Rhône Valley Values

Some of my favorite wines anywhere have their origin in the south of France, particularly the Rhône Valley. The valley, which runs roughly from Vienne in the north to Avignon in the south, is divided geographically and viticulturally into two regions – north and south. Most Rhône wines are red, though there are a few notable whites.

 

The Northern Rhône is syrah country. The best wines from the best appellations in this continental climate tend toward substance, power, intensely concentrated fruit and strong tannins. The two leading appellations – Hermitage and Côte Rôtie – achieve this with a unique elegance and finesse that makes places them among the most prestigious wines anywhere. But this makes their prices almost uniformly out of rear for most wine drinkers.

Not far behind in quality but more accessible in price is Cornas, about ten miles south of Hermitage. A good example is the 2014 Domaine Vincent Paris “Granit 30” ($40). Bright red and black fruit, concentrated but fresh, balanced with floral, mineral and savory notes, robust but supple textured, delicious now but should be even better in 5 years.

 

Other appellations that vie for a place at the alternative table include St. Joseph. But Crozes-Hermitage has the advantage of coming from vineyards lying adjacent to Hermitage (even though on flat terroir to the east and south of Hermitage hill and having Hermitage in its name. From a négociant with a reputation at the top of the wine world, the 2013 E. Guigal ($30) is typical of the area. Fruit forward and charming with moderate intensity, its red fruit and plum mingle with herbs and spice on a light texture begging for early consumption.

 

The southern Rhône, with its proximity to the Mediterranean also has several appellations of interest, the most famous being Châteauneuf du Pape. Others include Vacqueyras, Rasteau and Cairanne. In contrast to the northern Rhône, grenache is the most prominent grape and most of the wines are blends (primarily grenache, syrah, mourvedre and cinsault, cunoise and carignan)

Arguably the best after Châteauneuf is Gigondas about fifteen miles northeast. Its vineyards often produce heady wines of power and strength that equal or even surpass Châteauneuf. One such wine is the 2012 Xavier ($35). Its cuvée of 85% grenache, 10% mourvedre and 5% syrah yields a medium-bodied wine of grace, with delightful red fruits, tealeaves, spicy herbs, and evergreen. Another nice option is the 2011 Domaine Gour de Chaule “Cuvée Tradition” ($32). From a 117-year-old estate, the 80% grenache, 10% syrah, and 10% mourvèdre blend is medium-bodied, nicely rustic but fresh and packed with dark fruits accented with leather, tobacco and spice.

 

There are also great everyday values to be found in this region. Some nice wines are available from Costières De Nîmes and Côtes du Ventoux but the Côtes du Rhône (the most common appellation in the region) typically are the best. Solid and flavorful, they represent some of the best red wine values in the world.

 

E. Guigal produces one of the consistently best Côtes du Rhône. The 2013 ($19) with 50% syrah, 45% grenache and 5% mourvedre is a much more intense wine than what one would expect with tons of ripe dark fruit a lush texture, savory and earthy and notes. And the 2014 Côtes du Rhône Blanc ($19) is just as good, showing the Rhone can do well with white wines, too. Almost 2/3 viognier, its pure citrus and tangerine fruit is crisp yet graceful finishing with a touch of almond.

Another reliable producer is Les Dauphins whose 2015 Reserve ($13), with 70% grenache, 25% syrah and 5% mourvedre, offers up front fruit, with herbal and earthy notes and an easygoing texture. The winery also has a fine Côtes du Rhône-Villages. These are wines from a legally designated village that typically more character. The 2014 “Puyméras” ($20) is a single vineyard wine with 70% grenache, 20% syrah and 10% carignan is more aromatic with deeper red berry fruit and hints of chocolate and spice.

 

Finally, I finish with a little bit of a ringer. Many other wines from the south of France, such as the large Languedoc-Roussillon appellation, also are worth seeking out. The Coteaux du Languedoc, which neighbors the western border of the southern Rhone Valley, is such a place.

 

And Chateau Paul Mas, with a 125-year viticultural heritage in the area, is such a producer. The 2013 “Clos des Mûres” ($20) is a single vineyard wine of 85% syrah, 10% grenache noir and 5% mourvedre. It’s quite full offering ripe berries and cassis with toasty oak and herbal notes. Another single vineyard wine, the 2013 “Belluguette” ($20) is another fine white with 40% vermentino, 30% roussanne, 20% grenache blanc and 10% viognier. This cuvée yields an impressively creamy and richly textured wine. It delivers succulent apricot peach apple and tropical fruits, yet drinks fresh and lively.

 

 

About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.