On July 5th, 1784, Thomas Jefferson set sail from Boston on the Ceres, with his daughter and his mistress’s slave brother, to join John Adams and Ben Franklin in Paris. During those five most cherished years of his life, his favorite vacations were to Avignon. He sampled a great many local French wines, usually across the river at Villeneuve-lez-Avignon.
Fortunately, the lower Cotes-du-Rhone and Burgundy regions still produce a bounty of fine wines to fuel that obsession. Where Bordeaux’s AOC restrictions confine it to six grapes, there are hundreds of AOC (Appelation Origine Controllee) in Burgundy and Provence, allowing as many as two dozen grape varieties.
The king of Rhone reds: Chateauneuf-du-Pape
The ne-plus-ultra of Rhone reds is, of course, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, literally, “the Pope’s new castle.” With the collapse of the Roman Empire, wine-making in Provence and Burgundy fell into disrepair and disrepute. Besides building his Palais (or Chateauneuf-du-Pape), Clement, who had been the Archbishop of Bordeaux, and knew his wines, immediately recruited the best vintners from Italy and Bordeaux to restore high-end winemaking around Avignon. His successor, John XXII, invested more heavily in the local vineyards, and the local wines soon became known as “Vins du Papes.” The finest vineyards eventually became known as Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which is a stop on Vantage’s 2014 French Waterways itinerary, and a very pretty little hillside village.
The best place to taste the best French wines
You may presume that the old saw about wines tasting better near their vineyard is simple snobbery, but it is quite true in Provence and Burgundy. Not only are many of these French wines too delicate to survive air travel – and hence unobtainable in the states — but even the trucking in to Paris bistros will damage their fine balance. While here, treat yourself to a glass or two (or three) right in the towns where they’re made. Then put on those snobbish airs yourself, as you advise friends apologetically upon your return, “ah, but you cannot find it in America.”
Go there with Vantage!