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All podcast music: “Café connection” by morgantj / CC BY 3.0, ©2009 – Licensed under Creative Commons 
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May 9, 2022

Cairanne is an 877 ha/2,167 acre appellation in the southern Rhône Valley that has been farmed since the time of the Greeks. It is not just a regular appellation, it is a cru of elevated status in the Côtes du Rhône. It doesn’t get the credit it deserves! After tasting much of it at a wine fair in the southern Rhône, I found it unbelievably delicious. A cru with acidity and a lighter profile but still so much character? YES.

And after speaking to a few of the other producers in the appellation, I found Jean-Etienne Alary and his father, Denis. Jean-Etienne has a worldly view, after spending time in Australia and New Zealand, and Domaine Alary's wines are some of the best Cairanne out there. Combining old techniques and newer ideas, Domaine Alary makes spectacular wines, with Jean-Etienne taking over the main winemaking duties from his father, Denis, who helped lead the charge to make Cairanne a Cru.

Photo: Denis and Jean-Etienne Alary. ©Wine For Normal People  

Here's a quick look at the topics we discuss in the show: 

1. Jean-Etienne gives us a full education on Cairanne. We cover:

  • Cairanne’s location and its proximity to places like Gigondas, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and Rasteau, as well as the Rhône River
  • The main grapes that are grown, typical blends of Cairanne, and how a small percentage of Cinsault, Counoise or Carignan can go a long way. We discuss the whites, which are a small but very important part of the wines of Cairanne
    • The three main types of terroir and what grows best on each
    • The climate and the strong Mistral effect, which helps keep disease off the grapes. We hit on climate change and drought, and what it means for certain grapes in the appellation
    • The elegance that defines Cairanne versus all other Cru of the south


2. Then we discuss the 11 generations of the Alary family, their history in Cairanne and their essential role in Cairanne

  • The Alarys have been involved in wine in Cairanne since 1692 and have farmed exclusively in this area since, surviving wars, phylloxera, mildews, to be what it is today
  • We discuss Denis Alary, Jean-Etienne’s father and how he started to make significant changes when he graduated from oenology school in the 80s. We talk about the age of the big wine critic and how the Rhône bent to the will of certain critics but has come back to its roots. discuss how Denis and the close-knit wine community of Cairanne fought to get the appellation to cru status for decades, finally achieving the goal in 2016. Finally, we cover how Denis moved Alary to a certified organic property in 2009, years before it became trendy!


3. We discuss the cru system and how, even though all cru are equal in the eyes of the law, they are not treated the same. Jean-Etienne talks about his aspirations to make Cairanne as well recognized as other cru



4. We discuss Jean-Etienne’s experiences in winemaking in Australia at Henschke and New Zealand at Seresin and the differences in how things get done in France vs the New World.


Photo: The Wines of Domaine Alary. ©Wine For Normal People

5. We talk about the wines of Alary:

  • The Cairanne from Alary, and the role of Carignan and how it can be made in a lighter, elegant style
  • The whites, although only 5% of the AOC, are 20% of Alary’s production and based on the Clairette grape, from which Alary makes stunning whites that are reminiscent of Sauvignon blanc.
  • Winemaking philosophy and the use of technology versus intuition
  • The future for Cairanne and for Alary


If you haven’t had a wine from  Cairanne, seek it out, especially the wines of Alary. These wines are elegant, drinkable, and fantastic with food!


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