I am a confessed lover of Côtes du Rhône wines – especially the Côtes du Rhône Villages and Cru (areas that have earned the right to have their names stand alone on the label) appellations. These are wines with gusto and personality free of pretense. Here Grenache is king but this great varietal has a lot of support with the likes of the Rhone’s northern star Syrah, as well as Mourvédre, Cinsault, Carignan, and others.
The wines of the Southern Rhône can be simple and playful or deep and complex and sometimes, they are both. These are wines for all seasons being congenial dinner companions or perfect for sipping solo.
Among the great Cru wines of the Southern Rhône is often forgotten appellation of Lirac. Somehow Lirac is overshadowed by its peers Gigondas, Vacqueras, and Rasteau despite being a much older French AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée, which translates as “controlled designation of origin” – France’s official designations given to wines, cheeses, and other products.)
Lirac gained AOC status in 1947 and was the first Côtes du Rhône Cru to produce all three colors: red, white, and rosé. Despite still producing all three, Lirac is dominated by red wines at 85% of production followed by whites at 9%, and just 6% rosé.
The production area of Lirac covers 782 hectares on the right bank of the Rhône, 15km northeast of Avignon. Its famous neighbor Châteaunef-du-Pape occupies the left bank. Here the climate is purely Mediterranean featuring a tremendous number of sunny days, near constant breezes, and ideal temperature. The soils include limestone plateaus with red clay and large pebbles (a hallmark of many top Southern Rhône appellations) with central alluvial terraces featuring red clay on sand.
The Wines of Lirac
It’s most sensible to focus on the red wines of Lirac as the other colors are rarely seen outside of the region. The red wines of Lirac are made with varying blends of Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvédre, and Cinsault. They are noted for their rich, red berry fruit flavors supported by dried black berries, herbs, and loads of spices namely brown baking spices like allspice, clove, nutmeg, and often a healthy dose of anise.
I’m a huge fan of these wines and I am wont to buy them from restaurant wine lists when, on rare occasions, I spot them. Most serious wine retailers will offer a Lirac wine or two. Most of the time these wines can be had for under $20 and I have rarely seen them exceed $30 making them relative values.
If you too are a fan of Côtes du Rhône wines and have become devotees of Gigondas or Rasteau you owe it to yourself to seek out the wines of Lirac before they become famous and expensive!
A few Lirac wines that you may encounter
Château de Montfaucon Côtes du Rhône Lirac – typically a blend of 50% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 20% Cinsault and 10% Carignan, the wine has been fermented in concrete tanks (a common method in France). The nose is filled with raspberries, cherries and blackcurrant with peppery notes.
Domaine de la Mordorée “La Reine des Bois” Lirac – This is an intense wine with notes of blackberry, cassis, licorice and cedar. It’s beautiful young but will age for 5 to 10 years with ease.