As temperatures climb quickly worldwide, there’s a hitherto, lesser-known wine region that is suddenly turning heads. Helena Nicklin discovers why Ventoux AOC in France’s Rhône valley is where wine experts and those in the know are putting their money.
If the Rhône Valley in France had Hollywood equivalents in wine, Châteauneuf-du-Pape would be Julia Roberts and Gigondas, Angelina Jolie, with a few other well-known names scattered around them.
Enter Ventoux; another, less famous AOC* turning heads because it has something that its better-known neighbours need but will never attain as they get hotter and hotter with global heating: altitude.
If Ventoux were an actor, it would be Emma Watson, the woman who played Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films. She was less famous and understated in youth but showed enormous potential while finding her feet alongside more famous actors. And just like Emma Watson, Ventoux has now already become a quietly accomplished, timeless star. It’s the one to watch!
Fans of cycling will be familiar with the white-capped mountain that forms the backdrop of the famous Tour de France. This is Mont Ventoux, the ‘Giant of Provence’, sitting at 1912m above sea level and responsible for much cooler nighttime temperatures around many of its vineyards thanks to its lofty, windy heights.
What this temperature swing does is concentrate aromas and flavours at night after the warm days, making for wines with lots of flavour and complexity that are elegant and ‘together’.
Word on the grapevine is that in just ten years time, other parts of the Rhône will be too hot for fine wine grapes, which is why anyone wanting to plant in the Rhône Valley is now looking up. Literally. The region itself is located in the south-east of the Rhône Valley, not far from the famous holiday spots of Luberon and the Vaucluse mountains. The area has also been a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1990.
Ventoux earned its AOC back in 1973, but despite turning 50, it’s still very young and exciting in wine production terms with a lot of experimentation happening. It is certainly one of the southern French appellations that has changed the most in the last 20 years, and some are calling what’s happening over there a wine revolution. Try these wines while they are still knocking it out of the park for flavour but certainly not for price.
Ventoux wine grapes and styles
Fans of the classic Rhône valley blends will find the Ventoux wine style to be pretty familiar, albeit with a distinctive freshness. The rosé wines are crisp and fruity, with ripe, red fruit notes such as cherry and raspberry.
The white wines are generally floral, citrusy and elegant with characteristic notes of hawthorn and acacia, and the reds are packed full of black and red fruit flavours with notes of spicy leather, liquorice, truffles and pepper.
More famous for red blends, which make up 54% of all Ventoux wines, we can expect to see more pinks (currently 40% of production) and a lot more white wines in the future, which currently only weigh in at 6%.
Higher altitude vines and limestone soils are producing some pretty special whites, which are being made in various styles from light, floral and fresh to more weighty and oak-aged versions.
Ventoux red and rosé wine grapes
The red wine blends are made up of grapes that each offer their own personality to the mix. The main players here in Ventoux are Grenache Noir, with soft, strawberry and subtle spice and Syrah, with its darker, plum notes and grilled meat and herb flavours.
Next up, we have meaty Mourvèdre with lots of glorious grip that needs to be softened by the others and then Carignan, which can be great for adding astringency and freshness. Finally, there’s Cinsault, which adds a lightness and an intoxicating perfume.
Ventoux white wine grapes
On the white side, the lead roles are played by Clairette, which is lean, saline and floral, as well as Roussanne, which is richly aromatic with notes of lime and blossom. Then, there’s Grenache Blanc, with its high alcohol and low acidity, giving the blend some good body and a herbaceous note. Finally, there’s Bourboulenc in the mix too, which, when treated properly, can give great acidity and structure with a hint of smoke and spice.
Tried and tested: taste these Ventoux wines
Cave de Lumières ‘Aubépine’ 2020
(Clairette 40%,Grenache Blanc 30%, Roussanne 30%)
A light, fresh and floral style with the most stunning bottle you’ll see! Aubépine means ‘hawthorn’, which properly sums up this crisp and refreshing white.
Find it here for £12.90.
Domaine de Fondrèche Blanc 2019
(Roussanne 30%, Grenache B 30%, Clairette 30%, Rolle 10%)
One of the star players of Ventoux, this white has weight and texture with ripe, tropical fruit notes and a cool, saline core. A great food white.
Find it here for £14.50.
Château Pesquié ‘Quintessence’ 2019
(Roussanne 80%, Clairette 20%)
Another legendary producer, and this is the top of their white wine tree. The Quintessence leads gloriously with sassy Roussanne, offering a white that’s lemon-lime and viscous, with a refreshing saline note and great aromatics. One to be savoured in the glass.
Find it here for £18.50.
Rhonéa ‘Passe Coline’ 2020
(Grenache noir 95%, Carignan 4%, Syrah 1%)
A punchy, pretty and fruity pink with an interesting backstory about a demanding lady called Colline who wouldn’t pass the bottle around the table. Almost luminous in the glass, it’s a vibrant pink that’s great by itself or with lighter bites, such as cold cuts.
Find it here for £10.50.
Domaine de Fondrèche ‘Persia’ 2019
(Syrah 90%, Mourvèdre 10%)
This iconic red from Fondrèche is brooding and complex with notes of grilled meat, licorice and dried herbs. It’s a meal in a glass with an effortless freshness. You could even keep this for a couple of years, and it will sing.
Find it here for £20.99.
Chêne Bleu ‘Abélard’ 2012
(Grenache Noir 85%, Syrah 15%)
From another stellar producer, the Abélard is big, bold and beautiful, all about ripe blueberry, spice and chocolate. It’s a gloriously indulgent, rich, velvety red where the extra years of ageing add tobacco leaf and cedar complexity. Have it with red meat or a stew – or even some hard, nutty cheese.
Find it here for £55.
*An AOC is essentially a delimited area where there are strict winemaking rules around what grapes and techniques you can use, etc., with an aim to keep the quality of wines in that area high.
Read more wine guides and features by Helena Nicklin and Luxurious Magazine here.