A Big Wine Story From a Little French Village

Staff Writer
A Big Wine Story From a Little French Village
A display of bottles from the historic French wine village of Cairanne.
Michelle Kiefer

A display of bottles from the historic French wine village of Cairanne.

There’s an old proverb in the French village of Cairanne that states, "From the Mont Ventoux to the Rhône River, it’s Cairanne that bears the crown." If the claim sounds lofty, that’s because when it comes to the wines of the Rhône Valley, naming is everything. Only a select number of wine-producing villages in the region are permitted to put their name on the label, and Cairanne is one of them. Think of it this way: the more specific the locality of the wine label, the higher up on the ranking of appellations. Spot the words "Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne," and you’re among the upper tiers of Rhône wines.

The story of how Cairanne, a tiny medieval village with a population of less than 1,000, reached its status in the wine world reads like an underdog tale. Cairanne has long been concerned with protecting the reputation of its wine, but it took centuries before it got the recognition it craved. A town edict in 1786 declared, "Innkeepers may only sell to individuals the local wine in sealed bottles." In 1929, a group of winegrowers formed a cooperative to promote Cairanne wines and work toward AOC status. Finally in 1967, the coveted "Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne" appellation was granted, putting this Provençal village on the map.

It’s no simple task making a Cairanne wine. First, winemakers have to use a highly specific blend of grapes. Reds and rosés must have 50 percent grenache and at least 20 percent syrah or mourvèdre, while white wines can be made from a combination of grenache, marsanne, roussanne, bourboulenc, and viognier. That recipe is only a small sampling of the long list of criteria, from grape types to yield to alcohol content, which each bottle of wine must meet before it can be called a Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne.

Despite the specificity of the grape blends, Cairanne wines nonetheless have a diverse flavor profile thanks to the three different soil types within the territory. Chalky white clay yields robust wines with a spicy, leathery flavor, while red clays produce more easy-drinking wines. The silty soil near the Aygues River results in smooth, fruity reds. The small percentage of white and rosé wines have refreshing, elegant flavors with floral nuances.

Today, key producers of the Cairanne appellation include Domaine de l’Oratoire Saint-Martin, a winery run by two brothers that can trace its winemaking roots back 300 years, and the Maison Camille Cayran, a cooperative of 110 wine growers. These wineries are considered some of the best in the Rhône Valley, no small feat for a community of village winemakers.

 

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