Lirac – the best kept secret in the Rhône
Lirac is often described as poor man’s Chateauneuf du Pape and whilst this has some relevance it is demeaning to this superb red wine from the Rhône region of France. The wines are often high in alcohol sometimes achieving in excess of 15% ABV and yet they are often silky smooth in texture. This is often why this style of wine is known as the best kept secret in the Rhône.
One exceptional example of the great value for money wines to come from this appellation is the Domaine des Cigalounes Lirac. This exceptional value for money wine retails at only £12.17 a bottle with extra case discounts available for those who wish to lay this wine down and watch it mature.
On the eastern bank of the Rhône in southern France, vintners have produced Lirac wine since before the Roman Empire. In the 14th century, both Popes ordered casks and casks for their respective papal courts, and once the schism was healed, the Pope in Rome continued the tradition. The Lirac vineyards have always had a friendly rivalry with those on the western bank: Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Lirac wine is made from a mixture of grape varieties, the most dominant of which is Grenache noir. Grenache noir grapes are spicy and fruity and have extremely strong raspberry and strawberry palates. The Grenache noir grapes also produce wines of above-average alcohol content, and Lirac wine must be at least 11.5 percent alcohol by volume.
The other notable grape varieties included in every vintage of Lirac wine are:
In contrast the wines of Chateauneuf du Pape can use up to 13 different grapes in the blend and this is often one of the reasons for the vast differences in price for this wine.
Syrah grapes produce stronger tannins than Grenache noir, and their berry flavour tends more to blackberry than to raspberry. Occasional vintages have a slight chocolaty flavour which when combined with the blackcurrant makes this a delightful wine. Mourvèdre grapes are the most astringent of the four because they are generally very high in tannins.
The grapes also produce even more alcohol content than Grenache noir grapes. Cinsault and Carignan are like twins who are polar opposites. While Cinsault grapes are soft and fruity, Carignan are almost as astringent as Mourvèdre.
The winemakers in the Lirac region use specific blending rules to differentiate their wines from those of other winemakers in the surrounding area. Any Lirac wine must use at least 40 percent Grenache noir. At least 25 percent must be a combination of Syrah and Mourvèdre, and at least 10 percent must be a combination of Cinsault and Carignan.
In all, the region is as diverse as it is popular. Apart from the famous red wines produced in this appellation, there are 100 other growers who also produce excellent white and rosé wines. The Rosés are almost dark enough to be reds themselves, and the whites are as floral and fruity as reds made from Cinsault alone would be. Heavy investment from international investors in the 1950s saw the wines reputation rise from “pretty good” to remarkable.
Lirac wines are popular not only because of their excellence but also because of their reasonable price. Certain other regions, although not Châteauneuf-du-Pape, nearby that have much more prestige, in many cases undeservedly, drive up wine prices. The wines of the Lirac region, however, remain affordable for the average budding connoisseur.
It is recommended decanting Lirac for at least 60 minutes prior to serving to appreciate the finer nuances and allow any lingering tannins to soften. It is a superb match for grilled red meats and game but is soft enough to be drunk on it’s own.