Waking to the sound of torrential rain pounding the tarmac outside our room we reflect on how lucky we had been yesterday with a dry day for cycling the Cote Rotie.
We bid “au Revoir” to Julian our friendly waiter and dodging the Biblical rains we check out and go in search of breakfast.
Finding a boulangerie with a selection of pastries to fortify the soul, pre wine tasting, we go in search of the other staple ingredient of a continental breakfast- Coffee!
Winding our way around Condrieu’s narrow streets we find coffee in a bar. Walking in to it feels like the set of a wine movie! A veritable cast of rugged rustic types perched on bar stools. Some with an espresso others a glass of wine at 9am! All in boiler suits and wellies taking a break from tending their vines!
With a clientele such as this it’s no surprise to see they have an amazing wine list! In addition there’s also a huge range by the glass and with very little mark up!!
After our coffee stop we leave behind the town of Condrieu and make our steep ascent to the vineyards of Francois Villard in nearby Saint-Michel-sur-Rhône. Sometimes trying to find a winemakers caveau is a little like a puzzle or initiation test. Often there’s no clear signage, neither Googlemaps nor my Sat Nav are our frinds but eventually we find our way into the reception.
Our host Letitia guides us through a veritable line up of Monsieur Villard’s wines. I have to conceal my excitement as I’m a little like a small child in a candy store!
Legend has it that Francois is self-taught but in fact he trained as a chef which led him into sommellerie, and then onto grape-growing and oenology.
Letitia tells that Francois produces around 300,000 bottles a year. 12 years ago it was just a quarter of that!
To the whites first!
2016 Crozes Hermitage ” Cour de Récré” . Medium Lemon in appearance with a nose of medium plus intensity and greengages, made from 100% Marsanne. Rich intense aromas of yellow fruit, dry, with medium (+) acidity, high alcohol, and resinous overtones from 30% oak exposure culminating in a medium (+) finish.
2016 Saint-Peray, a blend of 80% Marsanne/20% Rousanne, with a nose of honey and honeysuckle flowers, on the palate dry with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol and medium (+) body and medium plus finish.
2015 Saint-Peray Version Longue: The big brother, 100% Marsanne and a bolder style of winemaking. 35% new oak and 18 months of lees ageing. Pale gold in appearance with pronounced aromas of pineapple and dried apricot. On the palate same fruits follow through from the nose. Dry with medium (+) acidity, high alcohol, medium (+) body and very long finish.
2016 Viognier Les Contours de Deponcins. An IGT wine made from 100% Viognier that’s located just above the Condrieu AOC contour limit of 250m. Nose of honey, white flowers, toasted nuts, white peach and violet. Aged in oak for a fuller richer style more aromas follow through from the nose dry, with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol and medium (+) body and a pleasing long finish.
2015 Les Grand Vallon Condrieu. This wine is fermented in oak barrels and matures in a mixture of 35% new oak and 65% 3/5 year old oak barrels. Pale gold in appearance with a bouquet of white peach and apricot and complex smoky notes form oak. Developing in age with aromas of more white peach on the palate dry, with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) body, medium alcohol, a seductive smoky toasted oakiness and long finish. This wine exhibits great balance, good finish well integrated primary and secondary aromas and a degree of complexity. It’s an outstanding example of a Condrieu.
and then the reds…
2015 Saint Joseph “Poivre et Sol” (Pepper and Soil). 100% Syrah. Medium purple in appearance. Aromas of animal, truffle and cassis. On the palate dry, medium (+) tannin, medium (+) body, medium alcohol and high acidity. More blackcurrant and a little vanilla. Long finish drinking well now.
2015 Saint Joseph “Mairlant”. 100% Syrah Medium purple in appearance. Notes of cassis on the nose. On the palate dry with high tannins, medium (+) alcohol, high acidity, aromas of blackcurrant and vanilla with a long finish. Needs minimum of 3 years in bottle to soften acidity and tannins.
2015 Saint Joseph “Reflet”. 100% Syrah. Deep purple in appearance, a pronounced nose of cassis, violets, and myrrh. Developing in age, dry with high acidity, high tannins, full body, high alcohol, further aromas of cassis, myrtle berry and myrrh with secondary oak aromas of vanilla and toast. Lovely long finish integrated and well balanced.
2015 Le Gallet Blanc, Cote Rôtie. 100% Syrah. Matured in in oak for 18 months (30% new 70% 2/4 years old). Deep purple in appearance, Bone dry, with high acidity, full bodied, high tannin. Aromas of cassis and myrrh, vanilla and cream. Long integrated finish but still a baby with many years more to give.
2015 Cornas. Francois likes to make a Cornas that you can drink now! Its got fruit and spice and certainly doesn’t show the temperament of wine that usually needs to be tamed by 7 years plus in bottle. Dry, high alcohol, high tannins, medium (+) acidity, a balanced and complex mix of cassis and creaminess. Leaves you with a pleasurable long finish.
We thank Letitia for the dégustation and leave behind us the sensuous contours of the Rhone valley. In no time at all we are back on the A7 Autoroute du Soleil. The rains of yesterday are a distant memory and the temperature starts to increase as we head into Provence. As we pass Avignon we can’t resist a quick detour to the heart of the Luberon to the picturesque perched village of Gordes, our base for our first French road trip many years before.
We stop for coffee at the cafe that was one of the main locations in Ridley Scott’s A Good Year set in and around Gordes…Russell Crowe’s character in the movie uses the adjective “intoxicating” to describe the enchanting atmosphere of this area and it couldn’t be more appropriate.
Revived and refreshed we get back on the A7 and blast our way past majestic mountains set against azure blue skies and vineyards laden with fruit to La Cadière D’Azur our next destination. The prettiest and most typical of perched villages in this part of the Bandol AOC we arrive just after 7pm. We are greeted warmly by Madame Bérard of L’Hostellerie Berard and check in to our room overlooking the pool. It’s a Tuesday night and the little village is buzzing as we make our way down the narrow main street to the Restaurant Regain.
We are both blown away by the simple home cooked food and local wines! We choose a Domaine de la Garenne 2011,Comte Jean de Balincourt. It’s a deep ruby in appearance with complex tertiary aromas already evident on the nose of meat, game, leather, tar and stewed damson fruit.
On the palate it’s dry with medium plus tannin, high alcohol, medium plus acidity, full body, well defined stewed damson fruit with secondary aromas of cedar, charred wood toast and clove.
Beautiful balance with medium plus length, intense tertiary fruits aplenty and a level of complexity that is disproportionate to its modest price!
An outstanding Bandol wine that still could yield more to those who wait but is a killer partner to a rare entrecôte steak in a Provençal village this evening!
Settling our bill we walk back down the main street in the village to the soundtrack of a local French band entertaining the locals.
We settle down with a Pastis and soak up the balmy atmosphere, a fusion of cicadas and flutes and gruff but melodic Provençal voices. It’s a world away from our day jobs and beautifully hypnotic!