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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Rhône visit - part 1, near Crest

Sunday 14 September.   In 2014 I've often had great ideas for blog posts - bottles tried, caves visited, thoughts about wine - but until now never got round to writing.  So I'm pleased to have a little time on this holiday in the Drôme to describe some of our discoveries and old favourites revisited.  It's fitting to restart now because our companions are Mary's cousins Alan & Barbara, and it was Alan who kicked me into starting this blog when we visited them in Texas.

Last year they joined us on our frist trip to Bordeaux, and this year they planned a cruise up the Rhône so we suggested they join us near our old twin town of Die in the Drôme so that we could show them old haunts and explore Rhône wines, especially in the southern Rhône and the left bank.  So far we have visited 3 vineyards completely new to us, one on the western edge of the Clairette de Die appellation a stone's throw from our gîte near Crest, and then a little south to the Enclave des Papes and the Drôme Provençal where the southern Côtes du Rhône wines begin.  I searched as usual for recommendations in my books and particularly the Guide Hachette des vins.

But our first visit came from a personal recommendation from the proprietor of our gîte, a charming and cultivated man who knows his wines well but prefers to drink water!  He suggested a visit to the Domaine Peylong only a few km from here in the little commune of Suze.  The domaine was revived around 40 years ago, growing mainly muscat to sell to the cave co-opérative (Jaillance) in Die, but Christelle (who met us) and Fabien Lombard took over more recently and have gradually added still wines they make and sell directly as vignerons.  

Pride of place goes to the 100% clairette - called Oublié - with its special appellation Coteaux de Die, rarely made because many growers prefer to use their grapes for the more profitable fizz cremant de Die.   In past visits to the Drôme we've discovered 2 other examples of wholly clairette still wines, but both makers have since discontinued them. It's a pity, the wines are usually very individual and delicious.  The Lombards also make another, aromatic white IGP wine blended from the classic northern Rhône grapes marsanne, roussanne and a small amount of viognier

Incidentally, the oddity is that the wine Clairette de Die is made wholly or very largely from the muscat grape, while the clairette grape variety is used in the Diois mainly to make cremant de Die.  There are 2 other special appellations for clairette, both in the Languedoc - Clairette de Languedoc in a small area west of Montpellier, and Clairette de Bellegarde in the commune of the same name in the Gard south of Nîmes.  Clairette is also commonly used to blend white wines in both the Rhône and the Languedoc.

The red wine they make, also an IGP, contains some cabernet sauvignon as well as the predominant syrah.  They ferment it gently at a relatively low temperature and keep it on the lees - the result is a fresh but rounded, deep-coloured wine which we found delicious.  The couple are passionate and dedicated, making very small quantities of wine but with great care.  Christelle is the first person to have taken time to describe the tasting of grapes for ripeness - not just juice but skin and pips - to ensure harvesting at the ideal moment.  The word 'gentle' says in my mind, not to describe pallid flavour - the wines are full of character and delicious - but to indicate integration and lack of aggresivity.  a really pleasing discovery.

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