There’s Wine In Them Thar Hills

I recently (foolishly?) found myself hosting a bilingual wine tasting for 30+ people in my home town of Nyons. It was July 14, Bastille Day, and the day the Tour de France came through town on the way to that day’s finish line on top of Mont Ventoux. As this year also happens to be the 100th anniversary of the Tour, it was all quite a big event (I’m talking about the Tour here, but I believe the tasting almost overshadowed it).

The second biggest event in Nyons on 14 July

The theme for the tasting was the route of that day’s stage of the Tour, which started in the town of Givors before crossing the Rhône and heading south past the town of Crest and on to Ventoux. The idea was that, as far as possible, the wines would come from the towns and villages along the route. Well that caused a bit of a problem from the start: as far as I knew there was no wine made in Givors itself, but happily Condrieu is just a few miles down the road and that gave us an excuse to start with Philippe Verzier’s lovely Viognier 2012.

Philippe Verzier in his cellar. It was his 2012 Viognier that I used for the Big Event.

But if only I’d looked a little harder I would have found a Givors wine right under my nose: Xavier Gérard, Rhône Wine Tours other Condrieu producer, makes wine from the last parcel of vines growing in the town. Or, to be more precise, on the hillside overlooking the town – Montée des Autrichiens. There on the steep, south-facing slope he grows 0.3ha (about three quarters of an acre) of gamay which was passed to him by his grandfather.

In the vineyards with Xavier

As the vineyard isn’t within any existing appellation it is sold as a simple Vin de France, but it could certainly teach many Beaujolais producers, responsible for most of France’s gamay, a lesson or two. Vinified in the northern Rhône style – traditional fermentation and barrel ageing – it is a deeper, more structured wine than almost all Beaujolais (grown on just the other side of Lyon) but it keeps plenty of juicy fruit. The current 2010 vintage is on fine form. It costs 7,80€, but that’s of dubious interest unless you happen to visit Xavier’s estate as all sales are at the cellar door (which, of course, you can visit through Rhône Wine Tours!).

The wine itself – from the last remaining vines in Givors.

You might ask why I hadn’t realised this before. Well, I can only explain that the first time I tasted the wine was a week after the Nyons tasting – production is tiny and Xavier has never been able to show me the wine before. I knew of the theoretical existence of his gamay, but didn’t actually know that the vines were in Givors.

As it happens, it wouldn’t have been the right wine with which to start a tasting – on a hot evening a cool white was much appreciated – but it does show that in France there are little, forgotten islands of winemaking (and often skilled winemaking at that) which keep alive an old heritage that has almost disappeared. If you’re travelling to France and you’re interested in wine, I urge you to seek them out. A bit of internet searching and a willingness to get off the beaten track are often all that’s required.



Note: This is the blog of Rhône Wine Tours where we shamelessly plug our favourite winemakers (but they’re worth it). We also use it as a front for our nefarious money-making (if only) activities, namely wine tours and wine tastings. If you’d like to read more about those, then the Rhône Wine Tours website is the place to go. We’re also on Facebook – like us, pleeeeeeease – and now on Tripadvisor. You won’t get to read any of my writing there, but you will read how fabulous we are.


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