Guest post from Provence wine expert Mary Dowey of Provence Food and Wine
With Châteauneuf-du-Pape and some of the best wine villages at its centre plus increasingly exciting regions like the Ventoux and the Luberon under its wing, the Southern Rhône makes a large swathe of Provence prime territory for wine explorers.
If you’re wondering how to build up a worthy thirst, here are a few ideas:
1 Arrange a break with a built-in wine course at the delightful Auberge du Vin near Carpentras. Accredited wine educator Linda Field offers a range of short courses that will earn you an internationally recognised qualification. Be sure to factor in some free time by the pool where you can admire views across vines to Mont Ventoux.
2 Visit Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Anybody who claims to love wine simply can’t miss this famous town where the Avignon Popes developed good vineyards in the 14th century so that their summer holidays wouldn’t be marred by miserable wine. Among scores of estates worth visiting,Beaurenard, Clos du Caillou and Ogier are especially visitor-friendly. And don’t miss Vinadéa, a brilliant shop selling all the best wines at cellar-door prices.
3 Take a self-guided tour through the vines at Château Pesquié, a particularly impressive and welcoming estate in the up-and-coming Ventoux region. Then taste the wines (they’re among this appellation’s best) and stock up.
4 Book a table at La Beaugravière so that you can swoon over a thrilling wine list, stuffed with aged treasures at not-too-scary prices. Arrive with a healthy appetite as the food here is hearty – most of all in winter when truffle dishes are a speciality.
5 Choose from an array of interesting wine holidays at La Madelène, a fine 12th-century priory near Malaucène. Qualified wine tutor Philip Reddaway makes it easy by organising visits to hand-picked estates, and from what I’ve heard his wife Jude is a cracking cook. For those who know the Rhône inside out already there are options to venture further afield – to Burgundy, for instance, or the Loire.
6 Have a go at matching local dishes with local wines at Le Caveau des Gourmets in the super-pretty wine village of Gigondas. This imaginative venture by the local wine co-op makes the exercise easy by offering small servings of both. Work off any over-indulgence afterwards with exercise of a more physical kind – on a brisk walk in the Dentelles mountains above the town.
7 Book a bespoke wine tour with Kelly McAuliffe, the best-connected and probably best-humoured wine guide in the entire Rhône Valley. Besides learning a huge amount from this highly knowledgable American ex-sommelier, you’ll also have enormous fun. If you get together with a few friends, the price per person drops obligingly.
8 Inspect the extraordinary collection of corkscrews on show at Domaine de la Citadelle, close to the dreamy hilltop village of Ménerbes. As this is one of the finest estates in the Luberon, famous for its finely tuned, long-living wines, it would be madness not to taste and buy here too.
9 Scribble the words Chêne Bleu in your notebook for future consideration. The gorgeous wine estate of La Verrière in the hills near Vaison-la-Romaine is famous for the Chêne Bleu Extreme Wine Experience, a week-long course combining learning with luxury to a memorable degree (just read the reviews). Although Extreme Wine 2014 is booked up, other courses can be tailored to suit individual needs. www.laverriere.com/cheneblueextremewine/
10 Buy a bottle of good rosé from Tavel, the most serious all-pink appellation in France. (Domaine de la Mordorée makes some of the best.) Chill it while you ready up a gourmet picnic – then head for the hills.
Provence Guru – The Insiders’ Guide to Provence, top tips
Our vineyard pages are full of reviews of the top Provencal vineyards and their wines. Browse our archives to plan your perfect Provence wine tour.
For a long stay in Provence, check out our Provence villa rental listings, for the most reliable, luxurious Provence vacation rentals on the internet.
For a shorter stay see our Provence boutique hotel guide, with Aix en Provence boutique hotels, Luberon boutique hotels, and Avignon boutique hotels.
Salivating at the thought of a trip to the south of France, the ultimate travel destination for foodies then check out our Provence food pages, which are full of great recipes.