Lirac vs. Chateauneuf du Pape

Lirac galet

Lirac vineyards are very similar to those of Chateauneuf

It’s hardly surprising that Clos de Sixte Lirac regularly gets compared to the much more expensive wines of Chateauneuf du Pape. Sitting just across the Rhone River on the western bank, Lirac is essentially the other half of Chateauneuf.

The climate and subsoil are essentially identical to Chateauneuf, and – like Chateauneuf – most of the vineyards are covered in large, rounded stones called “galet” left behind by the Rhone when it filled the entire valley in ancient times.

From Fame to Phylloxera
When the Papacy arrived in Avignon in the early 1300s and began searching out sources of wine for communion and celebration, Lirac was quickly identified as the source of the very finest wine in the region. We know that Pope Innocent IV paid a premium for the 20 casks of Lirac he purchased in 1357.

Even after the Pope’s returned to Rome, Lirac’s fame as the Rhone’s best wine continued to grow. Both King Henry IV and Louis XIV regularly served Lirac at their courts. By the end of the 1700s Lirac was, as the Oxford Companion to Wine explains, “a much more important wine center than Chateauneuf du Pape.”

With high demand came the temptation for fraud, and unscrupulous winemakers throughout the Rhone – including in Chateauneuf – often tried to pass their “inferior” wines off as Lirac. To help stamp out this fraud, in 1737 the king of France ordered that casks shipped from Roquemaure should be branded “CDR” – for Cotes du Rhone – as a sign that they were authentic and of the highest quality.

Lirac thrived as the Southern Rhone’s premier wine region right up until phylloxera arrived in 1863. By 1870, essentially no vines remained in Lirac or Chateauneuf du Pape. But the growers of Chateauneuf were quicker to reorganize and replant and reestablish the region’s reputation for great, robust, reds. For most of the 20th Century, Lirac languished as a land of small producers, negotiants, co-ops, and indifferent white, red and pink wine.

A Pivotal Force in Lirac’s Rebirth
Alain Jaume & FilsAlong with Fabrice and Christophe Delorme of Dom de la Mordoree and Henri de Lanzac of Ch de Segries, Alain Jaume has been a pivotal force in starting Lirac on its return to fame.

Talk to any member of the Jaume family, and you’ll quickly notice how their eyes light up and speech gets faster and more intense when they discuss Clos de Sixte. While they are certainly proud of their award-winning Chateauneuf du Papes, Gigondas and Cotes du Rhone, this Lirac vineyard holds a special place in the family’s heart.

They are (justifiably) proud of this wine that is helping re-establish the reputation of the once famous Lirac vineyard. Certified organic farming, hand harvesting, careful selection of only the best fruit, and the kind of winemaking – long, slow, fermentations and aging the Syrah (35%) and Mourvedre (15%) components in French oak barrels are the kind of care and expense normally only seen in top-flight Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

And, normally, the price of this glorious red Rhone resembles Chateauneuf, too. As critic Robert Parker said of the fine 2009, at the $30 release price, “Clos de Sixte may look expensive, but this is a sensational wine capable of lasting for a decade or more.” It’s impressive that the Jaume family’s 2016 Clos de Sixte Lirac carried the same $30 release price as the 2009. Our best in the USA $18.98/ea case price is more impressive still!

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