A Value in France: The Rhone Valley
In the current economy there are deals everywhere, even in the wine world. But France, the one region in the world where the deals are sparse, value is hard to be found. Blame it on the declining dollar (although the Euro is starting to take a fall), pretentiousness, or just the fact that the French make damn good wine. So it has become my quest to find a value in France.
Situated in the southeast corner of France, just north of Provence and just south of Burgundy, lies the Rhone Valley. The Valley runs along the course of the Rhone River providing beautiful views and scenery. The Valley is divided into two distinct growing environments heavy with their own micro-climates and traditions in winemaking.
The Northern Rhone
The Northern part of the valley is characteristized by a continental climate experiencing cold winters and warm summers, much cooler than its southern neighbor. The cool climate lends itself to grapes that survive and flourish better in these conditions. The only red varietal permitted to be grown in the Northern Rhone is Syrah. As for white varieties, wines can include Viognier, Marsanne, or Rousanne. The Northern Rhone produces unique red wines in which the red grape (Syrah) is often blended with the white varieties of the region. Produced in the same manner as most French wines, Northern Rhones are terrior driven meaning they are made to showcase the land that the grapes were grown on. The Syrahs of the region are much different from the sister Shirazs produced in Australia, these wines display strong characteristics of earth, green vegetables, and often bacon.
As with all French appellations, the AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) designates which grapes can be grown in the area in order to obtain a certification to be sold under the appellation name. All French AOC wines are named for the region they are grown in, rather than the grapes themselves. Within the Northern Rhone, the AOC designates eight different sub-appellations and therefore eight distinct wines. The sub-appellations (and the grapes in those wines) are:
Cote-Rotie: Red – Syrah and up to 20% Vigonier
Condrieu: White – Viognier
Chateau-Grillet: White – Viognier
Saint-Joseph: Red – Syrah and up to 10% Marsanne or Rousanne; White – Marsanne or Rousanne
Crozes-Hermitage: Red – Syrah and up to 15% Marsanne or Rousanne; White – Marsanne or Rousanne
Hermitage: Red – Syrah and up to 15% Marsanne or Rousanne; White – Marsanne or Rousanne
Cornas: Red – Syrah
Saint-Peray: Sparkling – Marsanne or Rousanne
With a dominant mediterranean climate, the Southern Rhone experiences mild winters and hot summers. The region often endures drought conditions but very cool nights. Much of the southern valley is divided into even smaller microclimates due to the rough, almost pebble like soil in some areas in addition to the strong, dry wind that may affect some areas and not others.
The diverse climate in the southern Rhone allows many different varieties of grapes to thrive in the environment. The most common red grapes produced in the region are Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre, Carignan, and Cinsualt. White varieties include Ugni Blanc, Rousanne, Roussanne, Bourboulenc,Picpoul, Clairette, and Vigonier. The different climates also produce distinct flavors in the wines. Reds from the left side of the valley are typical to display flavors and aromas of chocolate and rich black fruit with heavy tannins in youth; while right side wines are much lighter, and fruit forward.
In all, there are ten sub-appellations of the Rhone. However the two most recognizable and famous of the regions are Chateaneuf de Pape and Cote du Rhone.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape, roughly “The Pope’s New Castle” in French, can be made in a white, rose, or red from up to eighteen different varietals as of this past year. Red varities include Cinsaut, Counoise, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Muscardin, Piquepoul Noir, Syrah, Terret Noir, and Vaccarèse (Brun Argenté); white and pink which are allowed are Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanche, Clairette Rose, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Picardan, Piquepoul Blanc, Piquepoul Gris, and Roussanne. There are no specifications on the percentages that must be used, so it is possible to have a Châteauneuf-du-Pape with all eighteen varieties, however Grenache is usually the dominant grape in this wine. The reds from this area are characterized as strongly tannic in their youth developing into spicy, full-bodied, dark fruit wines. Whites range in flavor and aroma from lean and crisp to strong, silky and heavy.
By definition a wine from Cote du Rhone has no specific sub-appellation thus can be made from any grapes within both the northern or southern regions. In actuality, most Cote du Rhones are a blend of grapes from the southern region dominated by Grenache on the red side and Grenache blanc on the whites
Discovering the Rhone
Here are some suggestions to get your travels started to this Southern French region.Whites
Ferraton Pere & Fils Cotes du Rhone Samorens Blanc
Flavor : nicely balance wine. Clairette brings the freshness and white Grenache body and softness
Grape : White Grenache (50%) and Clairette (40%)
Ferraton Pere & Fils Crozes-Hermitage La Matiniere
Flavor : very aromatic attack, aromas of ripe fruit (cherries, raspberries). Round wine with smooth tannins
$19.50Domaine Monpertuis Cote du Rhone
Flavor: Dark purple, spicy, dense, and strong.
Grape: Grenache (90%), Syrah (10%)
Domaine Monpertuis Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Flavor: Mineral and earth aroma that lingers on the aftertaste with ripe fruit and faded flower notes.
Grape: Grenache (70%), remainder from Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault and other varieties.