By 1965, the vineyards of Condrieu had largely been abandoned – phylloxera and two world wars had decimated the place and its people. There were just 8ha of vines remaining on these granite slopes. If it weren’t for the hard work of a few steadfast vignerons, the appellation might have disappeared entirely, reclaimed by the forest. Thankfully, Condrieu survived and has since flourished – but great appellations have been lost before. We know this because some have recently been rediscovered.
In fact, there are two very special terroirs at either end of the northern Rhône that are gradually returning to their former glory. These aren’t the only appellations making a comeback, but for now, Brézème to the south and Seyssuel to the north are the ones you need to know about. Their renaissance has begun.
It wasn’t until Yves Mengin had retired from his accountancy role and moved to the village of Livron-sur-Drôme in the early 1990s that he first saw the hill of Brézème. A lifelong wine lover, it was immediately clear that, despite its overgrown state, this south-facing slope had magnificent potential. Establishing a vineyard wasn’t his original retirement plan, but, ‘I saw the abandoned hill,’ he says, ‘and I thought – why not me?’
Clambering up the slope, he found old stone terraces from previous vineyards, but the terrain was completely overgrown. It took him four years to clear the ground, rebuild the walls and replant vines. He named his estate Domaine des Quatre Cerises after the wild cherry trees he tore out to create his vineyard, and in tribute to his four children. His first vintage was 1998.
Mengin was by no means the first to recognise Brézème’s potential. Written references to its wines date back to 1422, and by 1813 there were 40ha of vineyards. By 1827, wine prices were approaching those of Hermitage.
When phylloxera ravaged the Rhône vineyards towards the end of the 19th century, Hermitage was replanted fairly rapidly. Brézème took longer to bounce back. It was only in the 1940s that a few rows of vines were replanted by the Pouchoulin family, followed by Mengin and others.
POINTS OF DIFFERENCE
When it comes to comparisons with Hermitage, it doesn’t stop at prices; the terroir itself bears some similarities, albeit on a smaller scale. Brézème is a long hill that stands proudly alone on the east bank of the Rhône. Its western flank rises to 256m, then gradually tapers down to the east. Unlike Hermitage however, the river that flows at its foot isn’t the Rhône itself but the Drôme, a blue-green tributary that flows down from the foothills of the Alps.
Another difference is that there is no granite here; the hill of Brézème mostly comprises clay limestone and alluvial deposits from the Rhône and the Drôme. Grape varieties, however, are largely the same: the reds are made from Syrah, the whites mostly from Marsanne and Roussanne, joined here by Viognier. Not that there’s anything stopping local growers from planting any of the 23 varieties allowed in the Côtes du Rhône rulebook.
It’s something of a historical anomaly, but even though growers here can use the name Brézème on their labels, the land is only graded AP Côtes du Rhône. They’re hoping that the powers that be will promote Brézème to the same level as crus such as Cornas and St-Joseph, but the process takes years, if not decades, and there is little sign of any imminent changes. Mengin says the current situation is illogical and that being promoted would give this terroir the recognition and visibility he thinks it deserves.
He’s right: it does deserve it. Though there is some diversity in the reds and particularly the whites of Brézème, there is a stylistic thread that runs through them, and some of these wines are thrillingly good. What unites them is a sense of energy, tension and rising freshness. Aromatically I often find a subtle spicy char and a touch of menthol in the reds. They are only medium-bodied, but have remarkable intensity.
Brézème: Walls’ wines to look out for
Domaine des Quatre Cerises, Côtes du Rhône Brézème 2019 92 N/A UK email@example.com
Still very young, this MarsanneRoussanne-Viognier blend is more about texture and structure than exuberant flavour for now. It has a pleasing freshness and is lightbodied for a Rhône white. A touch of creaminess on the finish and a hint of almond; well balanced, but needs a little time to unwind. Good sense of tension, precise and very drinkable. Might score even higher with time. Drink 2022-2026 Alcohol 12.5%
1 Domaine de Bréseyme, Côtes du Rhône Brézème 2018 91
£27.99 (2019) Blanco & Gomez, Liberty Wines, Nicholson’s Wines, Theatre of Wine
A domaine recently purchased by Maison & Domaines Les Alexandrins. 70% Viognier, 30% Marsanne. There’s orange blossom and subtle lime. The oak is bold but integrated and lends a little cashew and silkiness to the palate, as well as extending the finish. Not overly rich in fruit, the keen acid line also helps bring balance. Very fresh. Lovers of oaked Condrieu may enjoy this. Drink 2021-2024 Alc 13%
Domaine des Quatre Cerises, Côtes du Rhône Brézème 2020 95
N/A UK firstname.lastname@example.org
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
My top 20 South American Bordeaux blends
Argentina, Chile and Uruguay have a shared formula for fine wines, taking inspiration from the Bordeaux tradition. These wines are excelling today, thanks to increasingly refined winemaking methods and exceptional vintages
2019 revisited Bordeaux in bottle
After tasting more than 800 newly bottled 2019 wines, Decanter’s Bordeaux correspondent is full of praise for the vintage’s consistent and expressive wines, with successes on both Left and Right Bank
Southern Rhône 2020
Following on from the northern Rhône 2020 report in our last issue, we delve into the year’s southern Rhône releases, based on a tasting of more than 1,200 wines. This vintage’s wines should be quite accessible when young, and there are some particularly noteworthy whites
South African Sauvignon Blanc 10 top producers
Sit up and take notice: South Africa is blazing a trail in the New World, making site-expressive Sauvignon Blanc. The local winemakers’ respect for their terroir has seen a growing number turning out Sauvignons that speak confidently of their origins. Here are 10 names to watch
FIVE OF THE BEST IRISH WHISKEYS
Popular with drinkers around the world, Irish whiskey has experienced mixed fortunes in the past and the category nearly died out altogether a few decades ago.
Its year-round sun and dramatic coastline mean it’s already a much-loved beach holiday destination. But this southern Portuguese hotspot is upping its game, providing plenty to tempt wine lovers inland for a taste of something different
THE JUNIPER HUNTERS
A small number of British distillers are choosing native juniper rather than popular imported European options to make their gins
Judy Joo's Ultimate KFC
This spicy Korean Fried Chicken dish features in a new book celebrating female chefs on the British food scene. We’ve matched it with wine styles that can take the heat
My life as a personal wine consultant
It isn’t a job you’ll see advertised, so what does it take to become one? Right place, right time? Experience, qualifications, hard work, connections? All of those and more, it turns out
A heavy price
Making glass bottles lighter is an easy way to reduce wine's carbon emissions - yet it remains a weighty issue for the industry, with many producers yet to make changes
THEIR FIGHT IS OUR FIGHT
The truth is kryptonite for authoritarians and oligarchs-in Russia, and here at home.
“THEY'RE NOT HUMAN BEINGS”
Ukraine and the words that lead to mass murder
‘Division of the World Is Inevitable'
Countries need to choose whether to align with autocrats or democracies, says a former NATO Secretary-General
DETAILED ‘OPEN SOURCE' NEWS INVESTIGATIONS ARE CATCHING ON
One of the more striking pieces of journalism from the Ukraine war featured intercepted radio transmissions from Russian soldiers indicating an invasion in disarray, their conversations even interrupted by a hacker literally whistling “Dixie.”
Daddy, The Dictator
Vladimir Putin is fiercely protective of his private life. But could his adult daughters be his Achilles heel?
ELON MUSK ASKED TO TESTIFY ON TWITTER BY UK PARLIAMENT
A British parliamentary committee scrutinizing draft online safety legislation has invited Elon Musk to discuss his plans to buy Twitter and the changes he’s proposing for the social media platform.
Four Must-See Crime Dramas
ANNIKA | UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN | SHINING GIRLS | SIGNORA VOLPE
A CHILLING RUSSIAN CYBER AIM IN UKRAINE: DIGITAL DOSSIERS
Russia’s relentless digital assaults on Ukraine may have caused less damage than many anticipated. But most of its hacking is focused on a different goal that gets less attention but has chilling potential consequences: data collection.
DJI HALTS RUSSIA, UKRAINE BUSINESS TO PREVENT DRONE MISUSE
Drone company DJI Technology Co has temporarily suspended business activities in Russia and Ukraine to prevent use of its drones in combat, in a rare case of a Chinese company pulling out of Russia because of the war.
An Uncertain Future for Ukrainian Refugees
The majority of the 12 million displaced by the war with Russia may never be able to go home