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Well, it's about time we got stuck into wine with a vengeance -we're talking about France here!!
Not only that, but coupled with the natural beauty of the Côte Roannaise, this place is now really producing some excellent quality and very good value wines.
They are becoming more and more popular, locally and nationally.
The valleys and mountain vistas of the Côte Roannaise are stunning, as are the many ancient villages which are located along the outstretched limbs of the Monts de la Madeleine here in Le Roannais, an almost secret paradise in a modest back-water of the grand Rhone-Alpes region near the township of Roanne( less than an hour's sedate and picturesque drive from the city of Lyon, and the famous Vichy spa town.)
This little known wine region near Roanne(another region of France where the river Loire snakes through it!) stands up well in comparison with the better-known Beaujolais appellation.
Its twin secrets are the Gamay grape variety and the solid granite of the Monts de la Madeleine beneath the roots of the vines.
Various articles now seem to be appearing occasionally in various magazines about this region, and one recently gave me food, or should I say, wine-for-thought!
I dare to allude to one of these articles, and quote a little from its pages.
The author, obviously a person of impeccable taste, particularly for wine, was on a photo-editorial trip along the Côte Roannaise.
My story continues.
He initially lodges somewhere in one of the many little villages – Villemontais, a prettily-situated place on the lower slopes of the Monts de la Madeleine – the outriders of the north-eastern edge of the Massif Central.
And whilst taking time to relax, he gazes dreamily across over the Roannais plain at cumulus clouds high over the Col de la Cambuse, on the other side of which is Villefranche-sur-Saône.
The presence, of course, of the local Domaine's Rosé à l'Ancienne in an ice bucket next to him does nothing to help his attention to work. He realises, whilst sipping this rosé wine that it is one of the best he has ever tasted in all his recent travelling.
It was a chance discovery!
On his arrival in Roanne he lunched, simply, at La Maison Troisgros – one of the most famous restaurants, with one of the best cellars, in the world! (Not just a restaurant with three Micheline stars, then!).
He asked the eager sommelier if he had a house wine on the list. Not exactly, he said, but there was something very reasonably priced which came from not far away. In fact, a vineyard in which Michel Troisgros himself had an interest. Our man agreed to try a glass.
He describes it thus, "It was delicious, typical of the Gamay grape at its best: fruity, floral, light yet full-bodied; eminently quaffable!"
He thinks that what the obliging sommelier meant by " not far away" was somewhere in the Beaujolais, the heart of which was no more than 50 kilometres beyond the hills to the east.
Our expert in 'taste' felt confident that it was a Fleurie or perhaps a Chiroubles.
But no. He was right about the Gamay, but totally wrong about the location.
The wine was from Renaison, only 11 kilometres away on the Côte Roannaise.
Now the Côte Roannaise is no more than 20 kilometres in length and never more than 600 metres wide, and lies between the little ancient village of Ambierle, north-west of Roanne, and Villemontais to the south-west.
All-in-all, an amazing place to visit and wander!
So, our estimable friend had discovered the secret taste and vistas of this magical place.
Not only that, but it is certainly true to say that the Gamay grape has a special liking for granite.
I quote from our man, "Only the northern vineyards of the Beaujolais, which produce the best and most famous crus, are on granite; most of the rest are on limestone. By contrast, all of the vineyards of the Côte Roannaise are on granite. Like the best of Beaujolais, having spent two or three years in a bottle, the wine can deliver a wholly pleasing complexity not usually encountered (or allowed the time to develop) in wines made from the Gamay grape."
I now feel it is time to pour myself a small glass of some of this Côte Roannaise wine we have been celebrating.
I have a bottle of red from the vineyards of Domaine du Fountenay run by Simon Hawkins and his family. An Englishman turned native! And with a superb reputation for high quality produce.
Even if you are not a mad wine connoisseur, or even if you only just like a nice tipple now an again, the Côte Roannaise is a beautiful and fascinating place to visit. There is simply stunning countryside, idyllic medieval villages, french markets, and the best of typically french country food. There are many top class restaurants in the region to delight the palate!
The Côte Roannaise Villages: Saint-Jean-St-Maurice, Villemontais, Saint-André-d'Apchon, Renaison, Saint-Haon-le-Chatel, Saint-Haon-le-Vieux, Ambierle, Lentigny, St-Alban-les-Eaux.
Just go and visit – you will not be disappointed!
I shall definitley be returning to the Côte Roannaise very soon. I need to top up my own cave!
Thanks to Nigel Buxton for his interesting article in the flybe in-flight magazine.