About this WINE
Nephew of the great Noël Verset, Franck Balthazar made his first vintage in 2002 and produces around 4,000 bottles. His smallholding of just 4 hectares is next to the ever-expanding Colombo, the winery built directly behind his home in the heart of the village. He works with 100% whole-bunch, minimal sulphur and Ecocert (organic) accreditation, producing wines that are cool and well-measured.
2021 was a demanding vintage for Franck, as for many others, with such high attention to detail required to maintain vine and grape health in the vineyards as the season progressed. He comments that he was exhausted by the end of it, however it was all worth the effort and he has made some utterly brilliant wines. His approach is honest and simple: focusing on the vineyard, minimal intervention in the cellar and only using old Burgundy barrels for his reds. Despite his reputation for making tiny volumes of highly sought-after, top-end Cornas, one of the most eagerly anticipated wines in our Rhône offer each year is his affordable, yet brilliantly poised Côtes du Rhône, sourced from organically grown vineyards around Séguret. Whilst all other volumes are down, we are delighted to have secured a little bit more of this for our offer this year.
Wine has been produced in the Rhône Valley for over 500 years, with some of its vineyards being amongst the oldest in France. Syrah rules over the south with a mix of Mediterranean grapes, while in the north, the two stars are Hermitage – grown on an imposing granite hillside above the town of Tain and best put away in the back of the cellar for a decade – and Côte-Rôtie, a star appellation made famous by Guigal's single-vineyard wines, yet also home to dozens of fine producers as yet less well known. The sheer hillsides overlooking the river have to be terraced to make production possible.
St Joseph and Cornas also provide wines of weight and worth, but the best source for good value is Crozes-Hermitage, a satellite appellation which has come alive in the last few years with the arrival of young blood.
The river valley widens out south of Valence into Côtes du Rhône country on the windy alluvial plains and the lower slopes of the hills. It is a most imposing sight during the cold, clear, blue skies of Mistral conditions. The best of the wine villages of the Côtes du Rhône have been promoted to their own appellations - Vinsobres, Vacqueyras - close in quality to the better known Gigondas.
The king of the southern Rhône is Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Here the galets roulés, rounded rocks from the ancient river bed, provide the context for gloriously rich red wines that are redolent of the heat and herbs of the south, and enhanced by the complexity which comes from blending several grape varieties. Thirteen are permitted in all, but Grenache usually dominates, along with Syrah and Mourvèdre in support. A fine vintage needs eight to 10 years cellaring for best results.
If your taste runs to fuller, richer, relatively exotic white wines, then perhaps a white Hermitage or Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the Rhône Valley would suit better, or else a marvellously perfumed, heady Condrieu - headquarters of the Viognier grape.
White Rhône Blend
In the north, the white wines of Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, St-Joseph, and St-Péray are produced from blends of Marsanne and Roussanne. Generally Marsanne is the dominant partner and it lends colour, body and weight to the blend, as well as richly scented fruit. Roussanne, a notoriously low yielder and pernickety to grow, produces intensely aromatic wines which contribute bouquet, delicacy and finesse to the blend.
Until about 15 years ago there was very little interest in southern Rhône whites as it was widely believed that the combination of dull non aromatic grapes and the baking summer heat meant quality wine production was nigh impossible. Since then the quality has improved markedly through the introduction of cool fermentation techniques and increased plantings of northern Rhône white grapes.
The base of many blends is still Grenache Blanc, a widely planted variety producing fresh wines with apple-like fruits, often with hints of aniseed. Ugni Blanc is still found in many blends, as is Clairette though their general lack of character and definition has led to a reduction in plantings. The future for southern Rhône whites appears to lie with Roussanne, Marsanne, and, increasingly, Viognier.