With over 2,000 years of unbroken winemaking tradition, France’s Southern Rhone Valley is a region overflowing with history. From Greek settlers to Roman invaders, then rebellious popes in the midst of a church schism, each civilization that has settled in the area has made great contributions to local viticulture. As a result, the Southern Rhone has often been at the forefront of not just France’s wine industry, but the entire Mediterranean and beyond.
Yet, just 30 minutes west we find the Costieres de Nimes, a region that shares not just the history but also the winemaking style of the Southern Rhone Valley. Why, then, have these wines been historically ignored? Unfortunately, its geographic location seems to be the culprit. Though the Costieres de Nimes supplied much of the wine for the Roman garrison, and in fact much of the early blending wine for Chateauneuf-du-Pape, it lies further south and west than the other Rhone appellations. In fact, for decades, the area was considered part of the Languedoc, not the Rhone, at a time when that region had a reputation for low-quality bulk wines. Finally, the producers in the Costieres de Nimes established their reputation when the region was granted appellation status in 1989. Today, it is a hotbed of innovative winemaking led by Young Turks who dismiss the old methods of the past for clean, soulful winemaking.
One such producer is Chateau Guiot, a winery that traces its history back to the Knights Hospitaller. In the Middle Ages, the Order of St. John cultivated several vineyards in the Rhone, and historical documents have confirmed that Chateau Guiot was once a fortress and winery during that time. Like so many prominent medieval wineries, long centuries of disuse followed, and eventually the property was purchased for a song by Francois and Sylvia Cornut in 1976. Over the next decade, Francois and Sylvia installed stainless steel fermenters and temperature control, at the same time cleaning up and re-planting the estate’s old vines of Grenache and Syrah. Today, Chateau Guiot is managed by Francois and Sylvia’s two sons, Alexis and Numa. The twins came on board in 2007, and their first major action was to purchase a neighboring vineyard planted to white varieties. It is hard to believe, but for almost 700 years there had been no white wine produced at the Chateau, until now.Download Full Club Write-up
Chicken with Pancetta, White Beans
and Herbs de Provence
The first time I saw this recipe in Cook’s Country, it caught my attention, as the preparation reminds me of a quick version of cassoulet. For those unfamiliar, it is the great southern French bean, sausage and preserved duck dish that is ubiquitous to Rhone and Provence. However an authentic version takes a whole day, or two, to properly make. This version gives a nod to the flavors, but can be quickly assembled for a week night meal. I cooked it for my family and they loved it, but I thought a small change would make it more reminiscent of an example I once tasted in Arles, France, not far from Chateau Guiot. The fix was easy, a teaspoon of Herbs de Provence mixed in as the beans cook gives this dish an authentic character. Also, do not skip the drizzle of olive oil over the top of the finished dish. A good peppery example makes it even more traditional.
8 bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed of extra fat
Salt and pepper
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 ounces pancetta, chopped fine
5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon dried Herbs de Provence
2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans, rinsed
1 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Adjust the oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add chicken and cook, skin side down, until well browned, about 7 minutes. Transfer to rimmed baking sheet, skin side up, and roast until chicken registers 175 degrees, 15 to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from skillet and return to medium heat. Add pancetta, garlic and rosemary, and cook until garlic is golden brown, about 3 minutes. Add beans, broth, Herbs de Provence and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Bring to simmer and cook until slightly thickened, 5 to 7 minutes. Discard rosemary sprigs and season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer beans to platter and drizzle with extra olive oil. Top with chicken, sprinkle with parsley and serve.