When in Rhône: David Lawrason picks the best wines from southern France

When in Rhône: David Lawrason picks the best wines from southern France

Robust, charming and fun, the recent releases from southern France are worth ordering by the case

(Image: Jack Dylan)

Southern Rhône, the dry, rugged valley that snakes through south-central France to the Mediterranean, has become one of the most exciting wine regions to watch. Whereas the syrah-based reds from the steeper slopes of northern Rhône are consistently linear, sophisticated and cellar-worthy, bottles from the sprawling south are far more fun and surprising. The 2005, 2006 and just released 2007 vintages are all incredible. Blended from grenache, syrah, carignan, mourvèdre and cinsault, southern Rhônes are robust reds, perfect for casual meals—particularly as the chill of autumn arrives. Their plummy fragrance is often etched with pepper, rosemary, lavender and, above all, anise, which emanates from the area’s abundant shrubland, referred to as “garrigue.” (I chomped pounds of black licorice as a kid, so I must confess partiality to southern Rhône’s signature scent.) The varied soilscapes of the valley, hill outcroppings and high-altitude plateaus also help create fascinating flavour diversity from winery to winery. Vintages has a special release of southern Rhône 2007s this fall, and I’m going to buy as many bottles as I can afford. Here, a cross-section from basic Côtes-du-Rhône to top-rung Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Château de Beaucastel 2007
$89.95 | Châteauneuf-du-Pape | 92 points
Beaucastel is the leading wine from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with a price to match. I’ve often been underwhelmed by young Beaucastel, but enthralled as it ages. For now, this vintage is full bodied but not lush, with refined, well-integrated plum, leather and herbal aromas. Best 2014 to 2020. Vintages. LCBO 711317

Domaine de L’Echevin 2007
$16.95 | Côtes du Rhône Villages St. Maurice | 90 points
From gravelly clay-limestone soils on a plateau near St. Maurice, this syrah-dominant red has a pretty floral, plum and blueberry aroma with pepper and anise. It’s sour-edged and racy, with fine tannin and acidity from the high altitude. Ready to drink now. Vintages. LCBO 175711

Domaine du Vieux Lazaret 2007
$32.95 | Châteauneuf-du-Pape | 90 points
The Quiot family has been farming this region since 1748, long after Avignon popes declared the village their summer hangout. The 2007
is a charmer, with plummy, herbal, earthy, peppery and leathery flavours. Impeccably balanced, it needs three to five years’ aging. Vintages. LCBO 983650

E. Guigal 2006 Côtes du Rhône
$16.95 | Côtes du Rhône | 90 points
The famous E. Guigal winery is based in northern Rhône, but this bottle has the hedonistic style of the south. The maturing nose is terrific, with gamy notes, as well as currant, rosemary and chocolate. French oak aging adds smoothness, and there’s sweet and sour tension. To 2013. Vintages Essentials. LCBO 259721

La Vieille Ferme 2008
$12 | Côtes du Ventoux | 86 points
Made on the slopes of Mont Ventoux, which dominates the valley, La Vieille Ferme is an affordable introduction to southern Rhône. It’s a fresh, juicy everyday red with exuberant lilac and plum aromas. Light, loose and a touch sweet, this is a great wine to pair with a baguette and some ham. LCBO 263640

Perrin et Fils Peyre Blanche 2007
$17.95 | Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne | 88 points
Perrin makes fruity, rich reds in most of Rhône’s appellations, including the famed Beaucastel. The Cairanne is youthfully purple and bright, with notes of licorice, plums, raspberry and violets. It’s medium weight, with an edgy finish that suggests it needs a year or so to mellow. Vintages. LCBO 650960

Vignerons de Caractère 2007
Les Hauts de Castellas $18.95 | Vacqueyras | 91 points
This old-school, barnyardy red is amazing with stinky French cheese. Expect horse stable, black olive, prune, leather and cigar flavours. It’s also very smooth, rich and ripe. Sensuality and great length, yes; technical perfection, no. Vintages. LCBO 177634

Vignerons de Gigondas 2007
La Font des Grières $21.95 | Gigondas | 90 points
Gigondas is considered the second best appellation after Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This fine, traditional wine from a large co-op has a nicely calibrated nose of herbs, sour plum-cherry, spice and garrigue. It’s supple, medium-weight, charming and savoury. Best 2011 to 2015. Vintages. LCBO 175729

Vignerons de Visan 2007
$12.95 | Côtes du Rhône Villages | 87 points
Made at a co-op winery near the village of Visan, this was made in a traditional, nuts-and-bolts dry style that’s based heavily on the peppery grenache variety. It’s generous, tidy, dense and youthful, with classic plum, licorice and pepper. Best 2011 to 2014. Vintages. LCBO 179234