After three months in London, I was fortunate to escape the confines of lockdown and head to a remote area of Provence at the end of June. Once the two weeks of self-imposed quarantine were over, the first thing I did was pay a visit to one of my favourite restaurants, La Bastide St Antoine in Grasse. Having grown up in the region, Jacques Chibois’ La Bastide has been a firm favourite for many years and the location of numerous celebrations. I couldn’t think of a better place to celebrate the easing of lockdown and my first restaurant visit in four months.
Under the shaded groves of pine trees, I went with a more unusual wine choice (for me!) moving away from my usual Burgundies and opted for a Condrieu from the Northern Rhone, which reminded me how wonderful those white wines can be, and how little I drink them at home in London. Made in miniscule quantities, Condrieus are made exclusively from 100% Viognier and are full-bodied in style with an incredibly seductive perfume. Meant to be drunk young, between two to four years after bottling, these wines are often overlooked by their more famous Burgundy cousins and are well worth a try if you are yet to discover them.
Condrieu is a tiny appellation located to the south of the red wine appellation of Cote Rotie, on the bend of the river where the best vineyards are exposed to the south. These vertiginously steep, granitic slopes are dizzying in their heights and lead to impressive challenges for winemakers in terms of harvesting and vine cultivation, hence the small yields and high costs. The strong mistral wind and soil erosions are also problematic in the region, but the resulting wines give out hauntingly beautiful aromatics. It is hard to forget your first Condrieu.
The wines of Domaine Pierre-Jean Villa are some of my favourite Rhone wines. After training at the prestigious Mommessins and Clos de Tart in Burgundy, he returned to his childhood region of the Rhone valley and started to work alongside the famous trio of Vins de Vienne: Francois Villard, Yves Cuilleron and Pierre Gaillard. Making both reds and whites across 5 Rhone appellations, his Condrieu is absolutely gorgeous and perfect for that special occasion lunch (mini frozen tomato dessert not included). The 2018 vintage has just arrived and is superb.