In Bordeaux and Paris, Left Bank and Right Bank have specific, contrasting connotations: Cabernet and Merlot, artsy and high-rent.
To some extent, that’s true in the Southern Rhône as well.
Although you won’t hear locals talk about the right and left banks of the Rhône, you will hear them reference the differences between the departments of the Gard (right bank, when looking downstream) and the Vaucluse (left bank).
The Vaucluse is home to the priciest of the Southern Rhône wines—Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It also includes the glamor crus of Gigondas and Vacqueyras, recently elevated crus Beaumes-de-Venise, Rasteau and Vinsobres, plus 13 other villages eligible to use their names on Côtes du Rhône Villages.
The Gard includes only two crus—Tavel and Lirac—and just four villages that may be labeled by name. It also includes the regional appellation of Costières de Nîmes.
Vinously and geographically, the Gard is part of the Southern Rhône. Culturally, however, it’s part of Languedoc, and even an Iberian tradition like bullfighting (albeit a nonlethal variation) remains a popular pastime near Nîmes.
Despite Tavel’s historic reputation as the first rosé wine appellation in France (established in 1936), it only produces rosé, with few examples reaching $30 per bottle.
Lirac is slowly gaining traction. Because of high costs in Châteauneuf-du-Pape (prices average $183,000 per acre, according to a 2013 report in Wines & Vines, an industry publication), many domaines there find Lirac a less expensive way to expand their wine production.
Among the “named” villages, Chusclan and Laudun are the best known, largely through the efforts of the local cave cooperative, Laudun Chusclan Vignerons. With more than 200 members and 7,000 acres of vineyards, it’s a formidable business, providing wines to both négociants and consumers.
St.-Gervais is the most remote, lying up the Cèze River from Chusclan. Chusclan and St.-Gervais are warm, even within a regional context, because they’re partly sheltered from the northerly mistral. The results are generally hearty reds.
The other important village is Signargues, the only outpost of the Côtes du Rhône that lies south of Avignon. Here, in something of a paradox, Syrah frequently outperforms Grenache.
The biggest commonality these wines share is that pricing remains reasonable, even in the crus. Most wines retail for $20 or less, although occasional luxury cuvées can reach into the $40s. At the moment, there’s no better place to find bargains worthy of your shopping cart.