Northern Rhone Valley Wine Region

October 2019

Northern Rhone Valley Wine Region – Lyon Wine Tours

We had a tough time finding a tour company out of Lyon which I was honestly very surprised about. Those that were available either expected you to have our own car or charged an exorbitant about of money. Lyon Wine Tours was just right, including round trip service from Lyon, and offered a variety of tour options. We selected the “Tannin Tour” which takes guests through Northern Rhone Valley Wine Region. This was our first visit to the vineyards in France so we were so excited to start learning about French wine. 

While Italy has certainly spoiled us with private wine tours, the small group options with Lyon Wine Tours worked very well as the max is eight people so it is still very intimate. There was another couple from NYC and a group of four gentlemen Norwegians that travel as a wine club (super cool!). Our guide Vincent grew up in the town of Condrieu know for producing Viognier. He spent time in many different parts of the world wine making and is now operating this tour showcasing his home town. Vincent is passionate and full of energy we were knew it was going to be a good day! 

We journeyed about a half hour south of Lyon before the breathtaking rolling hills made their appearance. Vincent pulled the van off the road by an area full of vines where he explained the grapes, the techniques used in France, and the terroir. Most notably, each vine is individually tied to a poll as opposed to the more common style on the wires linked together. This is because the hills are so steep and the wind is so strong in this region. The scenery was absolutely stunning, it was hard to stop taking pictures! All the picking was done two weeks ago but all the vines still had full leaves starting to turn colors. 

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There are ten crus that make up the Northern Rhone Wine Region – eight that focus on Syrah and two that focus on Viognier. We would be visiting Cote Rotie and Condrieu on this trip. While I am not a fan of California Syrah, the Syrah from here has higher tannins so through the aging process it produces a more elegant, balanced wine. Since Condrieu produced 100% Viognier, it is one of the most pure expressions of the grape. The wine is full bodied with a sweetness brought forward with flavors like peaches and honeysuckle.

Our first stop in Cote Rotie was a Domaine Guy Bernard for a set of brothers that are fourth generation wine makers. We had the opportunity to see the wine making process in action in the critical days following grape picking. The group watched as they pumped out juice to push the grape skins back down to the bottom of the fermentation tank.

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This is done two to three times a day for almost two weeks before the juice makes its way out of the fermentation tanks and on to the barreling process. Certainly made me nervous to watch this wine free flowing into a kiddie pool!

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We then went down to the cellar barrel room, learning more about the barrels and their role in wine making. 

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On to tasting! We tried five different wines – two white and three red. The white grapes are all Viognier and the red grapes are all Syrah (no surprise there!). The variation comes from the terroir and this side by side tasting showcasing that perfectly. This was a good demonstration and really drove the point home. The wines were all excellent. Getting to try different vintages of Syrah really showed the progression of the tannins. And this introduction to Viognier certainly opened us up to a new favorite white wine. Syrah is for drinking later, Viognier is for drinking now.

Vincent explained how French wine labels are written but I have to say it is still confusing! There is a lot the drinker needs to know in order to understand what you are drinking and reading on the label.

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The nomenclature is reliant on the appellation and it is up to you to know which grapes are grown there by that producer to pick your wine.  We constantly had to ask which grape was in particular wines in order to know what we were ordering. Maybe one day we will be “that good” to know what plot of wines which grape planted but that is certainly for another time! 

Off the lunch where we continued our wine education and tasting. Bar et Gourmet is located in this small town of Condrieu serving up some great food with a killer wine list.

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The table had the opportunity to try other Syrah crus fro Northern Rhone includeing Saint-Joseph and Crôzes-Hermitage. My favorite was the While the Domaine Mouton Condrieu Cote-Bonnette 2018 was perfection in a bottle – one of my favorite wines of the trip. 

We all got to chose from a pre-fix three course option with several choices for each dish.

  • Salade Condriote 2.1 (Mesclun, Crudites, Rigotte fraiche sur son pain maison aux nior) – delightful fresh salad, much needed! 
  • Gratin de Crozet, facon Tartiflette – adult french mac and cheese with the best cheese) 
  • Chocolate lava cake – no fancy french words for this one and yes it was incredible 

Thank you Vincent for taking us to such a great location! 

The wine tour continued at Domaine Degache Freres which was situated on top of the hills offering spectacular views sweeping though the valley.

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Here, we tried four wines, two white and two red, which again helped demonstrate terroir – how impactful the type of soil and rock are on the grapes. The wine making is truly done in the vineyard. It is the winemakers job to maintain the integrity and allow the wine to shine. 

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Vincent took the group to another incredible view of the valley – it was so hard to stop smiling. 

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Then the most unique part of this wine tour is that Vincent invited us all into his home- the basement floor converted into a lovely tasting room! Here we tried many wines – tasting and contrasting grapes with different regions to highlight the characteristics. For example, he opened a Syrah from California and compared to one like we tried today and the difference was very obvious. I never like California Syrah much and this tour helped me understand the Syrah I do like. We also got to meet his lovely Cali girlfriend and adorable border collie! 

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Once finished, we all packed up in the van and made it make to Lyon around 6:30PM – a very full day of wine! Vincent dropped each of us off where we are staying – never had such door to door service! The day was packed with different experiences and I feel we walked away with a greater understanding of this wine region, along with the patterns of French wine. 

We had such a great time on this tour and wish Vincent much success with this business – he is well suited for this work and extremely passionate and knowledge. If you are visiting Lyon I highly recommend you take a trip with Vincent to explore this wine region. 

Read about the rest of Lyon – COMING SOON!

 

 

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