Saturday, November 25, 2023

Sensuous Whites of the Southern Rhone

                                Switzerland's Rhone Glacier is the birthplace of the Rhone River

Today's blog will discuss the rare but wonderfully voluptuous white wines of the Southern Rhone River Valley.  The Rhone River is one of the most significant waterways in all of Europe.   Birthed in the Swiss Alps near Geneva, the river flows westward into France, then makes a sharp turn in the city of Lyon southward toward the Mediterranean.   On its southern journey to the sea, the Rhone River passes through both of the coveted viticultural areas of the Northern and Southern Rhone. 

White wine in the Southern Rhone accounts for only 4% of the wine production.  These whites are scarce little gems.  Whenever I'm in France dining at a Michelin star restaurant this wine region is one of the first I turn to on their wine list.   I love the white grape varieties used in these white blends.   (Also, I love the area's reds but they are plentiful in the US, so why not try for something I can't get so easily back home?)  If there's a white from the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation, that will be one of the first I consider.

Wine-Knows will be visiting this esteemed Chateauneuf-du-Pape producer on their 2024 trip

As the Rhone River weaves its way toward the Mediterranean the southern section the valley widens and the climate changes.  This area becomes more Provence-like with strong influences of the Mediterranean in their culture and warmer weather than its northern counterpart.   While the white grapes in both the north and the south are the same varieties, the distinctly warmer summers and milder winters of the southern Rhone produce more voluptuous white wines.

Even the actual bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape is elegant with embossed lettering

White wines of the Southern Rhone, especially those of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, are some of France's most elegant and prestigious whites.    Always blended, they are elegant, rich, full-bodied seductive bombs of tropical fruit, laced with stone fruit and citrus notes in the background.  The four most common grapes found in the blends are Roussane, Grenache Blanc, Clairette Blanc and Bouboulenc.  To learn what each of these grapes contribute to the blend, join Wibne-Knows on its September 2024 tour to the Rhone, Champagne, Burgundy and Provence. 

Let me close by saying, "There's no place like Rhone...," especially the southern whites.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Seductive Reds of Chateauneuf-du-Pape

            Rocks from the nearby Rhone River help warm the vines in winter & cool them in summer 

This is the second article in November's trio on the wines of the Southern Rhone.

The first blog of this series discussed the genesis of the name Chateauneuf-du-Pape (CdP), the "new chateau of the Pope," which came about when the papacy was moved from Rome to the southern Rhone Valley.  Today, we'll learn about the highly coveted reds of CdP.  It is important to note that these red wines are blended wines...from both red and white grapes.  This blog will address the main red grapes used in these red wines. 

                          CdP is located <10 miles north of the Papal Palace in Avignon

With more than 8,000 acres of vines planted, CdP is the largest appellation in the Rhone.  Red wine is King in this area and represents 94% of the district's production.  Of the eight red varietals planted, Grenache leads the pack accounting for approximately 3/4 of the vines.  Grenache offers medium tannins and acids so it is often much more approachable at a younger age than a Cab Sauvignon.  Flavors of Grenache are strawberry, cherry and raspberry laced with nuances of cinnamon and licorice.  As CdP's reds are blended, however, Grenache is never vinified as a varietal in this appellation.

Syrah, the second most popular red grape, is another important part of CdP's blends.   While Syrah grapes are only 12% of the vines, this variety is important to the blend.  Deep colored Syrah is added to darken up Grenache which is far lighter in color.   Syrah also has more tannins and acids than the far more gentle Grenache so it adds structure to the blend.   While Grenache offers red fruit flavors, Syrah's contribution is black fruit, as well as chocolate and pepper notes.

                                Everything in the village of CdP is wine centric

The third grape most used in CdP reds is Mourvedre.  While accounting for <10% of the vines planted, Mourvedre adds an important profile to these blended wines.  Like Syrah, Mourvedre adds structure and dark fruit flavors, however, it also brings the grapes' signature nuances of cedar and herbal aromas...both adding layered complexity to the blend.   As Mourvedre thrives in the heat and is drought tolerant, this grape is now seen as a hedge against global warming.

Wine-Knows will be spending a day in Chateauneuf-du-Pape learning about these gorgeously complex blends.   We have 2-3 spaces available on our September 2024 harvest trip.     Burgundy & Champagne – Wine-Knows Travel (

Sunday, November 5, 2023

How the Popes Changed French Wine History

                 Pape Clement V changed the location of the Popes from the Vatican to France

This is the first article in a three-part series during November on the illustrious wines of France's Southern Rhone wine district.

Did you know the Papacy moved from Vatican City in Rome to the French city of Avignon from 1309 to 1376?  For nearly seventy years seven Popes ruled the Catholic Church from southern France's Rhone Valley.   Today, their majestic Papal Palace remains one of the largest and most important medieval Gothic buildings in all of Europe.

                           Avignon's Papal Palace is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The first French Pope, Clement V, was the former Archbishop of Bordeaux.  Fearing chaos in Rome after his controversial election to Pople, he refused to move to Rome.  Instead, Clement V did the unthinkable and set up oversight of the Papacy in the Episcopal place of the Bishops of Avignon.  Located on a natural rocky outcrop, the palace offered unobstructed views of the Rhone River just below it. 

                      The hilltop "new chateau of the Pope" offers a 360 panorama of vineyards

Clement V loved the countryside just outside of Avignon and stayed at various chateaux in the rural area frequently for extended periods.  His rule as Pope was cut short when he died in 1315.  His successor, Pope John XII, decided to build a summer chateau in this very area.   His Papal residence was called Chateauneuf du Pape, the "new castle of the Pope."   It wasn't long before the area around the chateau prospered and a village evolved at the foot of the castle.   A sea of wine grapes was soon planted as far as the eye could see as Clement V and all of the subsequent "Avignon Popes" were great lovers of wine.

Come experience the Chateauneuf-du-Pape harvest with Wine-Knows in September 2024

Today, this area is one of the most famous wine appellations in France:  Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Wine-Knows will be visiting Chateauneuf-du-Pape next year for the grape harvest.  At this point, we have spots remaining for two or three lucky travelers.

Learn about the magnificent red wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the next article of this series which will appear on November 15.  In the meanwhile, explore Wine-Knows' trip to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which also visits Champagne & Burgundy!