A careful reader might notice that we have a tendency to travel to wine producing regions. It hasn’t been a conscious plan. But yes, in retrospect, the labels on the front of more than a few bottles of wine seem to have informed our travel planning. Be it the Barossa Valley in Australia, the Rioja in Spain, Montalcino in Italy, the Alscace in France, or the Colchagua Valley in Chile, familiarity with the names and curiosity about the origins of the bottle of wine sitting on our dinner table has sparked visits. And why shouldn’t it? Even if we weren’t intrigued by the wines, the vine-coated hills of wine country worldwide are consistently peaceful, comfortable, and relaxing.
And so it is that we found ourselves in the Northern Rhone River Valley of France. Not far south of Lyon along the mighty Rhone lie some of the most famous vineyards in the world. On the right bank sits the Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu, and Saint-Joseph appellations. On the left bank Crozes-Hermitage’s vineyards surround the cherished Hermitage plots. Hermitage’s 345 acres of rocky, steeply sloping hillside vineyards produce some of the most prized and expensive Syrah based wines in the world. Indeed, some would say that Hermitage is the spiritual home of Syrah. A visit to Hermitage is a pilgrimage for lovers of Rhone-style wines.
During our visit to the Northern Rhone we stayed in two towns, Tain L’Hermitage and Vienne. Both Tain and Vienne sit on the banks of the Rhone. Together they make good base for exploring the region.
Tain L’Hermitage is wedged between the Hermitage hill with its dramatic vineyards and the Rhone River. While we visited workers were busy on the slopes plucking the fruit from the vines that will make up the 2012 vintage. In town tractors pulling carts filled with dark purple grapes competed with the everyday traffic as they moved the prized crop to the winery buildings to be crushed.
On the far side of the river from Tain L’Hermitage is Tournon-sur-Rhône. Linked by a pedestrian bridge that spans the river, Tain and Tournon effectively form one town. The Tournon side has more restaurants. The Tain side has more wine tasting rooms.
Still on the Rhone but sixty kilometers to the north is Vienne. Once an important stronghold of Rome, Roman buildings built nearly 2,000 years ago sit today amongst Vienne’s modern day shops. Most impressive are the remarkably intact Temple of Augustus and Livia, a large obelisk smack dab in the middle of an intersection called La Pyramide, and the Ancient Theater of Vienne that was constructed on the slopes of the hill in the first century and still functions as a concert venue today. Add in a visit to the cloistered church, a stroll through the old town, and dinner at the two Michelin star restaurant La Pyramide (located next to the obelisk), and Vienne makes for a pleasant and interesting stop.
Vienne is not the most ideal wine destination. Though it is not far from the famed vineyards on the “roasted slopes” of Côte-Rôtie, Vienne is less wine-centric than Tain L’Hermitage. Better Côte-Rôtie tasting opportunities exist nearer to the vines nine kilometers southwest in the village of Ampuis or even in Tain as most tasting rooms pour samples of their wines produced across all of the Northern Rhone appellations.
A visit to the Northern Rhone is a visit to the high altar of Rhone wines. True, there are more attractive wine producing regions in France. Châteauneuf-du-Pape , St. Emilion, and the villages of the Alsatian wine route are tourist destinations even for those uninterested in wine. Though it is situated pleasantly enough, the Northern Rhone’s appeal is strongest for wine fans. Indeed, for lovers of Syrah, there is no higher pilgrimage.
We generally called or emailed ahead for a reservation. From this we learned that E. Guigal and some other producers close during the harvest. Bus tours are possible in this area but that’s not something we typically do.
For more information about tasting wine in the Northern Rhone see www.vins-rhone.com.
18 av Dr Paul Durand – B.P.38
26601 Tain Cedex – France
Phone +33 475 089 261
We made an appointment in advance to visit Chapoutier’s tasting room in Tain L’Hermitage. It seems that a drop in visit might be possible if they are not busy though we didn’t ask it this was possible. Chapoutier offers a wide range of wines from their vineyards in the area and further afield. Here you can taste wine and ogle the extraordinarily expensive bottles of fine wine held behind the glass.
25 Place du Taurobole
Tain L’Hermitage 26600
Phone +33 (0)4 75 09 26 20
Off the main square in Tain L’Hermitage, Paul Jaboulet-Aine’s tasting and sales room Vineum doubles as a wine bar. A glass of wine and a few nibbles outside on a warm day is sublime.
2 Allée de l’Olivet
Phone: +33 (0) 475089297
We phoned ahead and then drove the short distance from Tain L’Hermitage to the tasting and sales room. It is a good place to try some wines that you might just be able to buy back home.