Lingering in Lyon (and the Rhône)

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City at NiteThere are so many places to visit in France, especially when one is living here for a short period. An interest in wine narrows the choice but not by much. We chose to explore Burgundy next by way of Lyon. Why Lyon one might ask? Head south and you hit the Rhone, north and end up in Burgundy. Or explore Lyon’s history and eat; it’s the gastronomical capital of France.

The afternoon Mark’s internship break started, we were on a plane to Lyon. It’s quicker and more economical to fly there from Bordeaux versus taking the train. We arrived in time for dinner without doing any homework. Sometimes that’s just the way to go, visually winging it. Here’s how it played out for us that Friday night.

  • Acknowledged it was 8pm and places would start to fill in a short time.
  • Agreed we were both tired and didn’t want to walk all over. We headed out.
  • Lynn sees a restaurant, scans the menu, looks good. Mark takes a gander, indicates it’s a possibility but wants to keep looking.
  • Mark sees a spot, inconspicuously checks out the plates of patio diners. The food isn’t speaking to Lynn. We keep moving.
  • This happens seven times. It’s now 9pm.
  • Go back to the third restaurant, it’s now full. Bummer.
  • Go the fourth and get the second to last table. Whew!

Three days in Lyon were filled with food (visiting Les Halles, the famous market honoring Chef Paul Bocuse), miles of walking (off to the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière, Museé Gallo-Romain de Fourvière, to name a few), and of course wine.

On route to the Rhône we stopped at the highest point in Vienne overlooking a 2,000 year old Roman theatre on one side with ruins of a medieval castle on the other. It also teased with a glimpse of vineyards in the northern Rhone (above the river on the top left in the following photo).

IMG_5754Take a close look at these two vineyard plots below, both owned by powerhouse wine families. Notice a difference?


IMG_5397There’s a lot of organic versus conventional discussion in this part of the wine world. These photos portray one versus the other; there is a key difference to note. One side is finely groomed while the other has life growing between the vines. Which one do you think is organic?

Our first stop was in the vineyards of Côte Rôtie (roasted hillside). And roast it does with abundant amounts of sun pounding the folds of enormous hills. Terraced slopes with dizzying 30 to 60% gradient exist. Stone walls known locally as “cheys” are abundant, built to help secure slopes, some of them dating back to the Roman era. You can see Chapoutier kept the old existing cheys.

The Côte Rôtie is one of the oldest vineyard areas in France with mineral rich soils from schist and granite to clay, gneiss, limestone and iron. And the wines made from the Syrah grape are of repute for being finely structured, elegant, and often perfumy. Commons aromas and taste characteristics include blackberry, black current, dark plums, raspberry, pepper, spices, tar, and smoke.

A Deeper Côte Rôtie Dive

There are two main styles of red wine produced in the Côte Rôtie region along with two prized vineyards; a recognized distinction between them is noticeable. Wines just south west of the town of Ampuis are fruitier, lighter, more lavish and drinkable when younger. You could say they have a feminine side. A limestone base is covered by lighter, sandy soils, almost blond in color. This is home of the “Côte Blonde” vineyard. Just above Ampuis wines are more tannic with firmer structure, often with none of the allowed 20% Viognier. These are more masculine wines requiring 10 years (+/-) to develop and evolve. Soils are redish-brown clay and ironstone. The Côte Brune vineyard has it’s home in this area.

IMG_ClosBoisseytFrom the top of the hills we ended up at Domaine de Boisseyt Chol, a smaller, family run business with 11 hectares (24 acres), producing both white wines (Condrieu made with Viognier), and reds (Syrah based). The winemaker here is traditional and does not crush or de-stem, he puts everything into a stainless tank together for a semi-carbonic maceration. After this process, aging is done in 228 litre oak barrels (except for the vin de pays wine which goes into 600 litre barrels). During maceration tannins are extracted from the skin, seeds, and stems. While the resulting wines may be harder to taste young, after five, six years or so they have more complexity and aging potential. All the reds leaned towards a degree of masculinity (a bite of grilled tri-tip would be perfect while tasting these red wines). They also produce three whites, including a Condrieu well worth trying.

Next we stepped into the more modern Sarl Pierre Gaillard winery. It’s interesting to see the way things change when offspring join in on the fun. Here they reworked everything from evolving labels to experimenting with terra cotta amphoras for fermentation and aging of wine. Not only do amphoras allow for natural micro-oxygenation due to the porosity of the walls, they have extraordinary thermal insulation capacity keeping contents cool by evaporating heat. Not a bad drop was had at this winery, and they happily got into the wine geek weeds with us!

IMG_Gaillard TerraCotta

Traditional Amphora

That evening our meal could have ended up like the first night, had Lynn not made a reservation at Brasserie Le Sud, a Paul Bocuse creation. An excellent meal (which didn’t break the bank)!

Sometimes you just want to be low-key, no food pictures, no exorbitantly priced meals, know what I mean? That was this trip. Le Sud was a keeper (and recommendation for anyone going to Lyon). It was upscale and low-key at the same time with a good price to quality ratio. But that was really it, we didn’t end up indulging in the gastronomical scene. And the Les Halles market- it was enjoyable yes, but underwhelming and pricey compared to other markets we’ve visited. (Did I just say that?!) Perhaps we didn’t give the “food scene” justice, perhaps a future visit. But for now, we’re concentrating on the wine.

Syrah Uncovered

  • A native French grape (DNA testing led by grape geneticist Dr. Carole Meredith at U.C. Davis confirmed it’s the offspring of two, southeastern french grapes (Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche).
  • One of the ‘noble’ grape varieties.
  • Thick skinned and dark, it almost stains a wine glass.
  • Aromas and taste include the classic black pepper, blackberry, black current, dark plums, raspberry, dark chocolate, olive, black licorice, tar, smoke.
  • Notably grown in the Rhône Valley (France) and Barossa Valley (Australia), and many places world wide.
  • Have you ever heard of GSM? That’s Syrah blended with Grenache and Mourvedre in the southern Rhône. California also makes this blend.
  • Blended with Cabernet Sauvignon in parts of the new world (most notably Australia).
  • Alternative names include Balsamina, Marsanne Noir, Shiraz, Sirac, and Serine (to name a few).

Discover Viognier

  • Grape generally develops early (with sufficient warmth) with lower acidity.
  • Characteristically aromatic leaning towards stone and tropical fruits, and flowers (peaches, apricots, tangerine, blossoms, honeysuckle, violets and musk). Orange creamsicle anyone?!?
  • Often richly textured.
  • Finish can have almond-musky, slight bitter lime-tangerine citrus rind notes.
  • Two Viognier only appellations in France: Condrieu and Château Grillet, a single vineyard appellation in the northern Rhône (just south of Condrieu).
  • Frequently blended with Marsanne and Roussanne in the southern Rhône.
  • Often fermented with Syrah in the Côte Rôtie adding a slight perfume quality to the wine.
  • Depending on the region, the wine can be lighter in style (e.g., France) to fuller bodied (e.g., California).

3 thoughts on “Lingering in Lyon (and the Rhône)

  1. john wieland

    Great Storytelling! E.Guigal…! And if I could only get my hands on some nice Viognier (here in Florida)… life would be that much better…

    Living thru your eyes and words….


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