The term hidden gem gets bandied around in the wine world, usually denoting a little-known wine region that offers good value for wine. It's usually a great tasting wine for a little price compared to more popular or prestigious neighbours.
I was recently invited by InterRhone on a press trip to discover Costières de Nîmes AOC. As a lover of South of France, and passionate explorer of hidden gem wines I couldn’t pass this up, at least to clear up in my own mind what exactly Costières de Nîmes wine had to offer.
It’s not immediately clear where Costières de Nîmes belongs. Administratively, Costières de Nîmes is in the Gard Department which is in the Languedoc. Master of Wine Rosemary George doesn’t include Costières de Nîmes in her book, Wines of the Languedoc, but does admit she considers it a languedocien region. Officially, it’s the southernmost AOC of the Southern Rhone, part of the Rhone wine region. But once you set foot in the Costières de Nîmes, there’s an unmistakable Provence culture that ripples through the traditions and cuisine.
Viticulture was first introduced to these parts by the Ancient Greeks in the 5th century BC, and shortly after the Romans settled in producing clay amphorae in which to make their wines. Beaucaire, the site of an Ancient Roman winery in the Costières de Nîmes, produced a particular kind of amphorae which has been found as far away as Germany and Italy –a testament of the wine trade that existed thousands of years ago.
The name of the region comes from the French Mediterranean city, Nimes. Both the appellation and city share the same emblem of a crocodile and palm tree. This symbol was found on Ancient Roman coins created at the time to commemorate Roman defeat over Egypt in the Battle of Actium. The crocodile (symbol of the Nile) with the frond of a palm representing Julius Caesar. The city of Nime adopted the insginia showing the crocodile chained to the palm. Later in 1985, French designer Philippe Starck redesigned the logo with a modern twist – often shown in hot pink – perhaps a nod to their local flamingos in the Petit Camargue?
The wine region itself is one of the largest of the Rhone covering 3,230 hectares under vine, after Ventoux and Luberon. Production is largely devoted t0 43% red wines (from blends of Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvedre, with smaller proportions Cinsault, Carignane and Marselan) and 48% rosé usually from Grenache Noir and Syrah.
White wines represent just 9% of the region’s production and mainly from Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Rolle (Vermentino) and Viognier. The styles are varied according to producer, but I found a reliable display of elegant fruit ripeness with strong savoury or mineral streak in the more exciting ones. One aspect that surprised me was the amount of acidity (freshness) and relatively moderate alcohol levels in these wines. Even with the southern location there is a wonderful cooling sea breeze off the Mediterranean aswell as the cold Mistral wind that blows south down the Rhone river. The week I visited there was a heatwave of 40C - and we survived it thanks to these breezes!
With the warm, dry climate and windswept vineyards a large proportion of wine producers are working organically. I’ll publish a separate article on this, along with an overview of biodynamic and regenerative viticulture later this month.
So the final question.. is this hidden gem worth discovering? Absolutely yes. Not easy to find unfortunately, but I’ve listed 6 of my favourite discoveries from the trip along with what makes them glimmer.
If you’d like to discover more from this region, join me on Sunday 8th October for a special South of France Wine Lunch & Antique Market Walk in Chiswick.
More details, and booking here.
A few favourite wines from Costières de Nîmes AOC
Chateau de Valcombe Rosé Pastel 2022
Grapes: Syrah 95%, Viognier 5%
Taste: Grapefruit, and savoury, slightly salty, crisp and refreshing, very elegant finish.
Style: If you love a very pale pink – like Provence – but with a more savoury, saline profile of Chablis.
Perfect with light salads, fresh seafood like oysters, cheeses like burrata and feta.
Chateau l’Ermite, Mourvedre St Cecile 2022
Taste: Herbaceous, blood orange, very fun flinty and minerally
Light body, with texture and a long finish. So fun!
If you want something really interesting, a deeply coloured rose.. or could consider it a chilled pale red. Either way serve chilled. Enjoy with pizza, tagine, pasta salad, dahl. A washed-rind cheese could be a great match!
Mourgues du Gres White Capitelle 2021
Grapes: Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Rolle
Taste: Beautiful and penetrating aromas of ripe peach and pear, lemon, dried flowers and toast. Extraordinary refreshing on the palate with a lovely rounded mouthfeel and long mineral finish.
If you want a very sophisticated style of wine, more mineral than fruity, with an elegant - almost Burgundian softness on the palate. This will be outstanding, and very good value. Pair seafood dishes, risotto, pasta, and part of varied cheese board (from Grueyre to Pecorino).
Mas Carlot, Hommage a Paul Blanc 2021
Grapes: Viognier, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc
Taste: A rich style of wine, matured in French Oak barrels giving it a lovely rounded mouthfeel, and toasty complexity. Nevertheless the Mediterranean sun shines through in the fleshy stonefruit, ripe apple, with an unmistable saline edge.
For lovers of oak- but done right. Not overwhelming, completely in harmony with the fruit. Try with a garlic and lemon roast chicken, or meatier fish dishes in cream sauce.