Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne wine appellation

Cairanne is a quiet, yet pleasant village that lies above the undulating plains between the Rhone river and the jagged, stark Dentelles de Montmirail a few kilometres north east the provincial town of Orange.

This area of southern France is famous for its wines. The iconic Châteauneuf-du-Pape lies just to the south between the cities of Orange and Avignon and some of the best sweet white wine produced in France is from the small village of Beaumes-de-Venise which is just a fifteen minute drive down the D8 from Cairanne.

There are three very special villages that produce great wine here. Cairanne lies furthest to the west, Rasteau is close by and Seguret clings to the side of the Dentelles a few kilometres to the east of Cairanne.

The village itself sits on a hill commanding a view eastwards towards the vine-carpeted plains that surround it. Behind it runs the placid Aigues River on its journey to meet the nearby Rhone.

Map courtesy of google.com

The Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne wine appellation covers just the commune of Cairanne. Here growers are entitled to add the name of the village on their labels provided they have conformed with the rules of this appellation.

To describe it more strictly, Cairanne should be described as a dénomination within the broader Côtes du Rhône Villages appellation - because it is one of the nominated villages that are allowed to add their name to the words Côtes du Rhône Villages on the label.

The rules for the Cairanne appellation are similar to those for the broader appellation. Reds, whites and rosés can be produced here. However, the all-important yield factor is lower. Cairanne wines can only be made from vineyards where the yield is less than 42 hectolitres per hectare. In the broader Côtes du Rhône Villages appellation the permitted yield is 50 hectolitres per hectare.

Note that we will be posting a description of the Côtes du Rhône appellation and the Côtes du Rhône Villages appellation in the forthcoming months. However to briefly describe what you can expect in the southern Rhone, the broadest level of appellation is called Côtes du Rhône and this has the least stringent requirements as far a yield is concerned. The next level is Côtes du Rhône Villages. Wines produced in nominated areas where the yield meets the more stringent requirements can display the additional word on the label but cannot display the name of their village.

The next level is reserved for a number of villages where the quality is considered to be exceptional and vineyards in these nominated areas can add the name of the village to their labels. Thus in the commune of Cairanne they can display the words Côtes du Rhône Cairanne and in the commune of Rasteau they can add the words Côtes du Rhône Rasteau. In both these cases, however, we anticipate that they will soon be awarded their own appellation status soon. This signifies the top level of quality and four appellations in the southern Rhone currently share this honour. These are Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Vacqueyras, Gigondas and Beaumes-de-Venise. These are appellations in their own right and do not have to display Côtes du Rhône on their labels.

Does this matter? We are strong believers in reducing yields, as it concentrates more flavour in the remaining grapes. In fact, some of our favourite French wine makers such as Philippe Gimel in the Ventoux and Thierry Michon in the Fiefs Vendéens have yields that are miniscule at around 20 hectolitres per hectare.

Red wines in Cairanne are mainly made from Grenache Noir which must comprise at least 50% of the blend. This grape is supported by Syrah and Mourvèdre (which must together comprise 20% of the blend) and then all of the other nominated grapes varieties for the Côtes du Rhône appellation which include Counoise, Cinsault and Carignan among others.

These red grapes can be used to produce rose wines. In addition, white grapes of the permitted varieties can be used but are limited to a total of 20% of the blend.

The permitted white grape varieties are Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Marsanne, Roussanne, Bourboulenc and Viognier.

Cairanne vineyards looking towards the Dentelles

There are three brilliant producers in the Cairanne appellation.

Domaine de l'Oratoire Saint Martin

Domaine Oratoire St Martin is run by Frédéric and François Alary. Their family has owned this vineyard for ten generations. They tend over 25 hectares of vines which are planted with old Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah vines, the most desired gape varieties in this region. They treat their vineyard with respect and practice sustainable agriculture. The grapes are hand harvested.

One of their best wines is the Domaine Oratoire St Martin Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne Reserve des Seigneurs which is a dense, opulent red wine of some complexity that is a very good example of the power of wines produced in this up and coming appellation.

We have tried this excellent wine at Le Beaugravière restaurant in Mondragon in Vaucluse and at Cumulus Inc in Melbourne.

Domaine Catherine le Goeuil

Catherine le Goeuil is a thoughtful, passionate winemaker who tends her vines organically and makes her wines with care and precision. Her vineyards are quite close to the village of Cairanne, in fact it is within walking distance along the Route de Rasteau.

She currently produces just one red wine under this label. This vintage it is Cuvée Léa Felsch and what a great wine it is!

Domaine Catherine le Goeuil Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne Cuvée Léa Felsch is a beautiful example of a complex, elegant and enticing wine from this exciting appellation.

We first tried Catherine's wines at a charming wine bar in Paris called Les Pipos. This is a true haunt of locals where most customers are addressed by name. We tried the wine with some rustic goose rillettes and the combination was magic.

The wine is made from a range of the allowable red grapes of the region. This cuvee includes Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan, Cinsault and Counoise - a very similar combination to those of the nearby Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

In the glass this wine shows purple tints and has toasty, ripe fruit aromas. The tannins are quite fine and there are spicy notes detectable at the back of the palate. We love the long, lingering finish.

Drink it with any meat dish such as lamb chops, roast lamb or any type of steak.

Domaine Marcel Richaud

Domaine Marcel Richaud lies very close to the centre of the village of Cairanne on the Route de Rasteau and extends over almost 40 hectares. The vineyard is owned and operated by Marcel and Marie Richaud who tend the vines organically. They are certified by Ecocert.

You cannot go into a wine bar or trendy restaurant in Paris without seeing their wines displayed prominently on the wine lists.

Richaud is a darling of the wine set along with Foillard from Beaujolais, Mosse from Anjou, Puzelat from Touraine and Villemade from Cheverny.

The Richaud wines are matured mainly in large concrete vats to allow them to absorb some oxygen. The different grape varieties are raised in separate tanks for eight months before assembling the final blend for each cuvee. A small percentage of the wine is given time in oak barriques to create an additional layer of complexity.

The Domaine Marcel Richaud Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne is usually a blend of roughly equal parts of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah, with Carignan sometimes playing a supporting act.

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