The Rhone Valley in southeast France consists of two distinctly different parts, the northern Rhone and the southern Rhone. Red wines dominate, although both whites and roses are also made here. The top Rhone wines can sell for as much as the best wines from Bordeaux. What makes the red wines from this region so special is the intense earthiness, great spice and robust black fruit flavors they display.
The northern Rhone is where many of the rarest and most expensive , reds and whites are made. The northernmost region is the Cote-Rotie, followed by Condrieu, Chateau-Grillet, St.-Joseph, Hermitage and Croze-Hermitage. Winters are cold and wet, summers hot, with late spring and early fall fog. The only red grape permitted in the northern Rhone is Syrah. Syrah grown here shows white pepper, aromas of incense, forest and leather, with intense flavors of black plums, blackberries and blueberries. Many of the best wines owe their concentration to old vines that produce low yields of powerful fruit.
White wines are made with Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne, either by themselves or blended. These wines can be wonderfully lush, with exotic aromas and flavors of quince, peaches, and lime blossoms.
The southern Rhone has a more Mediterranean climate. Hot days are tempered by le mistral, the cold wind that blows down from the Alps. The major regions are, Gigondas, Vacqueras, Tavel, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Cotes-du-Rhone and Beaumes-de-Venise. Unlike the northern Rhone, in the south blending grapes is the norm. The principal red grapes are, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsaut and Carignan. The main white varietals are Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Roussane, Viognier and Muscat.
One of the interesting claims to fame regarding the town of Lirac (just north of Tavel) is that this is where the European blight known as the phylloxera epidemic began. Sometime around 1863 the owner of Chateau de Clary planted a few vine cuttings from California, to see how they’d grow in the south of France. The vines died, but the aphids clinging to the roots survived and spread to neighboring vineyards. Within the next decade most of the vines in France were attacked by this pest. French grape growers had to replant using an American rootstock with their native varietals grafted onto them.
Wines from the Rhone Valley range from incredibly complex and expensive ( Hermitage) to some of the most affordable, yet still delicious (Cotes-du-Rhone). I hope if you’re not familiar with them, you’ll give them a try.
Wine Quote of the Month- “I shall drink no wine before it’s time. Okay, it’s time! “– Groucho Marks
Our White Wine of the Month is Poema White, 2013, a blend of Macabeo and Muscat grapes from Catalunya, Spain. It has bright, clean flavors, vibrant yet delicate with tropical fruit flavors.
Our Red Wine of the Month is Poema Garnacha Blend, 2012, also from Catalunya. It’s medium bodied, and well balanced with ripe red fruit flavors. Wine club members please pick up your wines before they’re gone.