This week on a bonus episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter and Zach Geballe are joined by winemakers Michel Gassier from Château de Nages and Franck-Lin Dalle from Château de Campuget. The four discuss Costières de Nîmes, an ancient wine region located in the southernmost part of the Rhône Valley. Listeners will learn about the region’s vast history and unique geography, and how the wines produced there are affected by both.
Costières de Nîmes is the only southern Rhône appellation where Syrah is the dominant red varietal. And though there are myriad wines produced in Costières de Nîmes, rosé reigns king. Dalle and Gassier explain how rosés from Costières de Nîmes are different from those coming out of Provence, as well as why the region has embraced Mediterranean culture.
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Adam Teeter: From Brooklyn, N.Y., I’m Adam Teeter.
Zach Geballe: And in Seattle, Wash., I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this is a bonus “VinePair Podcast.” You are getting a double dose this week. Congratulations, you lucky ducks.
Z: Two episodes, same great price.
A: It’s amazing, right? It’s not a “Next Round.” It’s a real podcast. We are talking about a cool wine region we’re excited about. Before we jump into that, what’s going on man?
Z: Oh, man. I have been so excited about being able to sit outside and drink because we’ve had some pretty good weather in Seattle. I feel like I spent all of 2020 after March and because of the weather in Seattle, indoors. Now, I can just stand in my yard and drink a beer. It shouldn’t be this big, exciting moment for me. I took my son to the park and he met some friends who have a son of a similar age. So did we take our kids on the tennis court so they could ride their scooters and we could drink beers? We absolutely did.
Z: That is what has been going on with us. How about you?
A: I’ve been doing a lot of outdoor dining, which is a lot of fun. It’s been getting really nice, so I respect what you’re doing. Besides that, I’m getting excited about late-spring and early summer entertaining, and changing the moods in terms of the drinks we’re surveying. My favorite cocktail of the year last year was the Daiquiri. I think it might be again this year because it is such a great drink. Also, I am getting excited about, obviously, rosé. It’s the best, but we’ll talk about that a little bit in a second, but I guess that’s a good segue, right? I butcher French names all the time, so can you introduce the wine region we’re talking about?
Z: I’m going to do my best. I think I’m slightly more proficient, but our guests can gladly correct pronunciation. We are talking about Costières de Nîmes, and we’ll let our guests know a little bit more where exactly in the Rhône we are. It’s one of these great regions of the broader Rhône Valley. I think, of late, we’ve seen more exciting wines come out of interesting expressions of terroir. Also, there is this broader realization that’s gone on throughout the region and I hope our guests can shed some light on these great appellations. American consumers may not be as familiar with this region because it hasn’t been as present on labels or they haven’t had the same presence in the past, but now it’s really exciting. It’s super cool to talk to two folks from Costières de Nîmes, joining us late at night for them, which we also appreciate making it doable for all of us here around the globe. Michel Gassier from Château de Nages and Franck-Lin Dalle from Château de Campuget. Thank you, gentlemen, so much for joining us.
Michel Gassier: Thank you for having us.
Franck-Lin Dalle: Bonjour, our pleasure.
Z: Let’s start with each of you giving an explanation about your winery projects and tell us a little bit about what you’re doing in Costières de Nîmes and a little bit of background.
M: Do you want to start, Franck-Lin?
F: Go ahead, Michel. You are older than me
A: That’s how we’re starting, wow.
Z: That’s why I let you talk first on the podcast.
M: You mentioned locating the appellation on the map, and we’re in the Rhône Valley. We are the very south of the Rhône Valley where the Rhône actually dumps into the Mediterranean. It overlooks the Rhône delta or region known as Camargue, which is a marshy area. The type of terroir is the rolled pebbles that Châteauneuf-du-Pape has so well exemplified. Everyone that loves Rhône wines is familiar with those big, round rocks. That’s the soil that we have. In terms of my family estate and vineyard, I am the fourth generation of my family. Even though I’m old, I’m already the fourth generation. We’ve been around for a while and we’re managing different vineyards in different locations throughout the Costières de Nîmes area. We actually have two main estates and labeled Château de Nages for one and Domaine Gassier for the other.
F: I’m the third generation of this family estate. Campuget is an old estate where we know there has been a vineyard since 1753. We will talk later about history here, but there is a long history between wine and the estate. We produced in Costières de Nîmes from the very beginning. And hopefully, there will be the fourth generation soon.
Z: Oh, exciting.
M: Oh, so you’re not that young.
F: Come on, please.
A: Hilarious. All right, so set the stage for us. Obviously, we know we’re in the Rhône, but can you paint a picture of what it looks like? If we were to be standing in the region, what would we be experiencing and what style of wines would we be getting?
F: What I’m going to do is like a blind tasting which I think is the best way to let you enjoy this area.
A: I love this.
F: You are truly in what I call a magic triangle. You have the town of Nîmes, the town of Avignon, and the town of Arles. Three gorgeous cities that we have around us, and Costières de Nîmes are really in the middle of the three. From there, you can enjoy the, of course, the Rhône Valley. You can enjoy the beauty of the Palais des Papes. You can discover some fantastic places like Pont-de-Crau. You also have the magnificent Colosseum in Nîmes. When you are in the middle of this magic triangle, you are, in fact, deep within our history, specifically from Roman history. You have to come here because you can enjoy this magic triangle.
M: There is a lot of diversity. We are about 35 minutes from the beach, about an hour from the mountains. As Franck-Lin said, there are a lot of historical monuments from Roman times, and a lot of great restaurants as well. Our area has a lot of Michelin star restaurants, but also a lot of bistros where for very little money you can have a great meal. The quality of life here is excellent.
F: Yeah, I would also add that you have the Mediterranean culture here, and it is revealed in the food and in the countryside, of course, in the wine. That’s truly the key of this place.
Z: I want to talk about culture and food in a minute. One thing that I’ve read about Costières de Nîmes is that despite what you know, on a very surface level, you would think, “Oh, it’s the southernmost appellation in the Rhône, it must be hot.” It’s the proximity to the Mediterranean that actually makes it relatively cool. Is that right? If so, for both of you, how does that affect the wines you make? How does that shape the wines?
M: Yeah, it’s absolutely true. The Mediterranean is a large body of water that has a fairly constant temperature. When the temperature rises in the middle of summer, it provides a cool, refreshing impact on the land that’s close by. We have what we call thermal winds. In the afternoon, during the summer when the sea is cooler than the land, colder air blows from the sea onto the land. That air, because it comes from sitting above a body of water, brings moisture so the air is not quite as hot, but also not quite as dry. It helps the vines survive those tough conditions. As a result, the fruit stays a little fresher. The grapes retain their acidity a little better. It enables us if we desire to make wines with more freshness, tension, or dynamic to make them further inland in the Rhône Valley. That’s a great feature that we can play with when we pick our style.
A: What is the style of the wines we can find in the region? If someone were to find wines with the appellation’s name on them, what should they expect?
F: That is a good question. First of all, on the appellation, we produce some reds, whites, and rosés. White is a tiny part of the total production. When people buy a bottle from Costières de Nîmes, freshness is important. People can expect some wine with fruits, with freshness, and also with elegance. Since the wine is not too concentrated, they keep elegance, and they have rounded tannins. This is clearly what people can expect when they buy a bottle of fresh wine with elegance. Those are two words that are important for me when I talk about wines from this appellation.
M: If I may add, the benefit of the microclimate that we have and the depth of soil that we have because that accumulation of pebbles and clay is usually anywhere between 30 and 50 feet. There’s no barrier for roots to go deep. We are the only southern Rhône appellation where Syrah is the dominant red varietal in terms of acreage. Most of the reds from Costières are blends of Syrah, Grenache, with some Mourvèdre and Carignan in it. Unlike Côtes du Rhône which is predominantly Grenache with a little bit of Syrah. We’re predominantly Syrah with Grenache, so it gives more black fruit character. Syrah, because of the microclimate, is not that baked, heavy, thick Syrah. It’s a more lifted, more violet profile and sometimes it can really border on northern Rhône style. Even though whites are about 9 percent of the production in the appellation, they are very interesting. Again, because of the microclimate and its production that is actually growing quite a bit, we rely on the classic varietals Chenin Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Claret, a little bit of Viognier. They make for really interesting wines as well.
Z: I’m curious, you mentioned this idea of the Syrah-dominant wines. Are there producers — yourselves or others — who are making varietal Syrah or co-fermenting it with a little bit of white wine as you might see in the northern Rhône more traditionally? Or are producers who lean heavily on Syrah blending with other red varieties?
M: It’s a good question. As you know, appellations are very keen on rules for what and what is allowed and not allowed. We are not allowed to blend white grapes in our reds in Costières de Nîmes. We can do it for rosés, but we can’t do it for reds. Even though it’s a great idea, if you step outside of the appellation and, for instance, you try to ferment Syrah with Viognier, the results are great. But it’s not part of the appellation.
Z: As Adam mentioned, it’s rosé season. What is a rosé from Costières de Nîmes typically like? What varieties would you typically see used to produce the rosé wines?
F: Rosé wines from the appellation will be what a rosé must be. It will be a wine with a lot of freshness. You will never see a heavy and difficult rosé from this appellation. We truly have some fresh rosé, and I think every single producer from the appellation is really focused on that. We have the climate to do that. We are lucky to have these climates to make some very fresh rosé. If we talk about rosé, of course, we will talk about colors. You will see different colors, but most of the rosés made in the appellation are usually quite pale. Not as pale as other appellations like Provence sometimes, but quite pale. On top of that, you have a few producers trying to expand, research, and improve the quality of some wines. As you just mentioned the co-fermenting process, you have some Syrah and Viognier, Syrah and Vermentino, or red Grenache and white Grenache. The rosé is very creative and still full of freshness. I’m very sorry to insist on that, but I think the true quality of the rosés from the appellation is that they are fresh. They won’t be heavy on your palate
M: I’m sure the first question that comes to most consumers’ minds is how do they compare to Provence rosé? We make our rosés with pretty much the same varietals as Provence. Our climate is pretty similar, and what’s different is our terroir. I concur with Franck-Lin about aromatics and freshness. I’d say in general they have a little more mouthfeel perhaps than Provence. I don’t know whether it’s the rocks that we grow our vineyards on, but they might be a little more body, more mouth-filling than the Provence, which is not for all of them, but for the most part, looking for leaner styles.
A: One thing I know I want to talk about a little bit is the history of the region. Obviously, it’s a very, very old wine-producing region. As I was doing some reading on my own, I think there are some histories that say it’s a region that’s producing wine that the Greeks were drinking. How far back can you trace the history of the region? How has the region evolved since that time to where we are now? I think a lot of people don’t think about that. Wine regions, especially in the New World, have only been around for 50, 60, 70 years, but this region can go all the way back. I’m really curious as to the picture you can paint for listeners of what that history has done. How it has influenced the region and its winemaking?
M: First of all, thank you for that question. Because as we are one of the newer appellations on the Rhône Valley, people automatically assume that we’re new to the wine trade or to making wine. But in fact, when the Romans conquered this part of France in 150 B.C., the local populations were already making wine because they were taught by the Greeks. Wine production around Nîmes started in about 600 B.C. The region had a lot of fame, and there are documents that show that wines from Nîmes were exported to Italy and Greece during the popes of Avignon. In the 1300s, they were served at the pope’s palaces. I think where the region fell off the map is after the phylloxera crisis about 100 years ago when all the French and European vineyards were uprooted and replanted. I don’t think the region took more of the qualitative turn, but more of the quantitative turn. I think that’s when we lost a step in terms of the quality and the reputation that we had in the past. Now, new generations are coming back. The youth has made wine throughout the planet. They have ambition. The potential has always been here, but the new generations are unleashing it. That’s what’s really exciting about what’s going on in our appellation. We’re seeing the quality meter rise so quickly. It’s a very exciting time to be part of that.
F: Michel, that was perfect. We came from 600 B.C. to today, so that was perfect.
Z: I want to talk a little bit about food. This is true all over France, but I think you see it especially in the Rhône and in areas closer to the Mediterranean, which is the unique cuisine that is French but also has some similarities with Mediterranean cuisine. For the two of you, when you’re thinking about your wines, what are some of the classic dishes from the region that you think your wines pair well with? Also, outside of the paradigm of the classic southern French cuisine, other foods that people could enjoy these wines with.
F: Luckily in this area, we have a very diverse agriculture, so it gives us a chance to taste and discover a lot of different things. It can be, of course, from the sea. We are very close to the Mediterranean, so we can enjoy some gorgeous fishes. We also have a lot of lamb and sheep. We have this grilled lamb. Nîmes used to be a big place of lamb production in the past, but less today. Still, we have a few flocks, and it gives us fantastic meat. Of course, we have a lot of vegetables like you have all over the Mediterranean gastronomy. Again, the agriculture here is very diverse. You can have some gorgeous tomatoes, basil, garlic. A lot of beautiful Mediterranean classic food can be made here. We have this chance to match our wines with very classic Mediterranean food.
M: Just to perhaps change a little bit what was said about it being French cuisine with Mediterranean influence. No, it’s Mediterranean cuisine. We are by the Mediterranean. Our culture is Mediterranean. When I see your classic Julia Child French cuisine, I don’t see anything that I’ve ever grown up with because of the classic butter, cream, and everything, you’ll never see it here. Our fat of choice is olive oil, and the vegetables we grow are Mediterranean vegetables. I’d say our cuisine would have a lot to do with Spanish or southern Italian because northern Italian is also cream and butter. It’s tomato-based, it’s olive oil-based, and it’s garlic-based. It’s a lot of herbs. As I said, the meat of choice is lamb rather than beef, for instance. Lots of seafood. Naturally, the wines go well with that. They could be very versatile, too.
F: I think when we talk about gastronomy in our area, and when you say Costières de Nîmes, you have the word Costières, which is even difficult to pronounce for the French. The gastronomy here is like denim. We all have denim, we all enjoy denim. We like it because it’s simple, but we like it because it can be very elegant. It can be casual, and it can be for everyday. Mediterranean food is clearly the food that you enjoy easily every day, and it brings you a lot of pleasure. For me, this is a small shortcut, but this is the way I would describe it. You can enjoy your denim, and you can drink your denim, and you can eat your denim.
Z: There you go. I never thought about the all-denim diet there, but that’s a good one. I like that.
F: You can never forget that denim has been created in the town of Nîmes. That’s why it’s named denim.
Z: I have forgotten that I knew that. I should have sort of led with that. One last question for the two of you before we wrap things up here. We talked a little bit about this at the beginning, but one of the compelling things about the region, in addition to the quality of the wine, is the relative accessibility as far as price point. What should a consumer expect to pay for wines from the Costières? I’ve certainly tasted plenty of the wines, including your wines, and found them to be quite comparable to many other appellations within the Rhône. Where do these wines sit price-wise?
M: I’d say if you look at the range of prices, you’ll find most of the Costières de Nîmes will be between a little above $10 to $25 a bottle. Of course, you have the outliers that will be a little higher or you might get some cheaper price at Costco or a similar store. More or less, the consumer will find a price range between $12 to $25 of Costières de Nîmes on the U.S. market.
A: Very cool. Michel and Franck-Lin, I want to thank you both so much for taking the time to come on and tell Zach and I a little bit more about the region and to explain it to the listeners. It’s been a really fascinating conversation. I can’t wait to get to drink more of these wines. I want to thank you for sending me some of your wines. They were very delicious.
M: Thank you.
A: I hope that everyone goes out and tries to find these wines as well, because they are really special. It’s super cool to be drinking wines from a region that’s been making wine for centuries. You can’t find that every day, and it makes these wines really special, so thank you both so much.
F: Thank you very much.
M: Thank you for having us.
A: Zach, as always, see you next week, man.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now for the credits. VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and in Seattle, Wash., by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all this possible, and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tasting director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team who is instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll see you again.
Ed note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.