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Xavier Vignon, winemaker in the Rhône Valley.Handout

Before Xavier Vignon started making his own wine in France’s Rhône Valley, he was working as a consultant oenologist at a laboratory in Vaucluse. Consulting with nearly 300 different producers, he has tremendous oversight of the expansive area, its grape varieties and production techniques, which helped him launch a wine brand based on blending finished wines from a variety of wineries.

Vignon says the blend for his 2020 Côtes du Rhone red wine includes more than 50 different producers and wines from more than 100 vineyards. No more than five per cent from any one source is used to ensure that his wine isn’t like another producer’s. The inspiration came from the blending practices Vignon learned working in Champagne to produce sparkling wines with a consistent house style.

“To make your own signature, you have to be different,” he explains.

The current release of Vignon’s Côtes du Rhône red is from the 2020 vintage, which was considered “a sunny vintage, but not a scorching one,” according to Inter Rhône, the region’s association of winemakers and grape growers. The conditions in Vignon’s own vineyards produced ripe grapes that didn’t work with the styles of wine he wished to make, so he sold the wine to other local producers.

The finished wine is a blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre, with two-thirds of the volume coming from the northern part of the southern Rhône, which sees cooler temperatures during the day and overnight, which helps to preserve the natural acidity in the grapes.

“Twenty-seven years ago, the challenge used to be to have more sugar and less acidity in the grapes,” says Vignon, reflecting on the rising annual temperatures in the Rhône. “Now, it is totally opposite. More and more, you are looking for freshness.” Vignon also produces wines from other appellations, such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Vacqueyras.

The boundaries for Côtes du Rhône include the northern and southern areas of the Rhône Valley, with much of the wine sold typically made from vineyards to the south. “You have plenty of freedom as a winemaker,” Vignon says.

The X Factor: Three bottles to try

Xavier Arcane XV Le Diable 2015 (France), $29.95

Rating:91 /100

Made with mourvedre grapes from old vines, Vignon used concrete tanks and oak barrels to help balance this rich, savoury and flavourful red. There is plenty of structure and intensity for cellaring, but I would be tempted to enjoy this robust red right now. Drink now-2035. Available in Ontario.

Xavier Vignon Cuvée Anonyme Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2019 (France), $65.95

Rating:93 /100

This well-made red blend shows appealingly ripe cherry and plum fruit with spice and cedar notes. It’s fuller-bodied and flavourful with serious structure and a balanced rich and refreshing character. Drink now-2032. Available at the above price in Ontario, various prices in Alberta.

Xavier Vignon Côtes du Rhône 2020 (France), $17.95

Rating:89 /100

Made in a consistently enjoyable style, this is a ripe and complex red with juicy cherry/berry flavours with spicy and sandalwood accents. Drink now-2027. Available at the above price in Ontario, various prices in Alberta, $27.99 in Saskatchewan, $18.40 in Quebec.

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