A must-do side trip from Vienne is to explore the wine region of the Northern Rhône that stretches along the River Rhône from Vienne to Valence. Wines have been grown here since Gallo-Roman times: nowadays the region boasts sought-after red wines from Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage, as well as aromatic white wines from Condrieu. This photogenic wine region is characterized by steep hills terraced with golden-hued stone walls and horse-drawn ploughs, as some appellations are still cultivated by hand.
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. An undiscovered treasure of this appellation is Le Domaine de Corps de Loup (2 route de Lyon; [tel] 09-53-87-84-64; www.corpsdeloup.com) 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; [tel] 04-74-56-10-18; www.vidal-fleury.com). 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 one 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.
Drive south from Tupin et Semons along the D4 and then A7 towards Tain-L’Hermitage. A good way to start your exploration of the prestigious Hermitage appellation is with a Balade Viticole: a guided cycle ride around the vineyards accompanied by knowledgeable sommelier-turned-wine-merchant, Fabien Louis ([tel] 04-75-08-40-56 / 06-70-11-09-18; www.ausommelier.com). The electric cycles make light work of the steep hillside as Fabien explains the geography and terroir of Hermitage and its neighbor Crozes-Hermitage. After the tour, you can check out more than 600 different Rhône Valley wines sold at vineyard prices at Des Terrasses du Rhône (22 rue des Bessards). Prices for vineyard cycle tours range from 25€ to 50€. Back in central Tain, you can turn up (groups over 5 people need to book in advance) for a free wine tasting at celebrated wine producer Michel Chapoutier’s wine school (18 ave. Dr Paul Durand; [tel] 04-75-08-92-61; www.chapoutier.fr). 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 avenue du Président Franklin Roosevelt; [tel] 04-75-09-27-27; www.citeduchocolat.com). 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. There’s also plentiful chocolate tasting along the way.