozes-Hermitage

I enjoyed all of the Dauvergne-Ranvier wines tasted. The Luberon will retail for perhaps $12. It's a fruity, easy drinking wine that is made with Syrah and Grenache. For the money, this wine will go over well.

What a fabulous way to spend my lunch. I really wanted to practice some of my French but I was too shy. Instead, I just sat back and admired the accents. For more information about the event, here is a post by Tim Appelt of

Thank you to the wonderful people of Sopexa for inviting me to this tasting and for promoting this amazing region!

If you ever have a chance to go to the Rhone, don't pass it up. You won't be disappointed. From the sights to the wine, there's something for everyone. Hopefully I'll be there sometime this year...Michel Gassier and folks at Dauvergne-Ranvier - I hope to be knocking on your doors for some more great wine! :)

To learn more about the wines of the Rhone: