Curving around the River Rhône from Vienne to Valence, the Northern Rhône has been growing wine since Gallo-Roman times. Sought-after reds hail from Côte Rôtie and Hermitage where steep hillsides with golden-hued stone terraces are tilled by hand with horse-drawn ploughs. This photogenic region is also home to aromatic white wines such as Condrieu. This must-see region can be twinned easily with a visit to the Ardèche or Vienne.
Tupin et Semons
Heading out of Vienne on the route national 86 (D386), you’ll pass the mythical vineyards of Côte-Rôtie that cling to steep escarpments up to 60 percent gradient. The names of famous wine producers, such as Guigal and Chapoutier, are hewn into the hillside. The small village of Tupin et Semons lies at the heart of Côte-Rôtie. A little-known treasure of this appellation is Le Domaine de Corps de Loup, 2 route de Lyon (www.corpsdeloup.com; tel. 09-53-87-84-64), where energetic young vintner Tristan Daubrée has taken over the family domaine. You can call in advance for a tour around the vineyard and the 15th-century cellar before a tasting in the ancient chapel-turned-tasting-room. Nearby, you’ll find the far grander La Maison Vidal-Fleury, RD 386, 48 route de Lyon (www.vidal-fleury.com; tel. 04-74-56-10-18). Founded in 1781, Vidal-Fleury is the oldest continuously operating wine producer in the Rhône Valley. A long-standing US connection started with Thomas Jefferson dining there in 1787. The domaine is now owned by renowned wine producer Guigal and produces over 1 million bottles per year. After a tour of the bottling plant and the enormous vaulted cellars, you can enjoy tasting some of the 22 different wines.
Best Wine Markets
Seasonal wine markets bring together all the appellations of the Northern Côtes du Rhône and provide the perfect way to taste these cru wines: Ampuis on the last weekend in January; Tain l’Hermitage on the last weekend in February; Saint Péray on the first weekend in September; and Cornas on the first weekend in December. For more information, contact Hermitage Tournonais tourist office, 6 av. du 8 mai 1945, Tain L’Hermitage (www.hermitage-tournonais-tourisme.com; tel. 04-75-08-10-23).
Drive south from Tupin et Semons along the D4 and then A7 towards Tain-L’Hermitage. A good place to start finding out about Northern Rhône wines is at celebrated wine producer Michel Chapoutier’s wine school, 18 av. Dr Paul Durand (www.chapoutier.fr; tel. 04-75-08-92-61), where you can turn up for free wine tastings (groups over 5 need to book in advance) or pre-book one of his many wine-themed workshops. It’s a great way to learn about Côtes du Rhône wines as his expansive range covers appellations throughout the Northern and Southern Rhône Valley. Finally, gourmands of all ages will enjoy a visit to La Cité du Chocolat, 12 av. du Président Franklin Roosevelt (www.citeduchocolat.com; tel. 04-75-09-27-27). This chocolate emporium is run by commercial chocolatier, Valrhona, who has been producing chocolate for the world’s finest pastry chefs since 1922. More recently, they have developed a range of consumer chocolate bars. Rather than a fact-heavy history, you’re taken on a sensorial experience through the stages of chocolate making from collecting pods to a live factory-line replica, complete with plentiful chocolate tasting along the way.
Segway to the Vines
From Segway tours to electric bikes and 4x4, the latest vineyard tours make light of the steep hillsides of the Northern Rhône vineyards. These tours also provide an introduction to the geography and terroir of this prestigious wine-growing region. Our favorites are:
Terres de Syrah (www.terresdesyrah.com), a collaboration between Les Sens Ciel and the Cave de Tain with tours including "sur les pas de Gambert" Hermitage walking trails, electric bikes, and Segway tours.
Domaine Colombo (www.vinscolombo.fr) including a 4x4 vineyard tour.
Fabien Louis (www.ausommelier.com; tel. 04-75-08-40-56 or 06-70-11-09-18), a sommelier-turned-wine-merchant whose electric cycle tour of the Hermitage vineyards is followed by a visit to his shop, Des Terrasses du Rhône (22 rue des Bessards) which sells more than 600 different Rhône Valley wines at vineyard prices.