Red and white Rhone quenchers

Wayne on Wine July 2013
Wines have been crafted in the Rhone River valley since the early Roman occupation, 121 B.C. Photo by Wayne Crawford

Wayne on Wine
By Wayne Crawford

  Wayne Crawford
  Wayne Crawford

Last November, I encouraged readers to seek out and enjoy Rhone red wines as a great source for a wide range of varietal offerings, many at reasonable prices.

Wines have been crafted in the Rhone River valley since the early Roman occupation, 121 B.C. The area has evolved into producing exceptional wines and is the birthplace for syrah. The Big Canoe Wine Group, impressed with our November tasting, returned to this region for another savory challenge, which included whites.

The great white wines from the Rhone are centered first in the Northern Rhone regions of Château-Grillet, 7.4 acres in size, and Condrieu, where viognier is the only wine allowed. This aromatic grape is high in alcohol with moderate acidity and aromas of peach, apricot, honey, violets and white flowers. The grape has seen a renaissance in growth, particularly in the United States. I consider this one of the best grapes grown and bottled in North Georgia.

Moving farther south, the other white grapes are marsanne and roussanne. In Southern Rhone, 30 miles south of the Northern Rhone region, the white grapes include grenache blanc, clairette, bourboulenc, ugni blanc or trebbiano in Italy, piquepoul blanc, picardan and rolle or vermentino.

Red wines account for 86 percent of wine production in the Rhone area. The red grapes are equally diverse and include grenache, carignan, mourvedre, cinsault (very popular for making rose wine) and a host of lesser reds used primarily in Rhone blends. The great vintage years for these wines were 2009 and 2010.

Rhone wine diversity makes food pairing options endless. Viognier is an exceptional white wine and should be considered for those hard-to-pair foods—Indian and Asian dishes, the vegetarian diet and selected spicy foods. I place the wine between sauvignon blanc and chardonnay in body, with delightful floral and fruit flavors. This is a first-rate, year-round wine.

One simple tenet in pairing food is to trust your palate and drink what you like. Light foods and light wines generally go well together; likewise, heavy foods go well with heavy wines.

  Vineyards in Cote Rotie, Rhone-Alpes, France. Photo courtesy of Google Images

The Rhone reds pair with a wide range of dishes. These medium- to full-bodied reds are particularly well-suited to roast duck and lamb, stewed or roasted meats and vegetables and braised rabbit, if you have this choice available.

The best known Rhone wines come from Côte-Rôtie with blends of syrah and viognier: Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. I encourage readers to look for reasonably priced wines from these regions and throughout the Rhone and to consider trying Villard Condrieu "Les Contours de DePoncins" 2011, $29.95; Chateau Fortia Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee du Baron 2010, $27.95; and Chateau des Roques Vacqueyras Hameau des Roques 2010, $18.95.

‘Wines Drinking Well Now’
Michel Gassier 2011 “Nostre Pais” Blanc Costières de Nîmes, France, $21.99. This Southern Rhone wine is a blend of 90 percent grenache blanc, 5 percent roussanne and 5 percent viognier, aged six months in French oak. Grenache blanc is a full-bodied white with low acidity, green apple and pear flavors and floral aromas. Roussanne is an elegant grape with floral notes. Viognier, the great Northern Rhone white wine, adds aromatics to the blend. This is a delightful white that may have some aging ability. At this price, it is a Best Buy and was the best white wine in our tasting.

Domaine les Aphillantes 2010 Cuvee des Galets, Rhone, France, $18.95. This Rhone red is 60 percent grenache, 20 percent syrah and 20 percent mourvedre. The winemakers are Helene and Daniel Boulle, who operate a biodynamic winery in the Southern Rhone. The soil is comprised of clay and limestone and covered with pebbles. No insecticides, no chemical fertilizers or weeding practices are employed, and the grapes are all hand-harvested. The small yields that produce this wine are well-crafted with a smooth texture and lingering finish, making this a Best Buy.

Clos Saint Michel Grand VIN 2010 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee Special Rhone, France, $49.99. The grapes for this wine come from the best estate vineyards, with a blend of grenache and syrah, aged one year in oak. The winemaker comments, “very dark in color, hints of cherry, roasted coffee with bold fruit flavors” with a long finish. Drinks young but should age. Highly Recommended.

Perrin & Fils 2009 Vinsobres “Les Cornuds" Rhone, France, $22. A dark-red wine with hints of purple color on the edges, on the palate this wine exhibits floral, black and cherry fruit and spices, perhaps pepper. A full-bodied red, well-balanced and fresh, Vinsobres is one of the more northern Cote du Rhone villages, and Perrin’s terraced vineyards lie at an altitude of 250 meters above sea level, meaning a cooler climate for syrah. Best Buy.

Next month our focus is on summer white and rose wines from the Loire Valley in France.

Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators and the American Wine Society.

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