Great values abound in the southern Rhône: with the region’s abundance of favorable terroirs, digging just a little bit can yield bargain wines of depth, substance, and authentic local character. The Lirac appellation, for example, shares the same famous galets roulés—large, rounded alluvial riverbed stones—as across the Rhône in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, easily the regions’s most prestigious appellation. These soils offer good drainage, forcing the vine roots to dig deep for moisture and nutrients, all while reflecting the sun’s heat to assist in ripening. Correspondingly, the wines of Lirac express a sun-imbued generosity in the form of potent dark aromas of dark fruit, with matching concentration on the palate that makes them ideal companions to roast meats, ratatouille, and other richly flavored Mediterranean dishes. Joncier’s Lirac, a blend of Syrah with Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, and Carignan, offers chewy tannins and penetrating flavors that recall a hot summer afternoon in beautiful southern France.
The vivacious Marine Roussel took her time finding her place in the family domaine. Her father, Pierre, was an agronomist and started Domaine du Joncier in 1964. However, as a young artist, Marine was seeking adventure beyond her hometown in the Southern Rhône. After living in both Marseille and Paris, Marine eventually felt a strong pull to return home. She joined the domaine in 1989, and has since taken on her new vocation with the zeal that only an artist could possess. In addition, Marine achieved organic certification in her vineyards in 2000 and biodynamic certification in 2011. She makes two impressive Lirac Rouges, a classic blend with a majority of Grenache, and Les Muses, an inky blend made predominately with Mourvèdre.
The southern Rhône valley is Grenache country. It’s also known for its stones. With a viticulture history dating back well before the Popes arrived in the 12th century and one of France’s oldest appellations d'origine contrôlée, Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe, the southern Rhône is unquestionably one of France’s best known and premier winegrowing regions. The wines have the pedigree and age-worthiness of Burgundy and Bordeaux, but with a rustic, Mediterranean character. Like most wines from southern France, the reds, whites, and rosés are blends. Filling out the Grenache for the reds and rosés, you’ll often find Syrah, Carignan, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault. The common white grape varieties are Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Viognier, Roussane, and Marsanne among others. From the alluvial riverbed stones found in Lirac, Tavel, and Châteauneuf to the limestone cliffs of the Dentelles de Montmirail that influence Beaumes-de-Venise (where you’ll find excellent Muscat), Vacqueyras, and Gigondas, great terroir abounds.
Kermit’s entrance in the region came in the mid 1970s on his first trip with Richard Olney, an American ex-pat and friend of Alice Waters. On that trip, Richard introduced Kermit to the Brunier family of Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe. Soon after, Kermit began importing the Brunier’s wines—their Châteauneuf-du-Pape “La Crau” bottling remains a staple of our portfolio today. In the late 1990s Kermit teamed up with the Brunier family to purchase the famed Gigondas estate, Domaine Les Pallières. More than 40 years later, we now import wines from fifteen southern Rhône domaines spanning the entire area of the region.
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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