August 09, 2012

Stops on a Wine Geek Road Trip:

Wine Road Trip Mile 359: France

The drive from the Priorat to Châteauneuf-du-Pape takes you from dusty and scruffy (Gratallops) to drab and industrial (the northern outskirts of Barcelona) to sunlit and idyllic (France’s Mediterranean coast). Four hours in, I was sailing along the E15 past Nîmes, under a glorious Provençal sun. To my right was the pastel-blue Mediterranean; to my left, maniacal French drivers, rocketing past me with fine Gallic disregard, even though I was doing 90 miles per hour.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape shares three important things with the Priorat: the sun, the Mediterranean and Grenache. The Priorat is a hardscrabble, impoverished region, despite the success of its wines; in contrast, the southern Rhône Valley, home to Châteauneuf, feels like an extension of Provence, all sparkling light, picture-postcard villages and gentle hills. The place is charming, not harsh. If a local farmer from the Priorat were to wake up here, he’d think he’d gone to heaven. At least until he realized everyone was speaking French.

I spent the night at a bed-and-breakfast; the next morning, I drove to Château de Beaucastel, one of the greatest producers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Marc Perrin, a lanky 41-year-old whose family owns Beaucastel, looked surprisingly relaxed—surprising since it was the middle of harvest and his wife had had a baby three weeks before. “I’m not getting much sleep,” he admitted.

Next Stop: Italy »

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video-france Video: French Wines