Wine is one of France’s loveliest attractions, and the Rhone is one of France’s biggest wine producing regions. The Rhone originates in the glaciers of the Swiss Alps and runs south, emptying into the Mediterranean at the towns of the Bouches-du-Rhone. All along the way, vineyards sip and flourish. Cotes-du-Rhone is perhaps the most well-known name, but countless other towns along the Rhone’s banks create fantastic wines – Gigondas, Vacqueras, and Chateauneuf-de-Papes. We couldn’t wait to get out there and start tasting but, following our plan, we thought we’d start small and local.
Our local river, the Durance, is an off shoot of the Rhone, and waters many of our local Luberon vineyards. Barrels of local wine have been produced here for centuries, but since Provence-mania hit in the 70s and 80s, Luberon has had its own appellation of origin (AOC) from the French government, “Cotes du Luberon.” The French are crazy about “le patronomie,” and have to be given credit for taking serious steps to allow regional producers to control the quality of their product and the right to use the regional name. (see also champagne.) So we set out to find some delicious examples of fine “Cotes du Luberon.”
Our first stop was the local wine co-op, Le Cave de Bonnieux. Caves are generally open six days a week, and offer you the opportunity to taste a variety local wines, both multi-vineyard blends and individual domaines. (If you feel like wine tasting at 10 in the morning, there you go. Chances are you won’t be the first one there.) Rose, the classic “Provence pink” of the summer months, is generally sold out by the fall. Viognier is a favorite fall quaff in these parts. The most recent bottlings of red are also available for sampling. We tasted several, had a nice chat with the mademoiselle du cave, bought some, and moved on to the Chateau la Canorgue. If you want to bypass the co-op route, you can choose to head straight to the individual tasting room of a chateau or domaine. Canorgue, just a few miles down the road from our house, had been recommended to us as one of the best producers in the area, and we weren’t disappointed. First of all, it was beautiful.The Chateau itself is not open to the public, but just a view of the outside is satisfying enough. Beautifully wrought of local limestone, huge terraces spread into the landscape and two story French doors open onto patios balustraded in more limestone, darkened by centuries of wear. Allees of chestnuts and cypress lead to the vineyards and the tasting room. The Chateau was the setting for a Russell Crowe/Marion Cotillard movie that no one has ever heard of, A Good Year, released in 2006. Director Ridley Scott has a house in the area, and I guess he felt like spending a summer at home. The movie itself got mediocre reviews, but it is apparently a visual delight. I think I’ll check it out when I’m coming down from my Provence high in Portland.
Back to the Chateau, the wine is a delight. Neither RC nor I pretend to be wine experts, but we know what we like, and we liked this. A little bit of fruit, a little bit of spice, not too heavy, not too light, as Goldilocks said, it was just right. Because so many of the local vineyards have very small production, bottlings sell out quickly. We were fortunate enough to snatch a case of their 2009 Cotes du Luberon and we very much look forward to sharing it with you!