As the legend goes, more than two thousand years ago, in a land called Le Pays Diois, a shepherd lowered a jug of wine into the icy waters of the Drôme River to cool it down. The wine was forgotten and left in the cold water over the winter. The shepherd returned in spring, and to his surprise found the wine right where he left it. When he opened the jug, he discovered a light sparkle to the wine…what the French call pétillance. For centuries afterward, Gallic tribes left jars of wine in the river over the winter, to recover them in the spring…
Many years later, distant relatives of that first Gallic shepherd can drink the same type of wine, now called Clairette de Die. The vineyards of Die are located about 30 miles east of the Rhône River, at just about the spot where the Northern and Southern sections of the Rhône Valley meet. This section of the French département of the Drôme, actually part of the Rhône Valley wine region, is home to four distinct AOCs.
The vineyards, somewhat isolated in an area of otherwise very little wine production, are planted at altitudes of up to 2,800 feet, making them among the highest altitude vineyards in France. Planted on the slopes of the Vercors Mountains, the vines are sheltered from morning frosts in the spring. The chalky argilliferous soil, rich in clay, helps to retain rainwater, which helps the vines survive the long, hot, dry summers.
To make authentic Clairette de Die, the grapes are pressed immediately after harvest and placed in vats to ferment at very low temperatures, replicating the process used in ancient times when jugs of wine were kept in the icy waters of the local rivers. After one or two months of slow fermentation, the sweet, still-fermenting wine is bottled. The bottles are kept at a constant temperature of about 50°F and the wine is allowed to continue fermenting for another four months. Fermentation ends naturally when the wine is still slightly sweet. The wine is usually clarified by being emptied and quickly re-filled (this is the ancient method, after all). This method of making Clairette de Die, based on the tradition founded 2,000 years ago, was officially recognized as the “ancestral dioise process” in 1941, and considered unique to this area.
There are four AOC’s in the Pays Diois:
Clairette de Die AOC, the most famous of the wines, is a low-alcohol (about 8%), semi-sweet, slightly sparkling wine made using the officially recognized “ancestral dioise process.” Clairette de Die is made from the Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (75% minimum) and Clairette (25% maximum) grape varieties. Look for aromas and flavors of apricot, peach, tropical fruit, citrus, honeysuckle and white rose.
Crémant de Die AOC, a Traditional Method sparkling wine, historically produced from 100% Clairette, is now made with a Clairette/Aligoté/Muscat blend. This wine is dry and crisp with aromas and flavors of apple and green fruit.
Coteaux de Die AOC is a still, dry white wine made from 100% Clairette grapes. The annual production is quite low…only around 1,500 cases, so you’ll most likely have to take a trip to the Diois for a sip!
Châtillon-en-Diois AOC is a still wine made in white, red, and rosé. The red and rosé versions, produced from Gamay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah, are only made in the vineyards immediately surrounding the village of Châtillon-en-Diois. The more widely available white version, made from the Aligoté and Chardonnay grapes, is produced throughout the Pays de Diois region.
And please…pronounce it as in Diois (“dee-wah”). Say it right, and you’re halfway there.
Post written by Jane A. Nickles, CWE (your SWE Blog Administrator) email@example.com