Rhone Valley wines offer quality and value

Wayne on Wine

 jwayne crawford
  Wayne Crawford

By Wayne CrawfordWine drinkers, collectors and writers share a common goal: find good wines at reasonable prices. Encouraging wine consumption helps grow choice and hold pricing.

Consider these American wine facts from Jeff Siegel (The Wine Curmudgeon): on average, nine of 10 wines sold through March 2011 cost less than $12; 20 percent of wine consumers drink 91 percent of wine purchased; and 90 percent of wine is consumed within 24 hours of purchase. These are challenging facts to ponder when making recommendations.  

With the help of the Big Canoe Wine Group, my aim is to find wines which complement food, are available either in Georgia or through direct shipment and are priced $15 to $25. I also considered collector wines, which improve with aging of five to 10 years or longer and are priced $35 to $75.

The Rhone Valley – a great match with my wine-buying goals – is a road less traveled in local wine-drinking experience and is well-stocked with reasonably priced wines.
The Big Canoe Wine Group blind-tasted red Rhone wines; the results are highlighted in ‘Wines Drinking Well Now.’

The Rhone wine region begins 20 miles south of Lyon at Vienne, France, and extends 109 miles to Avignon. Some 6,000 individuals sustain the grapes which make up 35 million cases of wine annually

The Northern Rhone, 45 miles in length, is dominated by red Syrah. This wine originates in the Rhone and is complemented by exceptional white Viognier grapes grown in Condrieu and Château-Grillet regions.

Syrah is an early-ripening red grape densely pigmented and tannic with moderate alcohol and acidity. Aromas and flavors of raspberry, black currant, cherry and plum dominate along with accents of pepper, herbs and cocoa. Exceptional Syrah wines blended with up to 15 percent white Roussanne-Marsanne are grown in the Northern Rhone regions of Crozes-Hermitage and Hermitage.

In the Southern Rhone, 27 grape varieties are grown. The leading red is Grenache or Grenache Noir backed by an exceptional cast of blending grapes: Mourvedre, Carignan and Cinsault, to name three. The best-known wine in the south is Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a blend of red or white wines drawn from up to 18 grape varieties. The most famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyard is La Crau; the heavy bottles of the region carry a papal insignia in honor of the 67 years the Catholic Papal Palace was in Avignon, 1309-1376.

Native to Spain, Grenache Noir is favored in the south for its vigorous vine growth and resistance to wind and drought. The grape is high in alcohol, low in acid and moderately tannic with bright strawberry and prune flavors and a hint of spice on the palate.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas wines pair well with barbecue meats, hamburgers, game birds, rabbit, ribs, steak and beef and can be enjoyed early after bottling. Hermitage red, which needs to age for a decade, is best enjoyed with braised dishes, steaks, venison, wild boar and lamb.

‘Wines Drinking Well Now’
Cristia, 2008 Gigondas, Southern Rhone, $22.50. A blend of 75 percent Grenache/25 percent Mourvedre; 60-year-old vines; 15 percent alcohol. This wine is aged in concrete vats for 14 months. The wine will drink well after three years and will continue to improve for eight to 10 years after harvest. Best Buy.

Belleruche 2009 Cotes du Rhône, France, $12.95. This wine has a ruby-red purple Ting color; a blend of 80 percent Grenache/20 percent Syrah; a big, spicy, peppery, dark-berry nose; and medium-bodied, juicy flavors with minerality. There are blackberry and bitter cherry flavors on the palate and texture with sustained tannins. This is a very serious Cotes du Rhone that should drink nicely for three to four years. Best Buy.

Vignerons de Caractère, Calade Des Evêques 2010 Gigondas, Southern Rhone, $18.72. The wine is 60 percent Grenache/30 percent Syrah/10 percent Mourvedre with 14.5 percent ALC by volume. This wine is produced by 80 winemaking families in the heart of the Rhone Valley. It exhibits juicy blackberry and black currant fruit with a nice finish. Best Buy.

Rhone wines to consider include: Cotes du Rhône Villages 2009 Cuvee Centenaire, Domaine La Grand Ribe, $20; Domaine D L’echevin 2010, Cotes du Rhône-Villages St.-Maurice Guillaume de Rouville, $23; Château Fortia 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, $34; and Château de Montfaucon 2010 Cotes du Rhone Baron Louis, $25. One white to consider is Michel Gassier 2011 Costières de Nîmes Château de Nages Vieilles Vignes White at $16. A collector wine of interest is Domaine Giraud, 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Tradition, $54. Three hundred cases were imported; the drinking window is 2015-2030. Highly Recommended.

Drink what you like!

Next month’s article will provide a look at wines for Thanksgiving.

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

Wayne Wine 1: The author works hard on these columns.
Wayne Wine 2: None

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