The Rhone Report: About Rhone and Rhone-Style Wines and Winemakers is part of an ongoing series. The most famous appellation in the southern Rhone Valley is Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Wine critic Robert Parker makes no bones about loving Chateauneuf, and calls it the most important appellation in the entire Rhone Valley. According to reputation, the French appellation contrôllée system and market prices, the pecking order of southern Rhone wines is something like this: Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas , Vacqueyras, Beaumes-de-Venise, Vinsobres, Cotes-du-Rhone Villages Cairanne (and Rasteau, Seguret and Sablet), Cotes-du-Rhone Villages from other named villages, Cotes-du-Rhone Villages (with no named village) and finally generic Cotes-du-Rhone. Check out our discussion about the various Rhone appellations .
The Rhone Report: About Rhone and Rhone-Style Wines and Winemakers is part of an ongoing series. Like many lovers of Rhone style wines from America, we have just returned from the 2008 edition of the annual Rhone Rangers tasting event at Fort Mason in San Francisco (March 18). This was the 11th year that the Rhone Rangers , a group of about 200 American producers of wines using 22 varietals traditional to France’s Rhone Valley, have shown off their wines at this public tasting event. This year, about 138 wineries presented approximately 520 wines. During the tasting, we enthusiastically tasted as many wines as we could within the 5 hours (3 public and 2 trade/media) the event was open. We tasted 30 white wines first, and then we tasted 50 reds. We skipped the rosés, not because we don’t love them, but because we didn’t have time. Kudos to Rhone Rangers for providing eco-friendly paper spit cups instead of the plastic cups so common at other tastings. We divided our attention between wines and producers we have known previously, producers new to us, and specific bottlings we didn’t already know. While we found many wines to admire, we are sure we missed other gems.
The Rhone Report: About Rhone and Rhone-Style Wines and Winemakers is part of an ongoing series. The classic red wines of the Northern Rhone Valley are some of the world’s greatest. Hermitage, Côte Rôtie and Cornas reds are the finest expressions of Syrah on earth. But the best of them have gotten to be very expensive, especially in American dollars. Recent vintages of Hermitage from Jean-Louis Chave are now more than $200 per bottle (and his scarce, top cuvee, Cathelin, is over $1,000). Guigal’s Côte Rôtie La Landonne, La Mouline and La Turque are nearly $250 per bottle, and even the Guigal Côte Rôtie Brune et Blond bottling is over $75.
I realized that I was in a red wine rut a few years ago and made a practice to try unfamiliar white wines at tastings. I quickly discovered Viognier, a medium bodied white wine, perfumed with apricots, peaches and white flowers. This stuff is amazing - delicate, yet heady; I can sit for hours just enjoying the aroma. The taste is a revelation – the silky smooth texture hits first, then the fruit and flowers explode. It’s quite wonderful.
The Rhone Report: About Rhone and Rhone-Style Wines and Winemakers is part of an ongoing series. Twice, when dining at La Beaugravière, a restaurant in the town of Montdragon near the southern Rhone Valley wine growing areas, we have ordered the very same pair of wines. La Beaugravière has a renowned list of Rhone wines available, perhaps the best in the world. So why would we order the same pair of wines on a second occasion? Because we found them to provide an ideal contrast with each other, and to both be ideal companions to the simple Provençal food served at La Beaugravière.
The Rhone Report: About Rhone and Rhone-Style Wines and Winemakers is part of an ongoing series. The French appellation contrôllée (or appellation d’origine contrôllée, AOC) system was born in the Rhone Valley (specifically, in Chateauneuf-du-Pape) in the early 20th century. The appellation system is intended to guarantee that the wine comes from the place (appellation) that is identified. It seeks to establish an expectation of a certain quality, and in doing so it sets forth specific requirements.
The Rhone Report: About Rhone and Rhone-Style Wines and Winemakers is part of an ongoing series. As lovers of Rhone blends, we eagerly traveled to Paso Robles in the spring of 2005 to attend a “blending seminar” at the Tablas Creek Vineyard. We love both the white and red blends from the southern Rhone Valley, among them the wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Cotes du Rhone , Gigondas and others. At home in California, we love the wines of the Tablas Creek Vineyard. So we were excited to attend this event and to learn more about blending these wines.
Our first visit to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the summer home of the popes in the fourteenth century, was on a gray December day. We had just driven up from Nice for a visit to the vineyard areas of the southern Rhone Valley. We were hungry and decided to have lunch in Chateauneuf because of its location just off the Autoroute. We planned to have lunch at La Mule des Papes in the middle of the village, but the menu looked too pedestrian so we looked around. We found a tiny place, La Garbure, just up the hill from the village square.
Any regular readers of this column know that my wife, Emily, is pregnant with our first child. Upon hearing this news in June, I promptly began preparing to lay down a case of wine to enjoy with my unborn son 25 years down the road. Two months ago , I wrote about the process of aging wine – how to select it, where to store it, when to drink it, and so forth. Last month I delved into the all-important question of which wines are worth aging by cataloguing five of the wine categories that made their way into the mixed case I put together. This column finishes that project by reporting on the four remaining categories of wine I’ve chosen for my son’s case. In so doing, hopefully I’ll lend some help to others who are searching for wines to put away for a special occasion.
The Rhone Report: About Rhone and Rhone-Style Wines and Winemakers is part of an ongoing series. There a lot more Rhone wine producers than most American wine consumers can get the time or opportunity to know. That creates a challenge when considering whether to purchase an unfamiliar Rhone wine. Anyone can learn to recognize some of the most famous (and often expensive) Rhone bottlings.