Domaine de la Présidente Winery
I believe there’s a real holiday factor when it comes to wines you try overseas – they always taste better in their local setting.
A few months ago my family and some friends rented a house for a week just north of Orange, deep in the heart of France’s Côtes du Rhône wine region. I have retasted a few of the wines we drank since I’ve been back. Memories of the holiday came flooding back and the wines tasted as good as I remembered.
The Côtes du Rhône covers a huge area of southern France – stretching from the Rhône River east to the Vaucluse-Luberon chain of mountains and from Avignon in the south to Vienne in the north.
There’s a hierarchy to the region’s wines, just like in the rest of France, with the entry level being Côtes du Rhône.
Village wines are the next level up in quality, and wines from specific villages sit at the top of the pile. Reds in the southern part, where we were based, are generally blends of grenache, shiraz, mourvèdre and cinsault and the whites a mix of marsanne, roussanne and viognier. While there are other grapes included in these blends, more often than not they are bit-part players.
Maybe it was the hot weather, or the food, but I generally enjoyed drinking the entry-level Côtes du Rhône wines more than their more expensive siblings.
It was quite a boon that the cheapest wines at cellar doors were the wines I wanted to drink – they were lighter and had a purity about them that some of the more expensive wines didn’t quite have.
As the wines moved up in the pecking order they tended towards the bigger end of town; fuller-bodied and showing more oak influence.
Domaine de la Présidente Winery
It didn’t take long to find a balance between tasting wines and enjoying a holiday in the Rhône. Our days involved breakfast in the pretty town of Sainte-Cécile-les-Vignes, before a visit to a nearby town.
Afternoons were spent meandering back to the house via wineries and cellar doors, tasting wine and trying to find the perfect wine to drink with dinner.
I was keen to visit Domaine Font de Michelle in the famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape region. It has an Aussie connection; third-generation winemaker Guillaume Gonnet is married to a Sydneysider, and I’d heard good things about the wines.
The GPS took us around the houses and what should have been a 20-minute trip took 40. We arrived a bit flustered but were greeted by Kelly Gonnet, who said: “My three-year-old Olivia is out the back with her grandmother. She’s never played with an Aussie girl before.”
We left two hours later with a tuckered-out child and a great understanding of the Gonnet’s wines. The Font de Michelle wines are available in Australia. I’ve already found a few.
I studied French until the end of year 11 and had an OK grasp of the language, but it’s rusty these days.
Fortunately, most winemaking terms are French, so I could get the gist of what winemakers were saying. I even summoned the courage to ask a few questions. It showed, too, that even though communications were strained, if you show an interest in wine to a winemaker they’re always keen to show you the inner workings.
Domaine des Bacchantes 2010
(Côtes du Rhône) $24; 15%
A 70/20/10 blend of syrah, grenache and mourvèdre, this is a wine of heady restraint, with rich blackberry, cherry, raspberry and plum aromas, mixed with dried herb and dusty, wet stone. This packs a savoury punch, with medium-bodied flavours of dark and red fruits, along with a strap of leather. Sandy tannins and bright acid complete the picture with good structure and there’s a nice savoury finish with an appealing twist of bitter dried herbs.
Food match \ Charcuterie plate
La Font du Vent Les Promesses Blanc 2010
(Côtes du Rhône) $20; 13.5%
La Font du Vent is Domaine Font de Michelle’s
Côtes du Rhône offering. It’s 100 per cent viognier and has gorgeous floral aromas, apricot, peach flesh and stone, spice and lemon zest. Not a powerhouse, but a generous wine nonetheless, with pure, subtle flavours of peach, pear, minerality and a lick of herbs. It’s rich, with a smooth, viscous texture and energetic acidity that reins the wine in and balances out the structure. Length is pretty good, too.
Food match \ Aparagus and egg en cocotte
Château de Ségriès Côtes du Rhône 2010
(Côtes-du-Rhône) $25.90; 14%
Château de Ségriès is based in the Lirac region, just on the other side of the Rhône to Chateauneuf-du-Pape. They produce this Côtes du Rhône, too, which is a blend of 50 per cent grenache, 30 per cent syrah and the remainder a mix of cinsault and carignan. Black cherries, white pepper, spice, raspberry, earth and plum aromas lead to a medium-bodied palate that’s filled with earthy red and black berries, liquorice, minerals and herbes de Provence. Sandy, grippy tannins, bright acidity and a decent finish complete a pretty picture.
Food match \ Steak tartare
Oratoire St Martin Cuvée Prestige
(Côtes du Rhône) $50; 14.5%
From the village Cairanne, close to where we were staying, the grapes for this were hand-harvested from vines planted in 1905. It’s a blend of 60 per cent grenache and 40 per cent mourvèdre. Perfumed and floral, this is loaded with aromas of squashed cherries, raspberry, spice, liquorice and herbs. It’s a similar story on the vibrant, medium-bodied palate, and there’s an earthy note that carries through with the flavours.
Food match \ Wood-fired pizza
Love a bargain?
Rive Droite Rive Gauche 2010
(Côtes-du-Rhône) $15; 14.5%
Imported by the Prince Wine Store, where it sells for $12.50 when bought by the case, this is a blend of 60 per cent grenache, 30 per cent syrah,10 per cent mourvèdre and cinsault. There’s a lot going on, with aromas of violets, cherry, raspberry, plum, liquorice and spice. There’s good depth and a touch of sweetness to the core of red and black fruit flavours, but it’s not confected or jammy. Fine sandy tannins and vibrant acidity are nicely balanced with the ripe, lingering flavours.
Food match \ Duck rillettes