For the third edition in our #fallinlovewithFrance series, we’re taking a virtual trip to the Rhone Valley, the most important wine region in southern France. Fall is a spectacular time of year to travel in this region as it’s France’s second-largest wine producing area with spectacular displays as temperatures drop and the vine leaves change their color from vibrant green to brilliant yellows and oranges. Join us as we explore this fascinating region which sits on the picturesque banks of the Rhone river.
Fall in the Rhone Valley
Vines were first cultivated in the Rhone Valley for winemaking in the fourth century BC by the Greeks who settled around the modern-day city of Marseilles. As one of France’s biggest wine regions, the Rhone Valley has a huge variety of different terroirs, soil types, and landscapes. Today the region is typically divided into two, the Northern and the Southern Rhone, due to the different characteristics of each area. Fall comes earlier in the Northern Rhone where the climate is more extreme with cold winters and cooler summers than the south. In contrast, the Southern Rhone is closer to the Mediterranean Sea and enjoys milder winters and hot, sunny summers.
The Rhone Valley is so vast, it can be hard to choose where to begin your wine tour! We highly recommend starting in the gastronomic city of Lyon (above) and making your way down the Rhone Valley from north to south via the region’s top appellations until you hit the stunning medieval city of Avignon in the south which was actually the seat of the Catholic popes during the 14th century. Highlights include Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the south which is known for its hearty reds, Condrieu which produces delicious full-bodied white wines, and the steep vineyards of the world-famous Hermitage hill which sits above the modest town of Tain-l’Hermitage.
Be sure to stop off along the way to explore ancient villages, wander along charming medieval streets packed with authentic local shops, and grab a bite to eat in family-run restaurants serving up delicious cuisine. Local fall classics include Poulet d’Avignon, a rich chicken dish cooked with plenty of white wine, mushroom risotto prepared with black truffles, and hearty dishes from Lyon and the north such as thick sausages served with potatoes prepared with cream, butter and parsley.
Festivals & Events
With several big cities and numerous vibrant towns and villages, the Rhone Valley has a packed calendar of festivals and events. During fall many of them pay homage to the region’s bounteous crop of food and drink, such as the Feria des Vendanges which takes place in Times in September. This week-long fair celebrates the wine harvest with pop-up bars in the street, live music and parades through the city. In Lyon, considered one of France’s top gastronomic cities, October is the month for the Lyon Street Food Festival which hosts some 100 chefs from across the country serving up delicious French classics and dishes from further afield. There are also lots of cultural events at this time, including “Les Musicades” which takes place in September in Lyon with chamber music concerts held across the city.
Our Favorite Rhone Valley Wines
Red wines from the Rhone Valley are the perfect accompaniment to hearty fall dishes since they are typically made in a rich, luscious style with plenty of dark fruit flavors and spicy notes from maturing the wine in oak barrels. One particular favorite with our French wine club members is our Chateauneuf du Pape Roque Colombe. This stunning Chateauneuf-du-Pape comes from France’s sunny Rhone Valley close to the important ancient city of Avignon. Here the hot, dry summers and well-draining stony soils help to create deep, intensely flavored and full bodied red wines.
The family (above) who make this wine are part of a local cooperative called Rhonea which allows them to support each other and work as members of one big winemaking family. This “stronger together” mentality takes the form of a participatory model that puts people, especially the winemakers, at the heart of their business model and allows them to produce superb wines using their collective skills and knowledge.
Like many red wines from the Rhone Valley, the Roque Colombe is a careful composition of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre grapes which are indigenous to the region. This traditional blend works so well because the Grenache gives rich jammy fruit flavours and alcohol, the Syrah adds spice, depth and plenty of structure, and the Mourvedre adds colour and complexity. Rich and smooth with luxurious ripe fruit aromas, hints of leather, dried fruit and dried wild herbs, the Roque Colombe is an ideal choice to accompany hearty fall food like rich duck and game dishes.
Another somMailier favorite is the Via Caritatis Lux in Domino, a heavenly red wine made by the monks and nuns of Sainte Madeleine de Barroux Abbey. Via Caritatis means “way of charity” in Latin and the project represents an unusual collaboration between local winemakers and monks. Sainte Madeleine de Barroux Abbey teamed up with the Beaumont de Ventoux cooperative to create some very special wines from their combined 30 hectares of vines in the foothills of Mount Ventoux in the Southern Rhone Valley.
Conditions here are ideal for producing exceptional wines thanks to the altitude and cooling Mistral winds which help to moderate the heat of hot summer days. All of the work in the vineyard is done by hand, and the monks have been guided by one of the most accomplished consultant oenologists, Philippe Cambie, to select the very best plots to produce their top wines like Lux in Domino. This luscious red blend is composed of Syrah from the monks’ vineyards and Grenache from the nuns’ enclosed vineyard. Following vinification, the wine is aged in a combination of concrete tanks and 20% in oak barrels for two years. Bursting with succulent dark fruit and a firm structure, this is an excellent wine to add to your cellar or to drink now alongside rich red meat dishes on a cool fall evening!
If white wine is more your thing, be sure to sample our stunning Les Perraches from Domaine Serre des Vignes. This sensational white wine crafted by a duo of young winemakers, Vincent and Jerome Roux (above). Vincent and Jerome share a deep passion for caring for their estate, Serrre des Vignes, which has been in their family for generations. The 98 acre property has significant plantings of old vines which produce deliciously concentrated wines.
Their delicious dry white wine, Les Perraches, is a blend of 50% Roussanne, 40% Marsanne, 10% Grenache Blanc, all indigenous grape varieties which are adapted to suit the local conditions. The delicate blend combines the very best elements of each grape variety’s character, producing a wine that is crisp and fresh with plenty of tropical fruit, lime and grapefruit aromas and flavours.