Saturday, March 30, 2013

Vinsobres, pretty village and producer of excellent wines in the Côtes du Rhône

We love wine and are fortunate to have a house in Sonoma County, California, one of the premier wine growing regions in the US and a house in Sablet, one of the 18 villages in the French Côtes du Rhône wine region authorized to put their village name on wine labels.

Did you know that there is a hierarchy for Côtes du Rhône wines? Yes, that's true! Côtes du Rhône wines are widely distributed so I think it might be helpful for me to try to explain the hierarchy of these wines. Be patient, there is a link between this explanation and Vinsobres.

The Côtes du Rhône appellation (map) stretches 125 miles between Vienne in the north to Avignon in the south and is separated into sub regions of Rhône wine: Côtes du Rhône septentrional in the northern part of the region from Vienne to Valence and Côtes du Rhône meridional from Montélimar to Avignon in the south.

The first level consist of 171 communes (similar to a township in the US) in the French departments of Ardèche, Bouche du Rhône, Drôme, Gard, Loire, and Vaucluse that produce wine. The average production of Côtes du Rhône wine is about 419 million bottles a year, making this one of the largest appellation regions in the world. Level 2 is Côtes du Rhône-Villages which are villages around the region which supposedly produce a higher quality of wine.

The third level is Côtes du Rhône-Villages (named village) which are 18 villages including our own Sablet who are authorised to put their village name on wine labels. The top level are Crus, a total of 15 villages who can put their name on the label but do not have to mention Côtes du Rhône. These include such well known appellations as Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage in the north and Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas in the south. One of the lesser known Crus, or at least to us is Vinsobres.

Vinsobres is a small village (population 1,101) on a big hill (604 - 1,706 feet elevation) crowned with a 12th century priory about 14 miles north of Sablet across the L'Eygues River in the French department of the Drôme. Since the southern part of Drôme is regarded as Provence, the area is called Drôme Provençale.


Every March the committee of Vinsobres winemakers puts on the "Salon des Vins de l'AOC Vinsobres" (wine festival) to promote their wines and locally produced artisan products such as olive oil, charcuterie, chocolate, nougat, cheese and escargot. This year the festival took place on March 17.

Pretty Vinsobres house

Last March we were in Sablet and saw brightly colored signs along the roads announcing the upcoming wine festival in Vinsobres. Since we had not been to Vinsobres nor did we know anything about their wine, we decided to kill two birds with one stone so to speak, and go to the "Salon des Vins de l'AOC Vinsobres."

An arched door through the old stone defensive wall

Vinsobres was first settled by the Romans. There seems to be some question about the origin of the village name. Some sources say the name comes from Vinzobrio, the oldest recorded reference from 1137. It comes from the pre-Celtic vintio (height), and the Celtic suffix briga (mountain). Other sources say the name probably originates from Latin "vin sobris" or "vin sobrio" meaning "wine and work."

Vinsobres boulangerie

Narrow streets, old stone houses and vaulted passageways are sandwiched between two churches, one Protestant at the top of the village and one Catholic at the bottom.

Vinsobres house with vaulted passageway

Add to this blue and green shutters and beige and ochre roof tiles, all of which makes Vinsobres a quaint village to explore.

A Vinsobres street

Wine is clearly the "raison d'être" (reason for existence) for Vinsobres. Vineyards cover about one-half of the 8018 acres in the commune, mostly on slopes where terraces are required to grow the vines. The vineyard parcels on these slopes are included in the Vinsobres Cru appellation. Vineyards off the slopes are in level 1 of the Côtes du Rhône hierarchy.

Arbor covered bar near the Catholic Church

I should mention that the Côtes du Rhône AOC was established in 1937. The committee of Vinsobres winemakers was formed in 1957 when Vinsobres wines were included in the new Côtes du Rhône-Villages appellation. In 1967, the wines of Vinsobres were elevated to Côtes du Rhône Village Vinsobres and on February 15, 2006, the red wines were reclassified to Crus.

The 18th century Catholic Church of Vinsobres

According to the committee of Vinsobres winemakers, 68.34% of the vineyards today are planted with Grenache, 24.15% of the vineyards are Syrah, 2.76% are Mourvedre, 1.84% are Cinsault, and 1.45% are Carignan.

Vinsobres café patrons enjoy the early spring day

About 72% of the grapes are vinified by La Vinsobraise, the local cooperative in Vinsobres. The rest is vinified and bottled by 21 wineries or sold to négociants who produce, bottle and market the wine under the négociant's label.

Vinsobres house with pretty blue shutters

The "Salon des Vins de l'AOC Vinsobres" (wine festival) took place in the Vinsobres community hall.

Vinsobres community hall

Vinsobres is also known for their "Craquantes de Vinsobres," a small, dry, almond biscuit (think Italian biscotti). Supposedly they first appeared in 1908 at the boulangerie in Vinsobres.

"Salon des Vins de l'AOC Vinsobres" (wine festival)

One of the Vinsobres wines we tasted and liked a lot was from Domaine L'Ancienne Ecole, a small, newish (their first harvest was in 2007) winery owned by Anna and Wilson Thorburn.

Anna Thorburn proprietor of Domaine L'Ancienne Ecole

Every festival in Provence has vendors selling a variety of goods, some good quality, other stuff is junk to be truthful and this festival was no exception.

Vendor selling locally made objects of wood

Vendor selling locally made Provencal souvenirs

We climbed up to the 12th century priory, which became a Catholic Church, and finally a Protestant temple of the Reformed Church.

12th century priory

From the church, there is a great view of the Vinsobres vineyards and Mont Ventoux.

View from the top of the village near the Protestant Church

View from the top of the village near the Protestant Church

View from the top of the village near the Protestant Church

Vinsobres street


While I was writing this post about Vinsobres, I found out that in 2012, Wine Spectator Magazine included the 2010 Famille Perrin Vinsobres AOC Les Cornuds on its list of 100 Best Wines for 2012. So I set off to Bottle Barn, probably the best place to buy wine near where we live in Northern California to see if they had this wine.

Lucky for me, they did and it was only $15.99 a bottle. So I stocked up and took a bottle with me to try last night with dinner at our Bistro Des Copains. It was perfect with our braised rabbit with kale and served over noodles in a mustard sauce.

Organically produced by Famille Perrin (they also own Château de Beaucastel), this wine is quite big but very elegant, with black cherry flavors (50/50 Grenache and Syrah). If you find it, buy a bottle. It's not only a very good wine, especially with food, it's relatively cheap, one of the great things about Côtes du Rhône wine.

2010 Perrin Famille Vinsobres AOC Les Cornuds

Have a great Easter weekend. Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt.


  1. Happy Easter to you and Shirley, Michel and thank you for this - I always get new information about our neighbouring villages from your blog!

  2. I will have to find a bottle :) WHEN we come to our daughter’s wedding in SF this October, we must make it a point to stop by Bistro des Copains which should be nearby our oldest daughter (and our grandson!) in Novato. I hear it is beautiful in the Fall…Happy Easter to you both as well :)

  3. Barbara - Thank you. I hope you and Robert had a wonderful day too. I just like knowing something about the towns and villages we visit and am happy if you and other friends and visitors to the blog learn through our experiences as well.

    Labergerebasque - How exciting that you will be coming to SF this fall. Novato is not very far away from where we live and our Bistro Des Copains. I would be so honored to have you dine there and more importantly have a chance to meet you in person.

  4. Megan - We are very fortunate to have so many pretty villages, markets, and wineries to explore, but we don't spend a lot of time at home in Sablet. I know there is a lot we haven't seen yet near where you are in Marseille either. We look forward to going that way soon.

  5. I hope you had a lovely Easter, Michel. And thank you for your very informative post, I always learn so much on your blog... feeling much more educated on Côtes du Rhône AOC !

  6. Tuula - Thanks for your sweet feedback. I am happy you learn from my blog. I know you have opened my eyes to a lot too. Have a great week.

  7. Interesting post with lots of information that I did not know previously. Some great photos to go with it as well. Bravo. Hope your Easter was good, take care Diane

  8. I never knew about the hierarchy system in Côtes du Rhône. Thank you for an interesting and informative post! I'll be sure to keep an eye out for Vinsobres the next time I'm shopping for wine.

  9. Diane - Thanks for the sweet feedback. I appreciate the comments you write on my blog.

    Camille - I find the hierarchy system for the Côtes du Rhône to be a good way to help consumers make choices about wine. You at least have some sense of how good a wine "could" be, no guarantee, based upon if it is a simple Côtes du Rhône, Côtes du Rhône-Villages, Côtes du Rhône-Villages Vinsobres, or at the top Vinsobres. I was very impressed with the Vinsobres wines and they are very reasonably priced.

  10. Just found your post after some visitors came to taste (and went on to buy) our wines having read about us on your blog. It's a great intro to the wines of Vinsobres, which I'll be sharing widely.