Often compared to Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas, Vacqueyras is another heavyweight appellation of the southern Rhône. The Grenache-based red wines are rich, dusty, and spicy, with mellow, resonant flavors of fruit and herbs. While certainly powerful, the wines are less intense than those of Gigondas and closer to Châteauneufs in style. Among the three appellations, Vacqueyras offers the best prices.
Vacqueyras is slightly larger than Gigondas, with about 3,200 acres of vineyards located in the eponymous village. Between 400,000 and 500,000 cases of wine are produced per year; due to the warm climate, white grapes do poorly here, and hence production is mainly made up of red wine.
Vacqueyras' history is less impressive than that of Gigondas or Châteauneuf-du-Pape; with "only" about 400 years of wine production history, the region is young in comparison. Also, it did not receive AOC status until 1990. As a result, Vacqueyras still slightly lags Gigondas in terms of the wines' quality and name recognition. As the climates of the two are very similar, this is likely to change.
Climate and Viticulture
The vineyards of Vacqueyras are highly similar to those of Gigondas, and hence produce similar wines. Many of the best vineyards are located on lofty, sloped mountains with cool climates; at sea level, the warmer, more balmy climate can make for less interesting wines. Many of the hills are made up of limestone, but clay and other soil types are also common.
Grenache is the main grape in these reds, often making up 90% or more of the blends. Syrah is also common. Mourvèdre and Cinsaut are allowed as supplementary varieties. With flavors of dusty, warm herbs, rich red fruit, and spice, these powerful but balanced wines are among the most characterful in the Rhône. They are estimated to have less aging potential than the more intense wines of Gigondas, but can still be cellared for a good 20 years.
We list seven excellent producers located in Vacqueyras.
- Domaine des Amouriers: The basic Vacqueyras here is better than many producers' cuvées, with flavors of black cherry fruit, thyme, pepper, and florality. The cuvée, Les Genèstes, is more spicy and elegant, with deep flavors of red berry and licorice.
- Domaine le Clos de Cazaux: Cuvée de la Tour Sarrazine is one of the finest cuvées in Vacqueyras, with consistent flavors of pungent, lush, slightly floral red and black berry fruit, as well as a rich, smoky, gamy quality.
- Domaine de Couroulu: Known for the limpkins featured on the labels of their wines, Domaine de Couroulu makes great wines that are also reasonably priced. The Cuvée Classique, which is about a $20 wine, has bright, thick fruit flavors, herbal complexity, and deep nuances of spice and game. The $30-odd Vieilles Vignes is darker and deeper, with serious black fruit flavors and intense herbal scents.
- Domaine de Monardière: The Vieilles Vignes here is wild, fresh, smoky, and fruity, and has powerful chocolate and herbal scents. The superior Les 2 Monardes has more elegant, silky flavors of berry and lavender.
- Domaine Montirius: Montirius, a producer that also makes good wine in Gigondas, makes two above-average Vacqueyras wines: the basic Vacqueyras and the Clos Montirius. However, much higher peaks of quality are reached with the perfumed, violety, berry-rich Garrigues. The best wine is the Le Clos, which is rich with Syrah-like aromas of black fruit, pepper, and smoked game. Clos is around half and half Grenache and Syrah. All of these are good values at $20-$30.
- Domaine le Sang des Cailloux: This domaine produces a basic Vacqueyras and a few cuvées; all are good, but two are considered excellent. The Cuvée Floureto has black fruit and earthy flavors that have been characterized as Bordeaux-like. Cuvée de Lopy is the best, with deep, Syrah-like pepper scents, plus earthy notes of red fruit, coffee, and spice. Truly unusual wines.
- Tardieu-Laurent: Tardieu-Laurent's classy, ripe basic Vacqueyras is above average, but the spicy, vivid, minerally Vieilles Vignes is even better. Both are widely available and have reasonable prices.
There are no official subappellations. A few producers use vineyard names, but none of these have become well-known as of yet.