Some regions in the world are known for single varietal wines, such as pinot noir and chardonnay in Burgundy, nebbiolo in Barolo and tempranillo in Ribera del Duero. In other regions, such as in Bordeaux, Riojo and the Southern Rhone, they are known for their blends.
I am not here to say that one is better than the other. A single varietal wine can truly express the terroir it comes from. On the other hand, a well-crafted blend will balance the different characteristics of each grape to enhance aromas, color, texture, body or finish of a wine.
The Rhône Valley in France is one of the regions known for its blends. In the Southern Rhône, grenache is the dominant variety but traditionally it is blended with syrah, cinsault and mouvedre. Blending is one of the required rules in Côtes du Rhône and other appellations in Southern Rhone.
Therefore, I was all the more surprised when tasting wines at Découvertes en Vallée du Rhône, the Rhône Valley wine fair earlier this year, where I found more and more producers offering 100 percent grenache wines.
Yves Cuilleron, a Rhone winemaking legend, is known as the “King of Condrieu.”
I recall the first time I met him at Hospice du Rhone in Paso Robles in 2015. The crowd around his table was five-deep but I had been told that I had to taste his wines.
I patiently waited for an opening and thrust my glass forward. Yves poured some Condrieu in my glass and I was transfixed.
Until then, I had never been a fan of viognier, which always built up anticipation with its aromatic nose but then disappointed on the palate with a lack of texture and acidity. Here was a viognier with the apricot, peach and floral notes on the nose that was backed up by the richness and bright acidity on the palate. I was entranced.
I met Yves Cuilleron for a second time when I was at Découvertes en Vallée du Rhône early this year. The four-day Rhône Valley wine fair started in the Southern Rhône city of Avignon, moving north to Tain l’Hermitage and ending in Ampuis, the town just north of Condrieu. On my final day, I was unexpectedly invited to join some friends to visit Cuilleron at his winery. I jumped at the chance to go with little expectation of what I was about to experience.
The Cuilleron family Domaine was founded in 1920 by Yves Cuilleron’s grandfather, followed by Cuilleron’s uncle who took over in 1960.