Eminent Wines Tour: Rhone
The history of this region is rich and varied. The towns of Orange and Vaison La Romaine have significant Roman heritage, in particular, the theatre in Orange is the best preserved example in Europe. The capital of the department is Avignon and whilst this city was important in Roman times, it is the structures of the 12th - 14th centuries for which it is justifiably famous. In particular, Avignon was the seat of the papacy from 1309 - 1377 and the popes palace dates from this period. It was at this time that the whole of the region was acquired by the Catholic Church and many of its vineyards were planted. In addition, the city is famous for the St Benezet bridge (Pont d'Avignon) of which just 4 of the original 22 arches remain.
This part of France is most famous for its big red wines; in particular the wines of Chateauneuf du Papes can be superb. However, the less famous wines found in the villages surrounding the Dentelles, offer some very attractive wines at a fraction of the price. In particular, some of the winemakers in the villages of Gigondas, Vacqueryas and Rasteau are producing some excellent wines.
Whilst the majority of wine produced in the region is red, there is also a small production of rosé and dry white wines. In addition, the region is also responsible for several sweet / fortified wines including the Muscat de Beaumes de Venise and some sweet Rasteau's.
The French AOC rules about which grapes can be used in the region are at their most broad in the southern Rhone; for example up to 13 varieties can be used in Chateauneuf du Papes and 22 varieties in Gigondas. However, the principal variety used across the region is the Grenache grape. This produces rich and warm wines with a particularly high alcohol content. Other important varieties include Syrah (Shiraz) & Mourvedre.
The Southern Rhone
The land of Vaucluse is where the river Rhone meanders into the beautiful countryside of Provence. The region enjoys an enviable 2600 hours of Mediterranean sunshine per year while the mistral often blows up the valley to provide a welcome breeze in the heat of the day.