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Posts tagged ‘Clairette de Die’

by Wink Lorch

Sometimes my self-imposed brief seems to be to collect obscure wine regions, preferably in or close to mountainous areas. Hence, my acceptance of an invitation to a Clairette de Die (pronounced ‘Dee’) harvest festival.

This was the ideal focus for an exploration of the Diois (pronounced ‘Deewah’) area of the Drôme department, which lies just south of the stunning Col de Rousset pass, generally considered to be the north-south dividing point of the French Alps. To the north, the vegetation is typically continental with mountain spruce, larches and alpine cows; to the south it changes towards Mediterranean, with umbrella pines, ‘garrigue’ scrubland and hundreds of sheep.

In wine terms, the Die area is included in the Rhône Valley region (though it doesn’t fit into either north or south categories); the town of Die is 50km (30 miles) southeast of Valence and the vineyards follow the Drôme River, a tributary of the Rhône. The vineyards are some of the highest in France (higher than most in Savoie for example), lying between 400 and 700 metres with a climate that is a cross between semi-continental and semi-Mediterranean.
Clairette de Die
There are different versions of how the semi-sweet, delicate sparkling Clairette de Die got its name. Strangely it is not named after the Clairette grape even though it’s grown there. Sparkling wine had been made in this area for centuries, even in the days of Pliny, when Muscat was mentioned as grown here; however, it was most widely enjoyed in the late 19th century. At the turn of the 20th century, in the closest large towns of Lyon and Grenoble, the fizzy wine from Die was still sold in bars directly from a barrel - a little like Vin Bourru, the part fermented wine which is sold just after harvest all over France. Needless to say, it was cloudy with the yeast in suspension, but gradually it would clear leaving the deposit behind - so the name derived from this phenomenon of ‘clearing’ or ‘clairette’.

The main grape grown is Muscat à Petit Grains (shown left) which for AOC Clairette de Die must be at least 75% of the blend, with the balance being Clairette, better known further south in the Rhône. Some of the best Clairette de Die is made with 100% Muscat. Clairette is an acidic grape used in particular here for the dry sparkling wines, previously Clairette de Die Brut but now, with stricter production controls, Crémant de Die, in which recent changes to the law state that small quantities of both Muscat and Aligoté must also be included.The area also makes a little still wine, the best from the appellation Châtillon-en-Diois, named after a village at higher altitude than Die - these are dry, fresh whites from Chardonnay and Aligoté, and light reds/rosés from Gamay and Pinot Noir grapes.

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