July 24, 2017

Europe '17 - Rhone

Our time in the Rhone is on the one hand hardly worth writing up, yet even just a few hours passing through with a couple of brief stops left an impression on me.

Rhone wines, particularly the southern Rhone, were among my first loves in wine. I could afford Cotes du Rhone and I quickly learned about less prestigious villages like Rasteau and Vacqueyras that we're much pricier, at the time any way.

Of course, Chateauneuf du Pape the king of the south, and there's the whole other story of the Northern Rhone, which will have to wait until another time. For now, just a blurry pic from the autoroute as we headed by Cote Rotie. Still gorgeous.

Our only glimpse of Cote Rotie...from the A7

Our goal for the day was Roman ruins on the way to Provence, so we stopped for lunch on the plaza in Orange, across from the incredible Roman amphitheater. After lunch we hiked up the hill to a look down into the theater.

The 2,000 year old amphitheater in Orange
From Orange, we were so close to Chateauneuf that I couldn't avoid a detour to return where I'd visited back in 1994. And if I remembered correctly, we'd have a nice look from the hilltop there across the entire southern Rhone valley.

Looking out to the Rhone from the ruins at Chateauneuf du Pape
The wines of Chateauneuf we a favorite of my paternal grandfather, and the name always stuck in my mind. When I came to France in 1994 I'd already discovered my wine passion, and I had a memorable day trip here from Avignon where I saw for myself the intensely rocky vineyards I'd heard this region was known for.

The rocky terroir on the hill of Chateauneuf looking east
We drove to the castle ruins and looked around, the air warm and dry with a loud buzz of cicadas. TO the south and west you could see the Rhone and Avignon. TO the east, the rolling countryside, the Dentelles of Gigondas, even the bare rock summit of Mont Ventoux in the distance.

An old vine at Ch. Maucoil next to the ruins

I wandered up the road a bit to see the vines of Ch. Maucoil up close. Their vines abut the ruins and show the rounded boules of this ancient floodplain. Vines are typically head trained unlike the vertical trellis common in Burgundy, the wines here warm and stony, at their best a more heady and totally different but no less elegant wine than great red Burgundy.

I wanted to stop to taste somewhere but the day was fading and we still have a ways to go. I thought of a handful of bottles from this area back in the home cellar, and plans to drink them soon and think of this afternoon stop.

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