Beaumes de Venise

Beaumes-de-Venise is an appellation specifically for the quality red wines from the parish of Beaumes-de-Venise in the southern Rhone Valley, France. The village is better known for its sweet Muscat-based wines (Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise), but the quality and quantity of the local red wines has been consistently increasing in the past twenty years or so. It was for these Grenache and Syrah-based wines (once sold as Cotes du Rhone Villages Beaumes-de-Venise) that the Beaumes-de-Venise appellation was created in October 2005.

The typical Beaumes-de-Venise wine is a ripe, bright, fruit-driven red with medium body and relatively high alcohol (the trademark of warm-climate Grenache). It is characterised by aromas of raspberry, blackcurrant, leather and sweet spice. Grenache and Syrah - the Rhone Valley's two key red-wine grapes - dominate these wines. Under the Beaumes-de-Venise appellation production laws, Grenache must constitute at least 50% of any wine, complemented by between 25% and 50% Syrah. Other traditional Rhone Valley varieties can be used (including up to 10% white-wine varieties), provided they do not exceed 25% of the blend.

The village of Beaumes-de-Venise lies to the east of the town of Orange, just a short distance from the Rhone river. It is within walking distance of Vacqueyras, whose red wines have gained significantly in prestige in recent years. And just a few miles away (across a low-lying limestone hill), is another of the southern Rhone Valley's most respected wine villages, Gigondas. As if this were not sufficient to confirm the pedigree of the local red wines, just 10 miles (16km) to the south-west are the vineyards of the famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

The Canal du Carpentras passes right through Beaumes-de-Venise on its path from the Aigues river to the town of Carpentras in the south. The canal was constructed to facilitate irrigation in the hot, arid lands of the southern Rhone region. Ironically, however, the use of irrigation during the grape-growing season is prohibited by appellation law except in extreme circumstances and only on application to the INAO (the French government body responsible for managing the appellation system).

In addition to Beaumes-de-Venise itself, vineyards in the neighbouring villages of Lafare, La Roque-Alric and Suzette are also covered by the Beaumes-de-Venise appellation. The climate here is Mediterranean, with hot, dry summers bringing excellent ripening potential to the local vines. The finest vineyard sites here are to be found on the southern and south-eastern slopes of the local hills. These locations enjoy excellent exposure to sunlight throughout the morning and early afternoon, but are protected from the harsher heat of late afternoon. Summer afternoons in the southern Rhone Valley can be stiflingly hot. The area's warm temperatures and plentiful sunshine bring the grapes to full phenolic ripeness, making for powerful, aromatic wines.

The skyline in this area is dominated by the Dentelles de Montmirail, a ridge of jagged Jurassic limestone which rises precipitously to over 2000ft (610m). The ridge's near-vertical peaks of exposed limestone resemble jagged teeth, whence the name dentelles (meaning 'little teeth'). In modern French the word dentelle means 'lace', which provides a slightly more romantic, if less evocative etymology for this iconic geological feature. The ridge, and the low hills from which it rises, are the foothills of Mont Ventoux, the region's largest mountain (see Ventoux).

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