Domaine Denis Tardieu, Côtes du Rhône

Domaine Denis Tardieu

Country & RegionFrance, Rhône Valley
Appellation(s)Côtes du Rhône
ProducerDenis Tardieu
FoundedDenis took over from his father in 1981.

Domaine Denis Tardieu is hidden back in the forested hills overlooking the Valley of the Aygues, north of Vaison-la-Romaine and along the eastern zone of the Côtes du Rhône. These hills support a terroir that allows Denis to make really interesting wine – not the usual simple red-fruited CdR, but one with a much darker profile, nuanced with smoke and bacon and garrigue. Frédéric Alary of L’Oratoire St Martin in Cairanne told us about him for that very reason, and Alary is worth listening to.

Domaine Denis Tardieu landscape

Apart from spring rains and snow melt, the Aygues is normally a languid creek that comes out of the Alps, passes the Tardieu homestead, and continues by Cairanne on its way to the Rhône. For generations this valley was known for its olive orchards and oil production. In March of 1956 a warm spell came and sap rose early, and then overnight the temperature plummeted. The sudden deep freeze was murderous on the local olive trees—there are accounts of individual trees rending with great, thunderous cracks as their sap froze and their trunks burst open—and as much as 90% of Provence’s olive orchards were wiped out. The olive is far and away the longest-lived fruit tree on earth, capable of exceeding one thousand years, so the freeze must have been all but Biblical.

Denis’s grandfather replanted 300 olive trees that summer. During the remaining years of that decade he also put in most of the vines that Denis farms today. In 1981 Denis took the reins of the domain and built a simple cellar to make wine rather than sell the grape harvest to the local cooperative. He added to the olive orchard and he added to the vineyards. Today, he works 410 olive trees (still less than what his grandfather had prior to the freeze) and 12 hectares (30 acres) of vines. The vineyards break down into vin de pays (2.5 hectares or 6 acres), Côtes du Rhône (8.5 hectares or 21 acres, of which one–2.5 acres– is in white varieties), and Côtes du Rhône Villages (1.8 hectares or 4 acres). Most of his wine production, however, is sold to the négoc; he keeps only a small amount—his best vat or two, normally—of wine to bottle and sell himself.

Denis Tardieu

Since 2001 he has been certified organic for all of his olive and grape farming and production (along with making wine, he cures olives, makes tapenade, and of course has his olives pressed into oil). These days he makes and raises his couple of vats of Côtes du Rhône without sulfur additions, adding a little only at the bottling, which results in a more relaxed and more expressive wine. He lives at the domain with his wife, Annie, who farms 14 of her own hectares (35 acres) of vines in nearby Buisson, and their son.

The Wines

Côtes du Rhône
80% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 5% Carignan and 5% CinsaultWine is aged in big concrete vats, never fined, and only lightly filtered at bottling. Denis favors big fruit and spice, and you get that in both his wine and oil. In his wine, you often find an elusive smoky quality that really good Côtes du Rhône can sometimes have.