When most of us think of the Côtes du Rhône we imagine an area beginning south of Lyon and ending south of Avignon, home to Croze Hermitage, Gigondas, Tavel, Beaujoulais, Condrieu and Chateauneuf du Pape. Few realize if you leave Lyon and follow the river upstream there is a plethora of other fascinating and little known wine producing regions competing for quality and price with their better known cousins. One could also argue the pre-Alpine landscape provides a more scenic backdrop for the travelling wine enthusiast. These Franco-Suisse regions boast some of Europe’s largest fresh water lakes (Annecy, Bourget, and Leman). Many of France and Switzerland’s best restaurants are located here and a visit to one of them is often a good way to experience the wine because most of it is consumed locally. To appreciate these Rhone valley wines you’ll need to plan a trip.
The Rhone begins its life in Switzerland at the Rhone Glacier or Rottengletscher in the canton of Wallis (or Valais as it is known in the canton’s French-speaking parts). The name of the Canton in both languages refers to the the Rhone River valley that defines this French-German canton. Vines begin to dot the landscape around Visp, about 50 kilometers from the glacier. By the time you reach Sion the south facing slopes are carpeted with impressively steep, terraced vineyards that continue all the way to Lake Geneva. The Valais is where many of Switzerland’s best wines are produced.
At Port Valais near Montreux the Rhone enters Lake Geneva (or Lac Leman as the French call it). Along the north shore of the lake in the French-speaking Vaud canton, world-class wines are produced from ancient vineyards, some of which, like the Unesco protected Lavaux, were planted as far back as the Romans. The Rhone exits the lake at Geneva and continues south-west towards Lyon through the Haute Savoie, the Ain and the Savoie départements. All along the way there are fascinating wines to discover. Some claim “the best sparkling wine outside of Champagne” is produced in Ayze in the Haute Savoie. Others think Seysell’s ancient bubbly competes for this title. In Frangy, Jongieux, Chautagne and Marestel sparkling, white and red wines are made. Nearby, just outside of Chambery there are a series of picturesque wine-making villages like Apremont, Chignin, Arbin and Cruet, to name just a few. On the northern side of the Rhone in the Ain there is the hauntingly beautiful and little known Bugey wine region.
Michael and I have been spending time here for years. I won’t even try to describe the wine or the food in this short post because it would be impossible to do either justice. Recently we enjoyed a couple of days revisiting the Bugey as well as Chignin, Arbin and Jongieux. The scenery in these alpine foothills is spectacular with Mont Blanc visible from many vineyards south of Chambery. Around Lac de Bourget and Lac de Annecy are several acclaimed Michelin-starred restaurants. We had lunch at the 2 starred Les Morainieres in Jongieux where we were pleasantly surprised with one of the best meals we’ve had in a very long time. Here are a few pictures…