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The Day We Discovered a Secret French Wine

July 25, 2012 at 11:47 AM | by | ()

One of the things we love about travelling in France is stumbling across random local wines that even winefans like us aren't familiar with. (It doesn't help with the "not familiar" part that the French shifted round their already-impenetrable system a few years ago.) The great thing is, these local wines we'd never heard of are often more awesome than the bigger names. And sometimes they're secret.

And so it was when we came to stay on the Côte Roannaise, a stretch of hills near renowned foodie town Roanne between Lyon and Vichy. Nestling in the hills of the Monts de la Madeleine (Magdalene Mountains) on the side of the upper reaches of the Loire, and discovered both the AOC Côte Roannaise and the IGP Vin de pays d'Urfé.

LOL OMG, WTF's an AOC and an IGP, you ask? Well, get yourself a glass of something, read on and we'll explain.

Okay, so just about all the really famous French wine is from an AOC, which is French for appellation d'origine contrôlée or "controlled designation of origin". English-speaking winos like us just call it an AOC, though.

It's why only bubbly wine from the Champagne region, made in a certain prescribed way, with a certain selection of grapes (or cépage) in a certain proportion, can be called Champagne -- everything else has to be "sparkling wine". Champagne is an AOC.

So it is on the Côte Roannaise, where the AOC specifies that you have to use the lesser-known Gamay grapes to make either red or rosé wine -- there's no white wine specification on the Côte Roannaise.

That's where we come to an IGP, which French for indication géographique protégée or "protected designation of origin". It's used across Europe for everything from cheese (Gorgonzola) to pies (Melton Mowbray) to wine. Wine that says that it's a Vin de pays de _____ is a type of IGP.

Getting confusing? Please enjoy this lovely picture of a sunny French vineyard.

In terms of wine, a Vin de pays label is less restrictive in what you make and how you make it than an AOC, which means that winemakers can be more adventurous and expermimental. For example, on the same hillside, our favourite local winemaker Robert Sérol can grow AOC Côte Roannaise and Vin de pays d'Urfé. (The Vin de pays d'Urfé is bigger in size than the AOC Côte Roannaise too, and stretches out to the Côtes du Forez.)

The Côte Roannaise must be a red or rosé made from Gamay grapes (unless it's sparkling, in which case a few extra grapes are allowed) but the Vin de pays d'Urfé can be a white made from Aligoté, Chardonnay, Gamay, Marsanne, Pinot Gris, Roussanne or Viognier. It can also be a red or rosé that's at least 70% Gamay, Pinot Noir or Syrah, with potentially 30% of the interesting "sub-grapes" Gamay de Chaudenay or Gamay de Bouze.

Heh heh, Gamay de Bouze. And speaking of booze now that our impromptu wine lesson is over, if you're within spitting (or swallowing, if you're not driving) distance of the lovely town of Renaison, hie thee on over to Domaine Robert Sérol, our favourite local producer.

Not only is Sérol actually open to the public omg (seriously, vineyards with an open door policy in France are a rarity...usually you have to ring up and make an appointment) but it has a great set of reds. (Yes, since you've been reading along, you know: they're all Gamay.)

But even better, it has a Secret Wine, L'Incorruptible.

Okay, it's not secret-secret (it has its own webpage and all), but you have to ask for it when you're at the winery, because it's so popular that it's not on display in the tasting room.

See? Not on display.

L'Incorruptible is a vin naturel, which means that it's on the road to being organic, and doesn't use sulphur in the winemaking process (though there's a bit used in bottling). That's good because some people are particularly sensitive to sulphites, and we can entirely scientifically confirm that drinking an awful lot of this glorious Gamay red gives you less of a hangover.

Also, it's very tasty.

[Pictures: John Walton for Jaunted]

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