Chêne Bleu is a critically-acclaimed new winery in the Southern Rhône, located in the Dentelles de Montmirail, of Gigondas fame, in a protected mountain saddle in a UNESCO biosphere reserve. This family owned single estate make meticulously handcrafted wines in tiny quantities, no more than 600 cases of each wine. The terroir here is special: The 30 hectare vineyard is the highest in the region, and one of the highest in the South of France, at 550-630m. The resulting cool nights and late harvest bring a highly desirable ‘Northern-Rhône’ style freshness to the ‘Southern Rhône’ rich concentration of fruit and tannin. The estate was purchased by Xavier Rolet and his wife Nicole in 1994 and with it began the project of renovating this medieval estate vineyard to the highest international standards. The Rolets took the bold decision to take their wines out of the AOC system in order to have full artistic freedom to pursue the property’s utmost potential for quality. The wines thus carry the Vins de Pays de Vaucluse designation, as such they can be considered the first ever "Super Rhônes". Their pursuit of quality is obsessive: only hand picking, double sorting with individual grape selection, top quality new French oak cooperage, state-of-the-art gravity fed winery and parcel by parcel vinifications. In the vineyard everything is farmed according to biodynamic principles and ancient methods with emphasis on maintaining the ecosystem, planting bamboo forests to purify the water; propolis from their own beehives as an organic treatment for the vines. There are no shortcuts at this estate and the resulting wines are powerful, layered but with a sense of origin and also a fair degree of finesse, too.
Côtes du Rhône is a huge appellation spanning over 40,000 ha of the Rhône valley, ranging from pockets of vineyard skirting the Northern Rhône appellations to the flat, arid plateaux of the Southern Rhône. Most of the production comes from the South from the Grenache grape, however the other Châteauneuf varieties are permitted too. This vast swathe of vine-growing land is as big as AC Bordeaux and makes huge quantities of low-priced wine consumed in brasseries up and down France. Alot of the lower priced wines are made in a similar method to Beaujolais, carbonic or semi-carbonic maceration, which gives light wines of soft tannins and aromatic, but often confected fruit. The quality of these inexpensive wines is usually bland at best, however there are a number of great wine estates from the more solubrious parts of the Rhône, particularly Châteauneuf-du-Pape, who make very good examples at a fraction of the price of their top wines. The vast majority of the production is Red, followed by rosé, very little white wine is produced. All but the wines from the greatest wine-producers are for drinking within 1-3 years after the vintage.