Thursday, June 19, 2008

Running the Rhone

Without question the Rhone Valley produces my favorite wines. Wow, that says quite a bit since I love so many different wines and regions, but it is true. And of the Rhone, I love those southern Grenache driven wines. A local wine bar held a Rhone tasting and, of course, I signed up quickly. The wines tasted that night will be discussed a bit further on, but I thought a little information on the Rhone might be useful prior to diving into my notes.

First, a discussion of the Rhone Valley is useful. The Rhone is broken into two viticultural regions - Northern and Southern. The Northern Rhone includes a number of stunning appellations - Côte Rôtie, Hermitage, Cornas, St. Joseph (one of my personal favs), Condrieu (think Viognier), Crozes-Hermitage, as well as a number of others.

What distinguishes the Northern Rhone from its Southern neighbor is the varietal used in red wine making - Syrah. While Syrah can be found in Southern Rhone wines, it plays a bit part rather than a leading one. Most reds from the Northern Rhone are almost entirely Syrah. However, having said that, Côte Rôtie is allowed to use up to about 20% Viognier (a white grape). Other grape varietals used in the North are also white - Marsanne and Rousanne.

The Southern Rhone appellations include - Chateauneuf-du-Pape (CDP), Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Tavel (an AC for rosé only and they are so good), Lirac (across the Rhone from CDP), Côte du Rhone Villages (a whole slew of villages are entitled to this AC - one of my favorites is Rasteau), and, of course, Côte du Rhone (the basic AC).

Southern Rhone grape varietals include:
Red: Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre, Syrah, Carignan, Gamay
White: Clairette, Picpoul, Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Muscat, Viognier

Grenache is not indigenous to France. It is believed by most experts to have its genesis in Spain where it is know as Garnacha. It can produce styles from dark and moody monsters with strong tannins to soft, lithe and spicy youngsters. Winemakers love using Grenache to produce fruity rosés as well. Some of my favority rosés are Grenache based (big surprise).

The Tasting

While most of the tasting dealt with the Rhone, the first two wines were from the Languedoc. Both were nice quaffers, but that's it:

2006 Marquis de Pennautier Blanc, Vin de Pays d'Oc: grapes - Buerre Blanc, Claret Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, and Rousanne; apricot/peach notes, long finish, light acidity.

2006 Marquis de Pennautier Cabardes: grapes - 80% Cabernet and 20% Grenache; from the western part of the Languedoc, grapes are grown 300 meters above sea level; leafy nose, tobacco; good with duck confit, cassoulet, in general rustic foods. Good BBQ wine.

The Rhone wines included six Southern Rhone wines a one Northern Rhone.

2005 Domaine de Beaurenard Côte du Rhone Villages - Rasteau: grapes - 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah; vineyard was terraced by horses - blue clay soil; cherry and red licorice (grenadine), pepper and lavender, strong tannins; good with beets.

2004 Le Clos de Caveau Vacqueyras, Carmin Brillant: grapes - Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault; hot region with cool winds over clay soil; red fruit over ancient river rock with a licorice back; can hold up to 10 years; organic certification in 2009.

2005 Domaine du Pequier Gigondas: grapes - 75% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 5% Mouvedre; very Gigondas style - spicy, strong, tannic; grapes have been growing in this AC for over 2000 years.

2005 Domaine de Galet des Pape Chateauneuf du Pape: grapes - 80% Grenache; young vine cuvèe - vines only 50 yrs old; nose - good stink - result of no de-stemming (pits and stems included in fermentation); palate - pepper, iodine, iron, green veggies; according to a couple of people "no better wine with steak"; the wine shows better and better with time in the glass - will hold 10 - 12 years.

2005 Domaine de Beaurenard Chateauneuf du Pape: This family has been making wine since 1695; silky, soft nose - very gentile - a Cary Grant style wine; no new barrels; perfect with small birds - quail, etc.

2004 Domaine de Villeneuve Chateauneuf du Pape, Les Vieilles Vignes: grapes from the northern section of the AC - 90-95 yr old vines on 3 - 8 hectares; a very Burgundian nose which happens to many of these wines as they are just south of the Burgundian wine region; tobacco and plum jam. This was the hit of the night for me...stunning wine.

The last wine of the night was from the Northern Rhone and by definition (of Northern Rhone wines) was Syrah based.

2005 Jean Michel Gerin Côte Rôtie, Champin Le Seigneur: This is the oldest growing region - over 2400 years; two areas in Côte Brun provide vineyards soils and drive the complexity of this wine - mica shist and granite; grapes - Syrah 90%, Viognier 10%; nose - creamy berries, star gazer lilies - basically a Syrah palate with a light floral quality.

It was a terrific tasting...go find and try. As always...te souhaitant le meilleur de la vigne (wishing you the best of the vine).

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