Bookended to the top and bottom by its equally renowned neighbours, Burgundy
and Provence, the Côtes du Rhône region straddles the namesake river’s banks
for approximately 200kms from Vienne in the north to just below Avignon in the
south. Part of Narbonese Gaul, Romans founded terraced vineyards here late in
the 2nd century BC, though some significant development in winemaking history
corresponds with the arrival of Popes in the 14th century. Displaced from their
traditional seat in Rome due to the so-called western-schism, a splitting of the
Catholic Church, and hemmed in by the upheaval of France and England’s 100
Years’ War, the temporary papal retreat to Avignon would be prolonged for 9
successions. Competitively inclined, the Popes and Cardinals established farm
estates on tracts of Côtes du Rhône lands that had been ceded to the church.
Gradually expanding the vineyard plantings secured a local wine source and
provided revenue in the exporting of surplus production. 500 years onward, long
after the Popes had left to reoccupy the Vatican, Avignon was again anointed in
1966. This time with the secular designation of ‘Capital City’ of all Rhône wines.
Vintners along the somewhat cooler stretch of the valley north of Montelimar
make varietal wines exclusively with Syrah grapes, whereas wineries in southern
zones produce the now classic GSM blends of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, or
GSMC in which Carignan rounds out the recipe. This DéClassé recommended,
Domaine Le Grand Retour – Plan de Dieu is a robust 70/20/10% GSM blend
extracted from 45-year-old vine stock. Rooted in stony limestone or red clay soils
typical of the Plan de Dieu sub-region, this geographic ‘God’s Plain’ has a localized,
hot and dry climate, making the terroir ideal for the full maturation of its signature
grape varieties. Lying at the base of the Dentelles de Montmirail foothills, the plain
encompasses vineyards that surround the towns of Camaret-sur-Aigues, Violes,
Jonquieres, as well as, the source of this week’s feature bottle from Travaillan.
Despite being a relatively new appellation created in 2005, the Plan de Dieu AOP
classification with the ‘Villages’ qualifier, indicates a more distinctive quality of wine
than that of the generic Côtes du Rhône AOP. The unique bottle style also features
Plan de Dieu as an embossed coat-of-arms: a cluster of grapes framed by a halo!
Domaine Le Grand Retour is one of a trio of winemaking estates that the three
Aubert brothers have overseen since the 1980’s, carrying forward and further
developing the foundation and traditions begun by their father. 150 hectares of
this property were originally established by Algerian immigrants, who again left
France for a time. On returning, they found the now mature plantings ready to
bear fruit–providing the inspiration for the Domaine’s name, ‘the major return’.
The same sentiment can also be applied here to this bottling, having become a
yearly Vintages release that always seems to exceed its generalized pedigree as
an entry-level, southern Rhône wine. In my pocketbook, this Plan de Dieu trumps
lower end offerings of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, as for the same price I can buy 3!
DOMAINE LE GRAND RETOUR / PLAN DE DIEU
COTES DU RHONE – VILLAGES 2013
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #224592 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 14.95
Sugar Content Descriptor: D
Made in: Rhône, France
By: Earl Aubert
Release Date: Jan. 9, 2016
Dark Ruby coloured with a supple mouthfeel, this un-oaked and pleasingly rustic
red combines rich fruit and savory notes. The aroma and flavour complexity of
berry, chocolate and herbs make it a good match with strong cheeses, roast
duck and lamb, stuffed eggplant or a mixed bean stew with sage.