Cairanne and Lirac, like Ventoux, are two appellations in the Rhône that are getting recognised for the increasing quality of their wines and the value for money they afford, compared to their more illustrious neighbours. In order to sample some of the best Cairanne and Lirac wines available in the UK, and to prove how they work with food and younger drinkers, Helena Nicklin of the Three Drinkers was enlisted to give them a spotlight at London’s trendy Gods Own Junkyard. Victor Smart reports.
“Moving on to Cairanne, and we’re dealing with an appellation which though roughly the same size as Lirac, only officially assumed standalone AOC status five years ago.,” writes Smart.
It is a “crazy, bonkers venue”, as our host Helena Nicklin explains. Full of garish, trashy neon signs taken from Soho when sex not salsa was on sale there, the Gods own Junkyard is screamingly funky. And what could be more of a statement than inviting guests to a tasting of Rhône wines in Walthamstow in east London.
The aim of this “Unexpected Tasting” evening is to show how two specific Côtes du Rhône appellations, Cairanne and Lirac, are staying “relevant and engaging” to new audiences. I take this to mean attractive to young drinkers most likely to down cocktails or favour natural wines. So in attendance are mainly influencers, who also report on food – perfumes even – and who understand the power of the visual. The food, incidentally, is provided by Native Feasts and paired to the wines by Michelin-starred chef, Chris Godfrey.
Nicklin, who co-hosts Amazon’s Three Drinkers television show, which has just announced its second series for next February, likes to major on grape varieties as a way in to introducing wines. There’s “moody” and “brooding” Syrah, “fresh-faced” Grenache and so on. Tonight, she declares, all the wine blends are made to taste approachable and accessible. Most retail at around the £20 a bottle retail price point.
Of the two Côtes du Rhônes, Lirac and Cairanne, Lirac is the better established. Recognised in 1947, the AOC is relatively small at 770 ha, roughly a quarter of the more illustrious (and pricey) Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC. It produces mainly reds from the traditional Rhône varietals Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault. White wine production has increased steadily to around 10% with the most commonly used white wine grape varieties being Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Rousanne, Bourboulenc and Viognier.
We kick off with a white Château d’Aqueria 2020 available from Drinks & Co at £19.90. This does not have a huge acidity but does boast attractive nutty and pear-like notes. Then we move on to Lirac reds. At £21.20 from Le Vignoble, Domaine La Lôyane – Elie 2019 is one of the pricier offering with an appealing salinity. There is also the Ogier Les Closiers, part of M&S’s wine line-up with red berry flavours and the cheapest on offer here at £10.
Moving on to Cairanne, and we’re dealing with an appellation which though roughly the same size as Lirac, only officially assumed standalone AOC status five years ago.
Nicklin is fond of ascribing personalities not just to varietals but individual wines. So the white Domaine A. Berthet-Rayne Castel Mireio 2020 is the “Beyoncé of wines”. Made by a young female winemaker, this is fuller-bodied with a touch of umami that would go well with richer food. It’s available from Carte du Vin at £17.95. Slightly cheaper is the red Domaine Roche 2019, which is bold and full bodied with some garrigue flavours, that demands to be served with food. (Lea & Sanderman £15.50). And, finally, another red, the Vidal-Fleury 2019 which is made from 80 year old vines and is delightfully soft with an excellent freshness.
Wines like Lirac and Cairanne, living alongside neighbours with flashier reputations, have long been the place to look for high quality and good value for money. That surely should make and keep them ‘relevant’ to any audience.