What To Drink Now: Rhone

It always makes me laugh a bit when international wineries make “Rhone Style” wine; I certainly get it…if you’re drinking a red wine from Rhone it is often a Syrah, or Syrah blend with Grenache and Mouvedre, sometimes even with a little Viognier blended in.  However, as delicious as those “Rhone style” wines are, sometimes it is better to just go straight to the source, the gorgeous wines from Rhone.

Rhone Valley is a 150 mile region located in the southeastern portion of France filled with sunshine and le mistral (strong, cold) winds in the north and Mediterranean conditions in the south, creating ideal growing conditions for grapes like Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, Roussanne, and many more.

These wines make the perfect marriage of strength and power with elegance and finesse, utilizing the ability to blend to their best advantage when able.  Here are a few suggestions for delicious Rhone wine.  A few selections were sent for editorial consideration.

The 100% Syrah from the North, like from Cote-Rotie and Hermitage can be expensive, like their sister region known for the blend to the south in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, however you can find delicious northern Rhone wines for a great value as well, like those from Crozes-Hermitage, which are quite approachable as they are usually aged a short period of time, released when still young and fresh.  A few good Crozes-Hermitage wines are 2010 Delas Les Launes Crozes-Hermitage Rouge and 2009 Jaboulet Les Jalets Rouge Crozes-Hermitage, both 100% Syrah with ripe plum, cassis and blackberry notes with touches of fig, violets and stone.

Head just slightly south to the areas Vacqueyras, Tavel, Gigondas and of course, prestigious Chateauneuf-du-Pape and the wines become blends of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, often with touches of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier.  Cateauneuf-du-Pape was the first area of France to create rules for production of their wine to avoid fraud, these Appellation Contrôlée served as a basis for other AOC regulations that followed.  At the time the rules designated 10 varieties that could be used to make Chateauneuf-du-Pape, that has now grown to 18, but the goal was to create specific laws to govern making of the wine in the area, and also included how much wine could be grown, where it could be grown and the alcohol level of the wine.  And the wines from all over the area are beautiful.  Those from Chateauneuf-du-Pape do tend to be on the mid-level to expensive side, but well worth the spend for any special occasion.

But those from areas like Vacqueyras and Tavel are more approachable for everyday drinking, like 2010 Vacqueyras Cuvee Jean Marie Arnoux 2010, a blend of 70% Grenache with 25% Syrah and a touch of Mourvedre, filled with ripe, lush berry flavors with cedar and spice balanced with earthy, floral notes.  Subtle tannin structure makes the wine easy to drink and enjoy with anything from a burger to grilled steaks.

I have written about the St. Cosme Little James Basket Press white wine blend before but recently had a chance to try their supremely inexpensive (around $11 at Spec’s) non-vintage 100% Grenache from fruit sourced throughout Gigondas.  An easy to drink, fruity wine with aromas of lavendar, thyme and rosemary with strawberry jam and ripe cherry.  As with many of these wines, they are delicious upon release but will really start to shine after about 6-9 months so buy several, drink a few now and hold a few for later.

Though the reds from Rhone are impeccable, their rose will make even those non-rose drinkers happy.  Bone dry, though still fresh and fruity, Rhone rose is known for elegance, lightness and approachability.  I have rarely found a rose from Rhone I didn’t like, though they are much softer and more subtle than rose from other parts of the world, even when the same grapes are used.  M. Chapoutier Belleruche Rose 2011 blends predominantly Grenache, with Cinsault and Syrah for a light yet lively wine filled with fresh berries and a touch of baking spices.  Brotte Tavel “Les Eglantiers” Rosé marries ripe cherry and red berries with mineral and spice notes for a lovely wine that lingers on the palate.

A special opportunity to taste this week for Rhone lovers and novices, on Thursday evening at Sigel’s-Greenville from 5pm-7pm they will feature Alain Junguenet of Wines of France for a special 2010 Chateauneuf du Pape Tasting, and the word is the 2010 vintage is incredible.  The tasting is free, but you must RSVP to 214/739-4012.  This is an excellent opportunity to taste some of these Rhone red wines and see for yourself why they are so special.

2 comments on “What To Drink Now: Rhone

  1. I’m with you on Rhônes. New world Syrah just doesn’t cut it. They’re so often overripe and jammy. Whereas the Rhônes are mysterious and elegant. There are exceptions of course, like Tablas Creek… Still, a Cornas or Gigondas for the money is top notch.