The mood in the Southern Rhône is definitely upbeat. Once a region best known for its popular, fruity red wines, it now offers a new benchmark for quality—one that has attracted the attention of wine judges and critics alike.
It’s the Cellier des Dauphins Reserve AOC Côtes du Rhône, a series of aromatic blended wines of great complexity.
Roots deep in the Rhône
Cellier des Dauphins is a notable French institution and the leading Rhône Valley wine producer, able to draw on the labours of 2,000 wine growers working about 12,000ha of vineyards across an area that extends from Sérignan-du-Comtat in the south to Nyons, at the foot of the Alps. Within the protected Côtes du Rhône area of production are 20 Villages appellations, including Plan de Dieu, Puyméras and Valréas as well as Crus from the exceptional Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Vacqueyras, Vinsobres and Cairanne regions.
The sheer scale of fine material available to the winemakers means Cellier des Dauphins can produce notable AOC wines, IGP wines, Côtes du Rhône, and Côtes du Rhône Villages, with or without commune names – in short, its wines account for 30% of the production of the Côtes du Rhône region.
From the very beginning, Cellier des Dauphins has been known for its innovation. Founded in 1965, the wine cellar’s original purpose was to share the resources of the region’s wine community, to make it easier for all of them to sell wine to the domestic market. Within two years of its founding, the company created the Cellier des Dauphins brand with a unique bottle shape, which quickly became a hit with French consumers. In the 1990s, the company’s winemakers could see the potential of international markets—by 1994, they were shipping three million bottles to Canada alone.
Unusually for a large group, Cellier des Dauphins has always been flexible and adaptable. One result was the launch of a new range of wines called Cellier des Dauphins Prestige, which remains one of the bestselling AOC wines in France.
In 2010, Cellier des Dauphin created a wine especially aimed at the export market, that celebrated France’s historic bistro style. They created a retro Belle Époque-style label, and a taste that was slightly fruiter than is normal in France, though it remained Rhône in style. The wine, Les Dauphins, was such an instant hit in the UK when it was launched in 2012, that it is now exported to another 25 markets as well.
Premiumisation is also ongoing in the vineyards. With about 1,000ha of organic production, the group is far and away the biggest producer of organic wines in the Rhône Valley. As for the grapes themselves, they are the varieties that made the Côtes du Rhône famous: Syrah, Grenache and Viognier, among others. The new range of wines has brought everything together. The Cellier des Dauphins Reserve AOC Côtes du Rhône are made of classic grapes that reflect the Southern Rhône’s unique terroir.
The birth of a new range
In recent years, a tremendous amount of work has been done by viticulturists to identify the best parcels of land and improve the overall viticulture, with the result that not only has overall quality risen, but winemakers can have their pick of outstanding grapes. Paradoxically, this presented them with a dilemma—what was the best way to use all this premium grade material?
As it happened, people on the business side of Cellier des Dauphins had spent the last two years surveying the wine market, to see what trends were resonating with consumers. What they discovered is that modern consumers are looking for wines they can drink right now, but which still deliver complexity. More and more consumers in different markets are also drinking wine as part of their social life, meaning it’s no longer always an accompaniment to a meal. This means consumers value wines that can be enjoyed both with food and on their own.
The conclusion was obvious— Cellier des Dauphin needed to create a new range for consumers to satisfy all their demands, but which could also showcase the stunning Southern Rhône fruit. And so the Reserve range was born.
Inside the winemaking
At its best, the Rhône Valley produces fruit that is ripe and flavourful, with plenty of fruit character. The winemaking team decided to emphasise the fruit aromas, because the smell of a wine becomes much more important to consumer when they’re drinking the wine without food. The Reserve wines were aged partly in wood and partly in steel vats, to keep the aromas vibrant. The wines themselves have less bitterness and more silkiness, with more generosity and dynamic fruit flavours on the palate. A new bottle shape was also created as a tribute to the new range.
The Reserve range was launched in April 2019 and success came almost immediately—including a Platinum medal from Decanter.
Next, a group of growers and winemakers went on the road to China and presented the wines there in early August, where they got an enthusiastic reception. The USA launch was October, with Canada and other European markets to follow shortly afterwards. Plenty of work has been done on marketing, too, with the launch of the new Cellier des Dauphins website, as well as a big push on Facebook and Instagram.
It’s the kind of dynamic and innovative approach that keeps 2,000 growers fully supportive of Cellier des Dauphins—there’s always something new and interesting. No wonder the Southern Rhône is buzzing right now. And this is only the beginning.
Introducing the Reserve range
The brand new Côtes du Rhône Réserve AOCs are made from grapes harvested from select vineyards around the villages of Richerenches, Vinsobres, Puyméras, Tulette and Saint Maurice, and crafted with full attention to detail.
Celliers des Dauphins AOC Côtes du Rhône Réserve Rouge
Grown on sunny slopes and harvested at the peak of ripeness, the Syrah and Grenache grapes give the wine its deep ruby colour. Great care during extraction accounts for the wine’s silky texture coupled with flavours of ripe black fruits. Black cherry is particularly prominent. Astute élevage results in a round wine with soft ripe tannins and a long finish. Decanter awarded the Réserve Red 97 points and a Platinum Medal, while the jury wrote the following tasting notes: “This is delicious! Very classy and appealing aromas of flowers, garrigue, spice and forest floor. On the palate sweet vanilla oak marries into the charming and svelte herbal, red and blue fruit mix. It’s full of flavour, super supple, super drinkable and authentic. Bouquet, taste, finish: all are magnificent!”
Celliers des Dauphins AOC Côtes du Rhône Réserve Rosé
Early harvesting in the early daybreak hours is the secret to this attractive, pale wine. Gentle pressing transferred the entirety of the grapes’ freshness and its bold, crisp slightly acidic taste of red fruit. It is aged on lees, which bolsters the fruit flavour and adds touches of minerality.
Celliers des Dauphins AOC Côtes du Rhône Réserve Blanc
Viognier, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc grapes have been skilfully combined to produce an aromatic wine with wide appeal. Aromas of stone fruits, along with some cream, spring from the glass. On the palate, the texture is rich, leading to a long finish.
To find out out more about the Réserve and other wines, follow Cellier des Dauphins on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
A leader in best environmental practice
Cellier des Dauphins has access to grapes from around 1,000 ha of organic grapes, the largest area of organic grape growing in France. This is no accident — the cooperative has an organic expert who works with growers to help them convert and maintain their vineyards.
What also helps is the Mistral wind which keeps the vineyards dry and free of rot and mildew. That, combined with the sunlight and heat of the region, mean healthy grapes. Cellier des Dauphins also has a number of other eco-friendly initiatives, particularly product waste reduction. This includes eco-design, waste water treatment, use of solar energy and a full recycling program.
All of this makes Cellier des Dauphins, the third wine brand in France, a leader in sustainability, a role it will continue to play in the future.