I suppose that most of you are fully aware that the Beaujolais region lies just north of Lyon, and that the northern Rhône appellations such as Côte Rôtie, Condrieu and the others begin just south of the same city. But how many of you know that there is also a wine appellation which connects the two by surrounding Lyon on its western side? This small (currently only 250 hectares of vines are planted) and very fragemented appellation is called Côteaux du Lyonnais. It is very much a southern extension of the Beaujolais region which it touches to the north, in the region known as « Pierres Dorées ». The similarities with Beaujolais do not end there either, since the grape varieties are virtually the same. Red and rosé wines are made with the black skinned and white juiced Gamay (including, as accessory varieties, two red-juiced gamays: Gamay de Bouze and Gamay Chaudenay), whereas the whites use mainly Chardonnay, and sometimes also some of the much rarer Aligoté and even Pinot Blanc. Those who experiment with other varieties, and there are quite a few of them, have to use the Vin de France denomination.
Prices are very reasonable here, with consumer levels, for the wines that I tasted, ranging between 4,50 and 18 euros, and half of them firmly below the 10 euro mark. Only one wine that I tasted sells for a bit more and I didn’t particularly like it anyway.
This more detailed map shows just how fragmented this appellation is. As to urban sprawl, it has now eaten up most of the central part of the vineyard that appears in a pink colour on this geological map.
There are just 17 private producers of Coteaux du Lyonnais wines, as well as a cooperative winery which accounts for about 50% of total production. There are also several negociants active here, either from Beaujolais or, in one instance, from Côte-Rôtie (Clusel-Roch). The majority of the wines (70%) are red, with 20% of whites and the rest in rosé. 250 hectares is an apparently small vineyard area for an appellation so very spread out, and which includes, at least in theory, land from 49 different communes. In fact there are many less as inevitably ugly and somewhat random urban sprawl, emanating from the big city Lyon, has eaten well into the central part of the appellation’s theoretical zone.
Autumnal view of some of the rarely unspoilt landscapes of this hilly region that surrounds Lyon.
This was conducted blind, in the cellars of one of the (good) producers, Franck Decrenisse, who produces several different wines from various parts of the appellation, including one from the ampelographic conservatory of variations on the Gamay theme and which now holds no less than 1,000 different sorts of Gamay. More of that later perhaps. The other rule of the game was a maximum of 2 wines per producer, one white and one red. There were 12 whites and 13 reds in the tasting and I will speak here only of my favourites.
White wines (in ascending order of price)
Domaine du Morillon blanc 2018 (5,90 euros)
Finely-tuned and delicate in texture, this has lift and finesse and is very keenly priced as well. Made me think a bit of Chablis, and clearly made in tanks. The Jomard family have a vineyard holding of 18 hectares.
Domaine du Petit Fromentin, Probus Mont Dour 2018 (6,80 euros)
More complex in its aromatics, floral and with touches of root spice like ginger. On the palate this is long, vibrant and very savoury. Excellent value too.
Domaine Condamin-Bernard, Blanc Initial 2018 (7 euros)
From a recently formed estate thanks to the combination of the two producers whose names now form its signature. The nose is attractive and quite complex, with notes of ripe white fruit and a slightly smoky edge. Stylish and with good length and, again, showing excellent value for money.
Regis Descottes, Prestige Blanc 2017 (12 euros)
One of the best-known producers here and a former president of the appellation. This wine was the only one of the 4 whites that I tasted from the 2017 vintage to pass my personal test (you will have noticed that all the other good wines are 2018s), and it did so with flying colours. A fullish and complex nose which is as lively as it is aromatic. Good delicate texture, well-defined flavours and excellent length. A class act.
Clos de la Petite Gallée, Les Moraines 2018 (12,50)
The aromas hover between pears and fresh hay. Very good balance and freshness. Precise and easy-going.
Maison Clusel-Roch, L’Hecto 2018 (13,50 euros)
From the current President of the appellation, who shows the way with a vibrant and clear-cut wine that has that extra fullness of body without seeming weighty. Rich in its fruit flavours, it is well balanced and crisp as well.
Red wines (same for the order)
Domaine Condamin-Bernard, Rouge Initial 2018 (6 euros)
I was a bit dubious about the nose to start with but this came out very well on the palate with rich fruit flavours that are ripe and rounded, slightly sweet and producing excellent length. Terrific value here too.
Domaine du Morillon, Tradition 2017 (6,10 euros)
Lightly coloured and sprightly on the nose, the palate is crisp and yet with enough depth. Well made wine, again very reasonably priced.
Domaine du Clos Saint-Marc, Les Doyennes 2016 (6,80 euros)
Precise, slightly peppery impression on the nose, this also has some structure to the palate giving it a fine touch of austerity. Reasonably priced.
Clos de la Roue, Conservatoire 2018 (7 euros)
This is made with vines from the conservatory of Gamay plants put together by Franck Decrenisse together with INRA and ITV (official French organisations who deal with agricultural research and plant material). Showing signs of some oak ageing, those nose, initially a bit closed, clearly has lots of depth. Rich and complex in its range of berry fruit flavours, this has more length to it than most. Very good and still so keenly priced!
Clos de la Petite Gallée, vieilles vignes 2018 (12,50 euros)
A beautiful nose that is as fine as it is harmonious. Made me think almost of a pinot noir. Just as complex on the palate, this is relatively full-bodied and very good.
Maison Clusel-Roch, Galet 2018 (13,50)
Another wine that shows some use of wood with subtle hints of vanilla and smoke. Very well judged, this adds depth to the overall impression, which is just delicious, finely fruity and with smooth texture aa well as good length.
Regis Descottes, l’Archevêque Rouge 2017 (18 euros)
Was that a touch of volatility on the nose? In any case it is fully expressive with plenty of fruit as well as hints of pepper and violets. Quite ripe with fullish flavours, yet the tannins seem a bit dry on the finish. Better to wait a year for this more ambitious style.
Some conclusions and remarks
To answer the rhetorical question within my title: yes, this really is an extension of the Beaujolais region in terms of the types and styles of the wines. Having a large semi-captive local market on its doorstep, the wines are rarely to be seen outside Lyon and its area. They represent on the whole excellent value for money. The best reds show just how delicious and easy-to-like a grape is the Gamay, and the whites (especially from the 2018 vintage) were a good surprise to me, with their fine combinations between rich flavours, delicate texture and freshness.
My thanks to the group of producers who welcomed me and especially to Guillaume Clusel, the appellation’s President who not only drove us around, but also cooked a good lunch on a plancha outside the winery. A special word of thanks also to Christopher Renvoisé, of the SoWine agency, who set the whole thing up and accompanied me on a cold and damp day of November.