Being right on the edge of a vineyard in Seguret was an opportunity. Cooking at home is an option in a gite or apartment that one does not get when staying in B&Bs or hotels. Our first evening in the gite, we enjoyed a homecooked meal with a bottle of Domaine La Machotte Gigondas, a full bodied red wine that one can get even in the USA for less than $15. Other wines we tried later included a variety of Cotes du Rhone, Vacqueyras, and Macon Villages. As in the USA, it costs less to drink wine “at home” than in a restaurant. You can buy wine in any grocery store or supermarket in France, but if you go to a wineshop, you have the opportunity to talk with the staff and get advice about wine for a particular recipe or price range.
We had excellent views of the vineyards, and we got close-up sights of the vignerons at work. They drive elevated tractors that straddle the vines. They use the tractors for spraying and weeding, or hauling trailers with bins. The tractors cost about as much as a full size sedan in the USA. They can be very impressive to encounter on a two lane (or one lane!) road, towering over other vehicles, moving pretty fast to get to the next job.
There were many vintners in the area, commonly offering tastings on their property. Cooperatives simplify this for tourists who might not want to make appointments or drive all over the countryside. The tourist office in Sablet, for example, doubled as a cooperative wine store. The Cave Cooperative Roaix in Seguret is another example. Cooperatives are a good option for tasting a variety of local wines, such as Gigondas or the famous red wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The latter village, which dates back to the 11th century at least, was later associated with the papacy of Avignon. The Wikipedia article on this village says: “A ruined medieval castle sits above the village and dominates the landscape to the south. It was built in the 14th century for Pope John XXII, the second of the popes to reside in Avignon.” The name Chateauneuf, however, was derived from Latin long before this event, as described in the Wikipedia article. In the USA Chateauneuf-du-Pape costs $30 to $80 a bottle or more. We passed up the chance to buy any, largely because we were happy enough with Gigondas, which is quite a bit less expensive. I leave it to readers with more expertise to explain why the one costs more than the other.
Wine tastings are fun. It is always interesting, if visiting a vintner, to see the manufacturing process, as we did years later on our visits to Burgundy, Sancerre and Epernay, or the Napa Valley in California, or the Finger Lakes in New York. Some readers may remember the wine-road movie Sideways, where tasting wine is depicted in several memorable scenes. The usual ritual of tasting can be done either with a glass or a special shallow cup called a tastevin. Rather than just swallow, the advice is to look at the wine in good light, to assess its clarity, agitate the glass so that the aroma fills the space above the surface, check the aroma, observe the reflux of the wine as the vapor recondenses and descends back into the wine, then take a mouthful, roll the wine about in your mouth, aspirate it (this can sound quite rude, but it is OK at a tasting), let the vapors rest above your tongue, and then spit the wine into a container provided (only OK at a tasting). That spitting part might seem disrespectful or wasteful or even sinful, but if you are trying to compare a number of wines for purchase, it is essential to avoid becoming tipsy, losing your good judgment from sheer happiness, or risking a traffic ticket on the drive to the next vintner. Following the ritual tells you a lot about the wine, but avoids impairment. It is a good idea to have a little bread and water between tastes to erase the taste of one wine before sampling another. For a similar reason, usually one begins with dry white wines, advancing by increasing sweetness, then switching to dry red wines, advancing by increasing sweetness. Not all wine tastings will go this way – depends on the establishment. In the larger establishments a checklist might be provided. The best stores will ship wine, but that is very costly by the bottle. If you have a lot of wine to ship – several cases – shipping might be cheaper than trying to buy the same amount of that wine in the USA. A simpler alternative is to ask for a list of domestic outlets for the local French wines in your city or state. The cooperative wine shop we visited in Seguret had such a list, with many listings in New York City. A good domestic wine merchant might order a particular wine for you that you can later pick up at the store.