Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Rhone. River of Wine.

The Rhone. River of Wine.
Do you find French wine labels confusing?

The Rhone is one of a few major French rivers, others are the Loire and Dordogne, inextricably linked with wine. The heart of the area is between Vienne to the north, Avignon to the south.  Wines labelled Côtes du Rhône can come from anywhere in the region, from north, south, east and west. Those labelled Côtes du Rhône Villages are in theory better than plain Côtes du Rhône and those with the label entitled to add the village name, eg  Côtes du Rhône Villages Sablet should have an edge over the others, in theory.

Wines bearing the label Vacqueyras, just Vacqueyras, can come only from the village of that name.  It is regarded as a cru wine. Some other southern Rhone cru villages are Gigondas, most recently Cairanne and,  most famously, Chateauneuf du Pape. It can all get a little complicated for the outsider. 

While the various designations are much sought after, quite often it comes back to the winemaker. A good winemaker can make a Côtes du Rhône every bit as good as a cru whereas a poor winemaker will more than likely have a poor result even in a cru village. The two below are from opposite ends of the appellation "scale" yet, for me, it is very difficult to pick a clear "winner". 

Chateau de Bastet “Terram” Côtes du Rhône (AOP) 2017, 14%, €14.75 Mary Pawle Wine

Colour is ruby (mid to dark), the liquid attractively bright in the glass. Jammy red fruits (raspberries, strawberries) on the nose and then lively red fruit flavours on the palate, a nice light spice too, delicate tannins, fresh acidity but well balanced for sure. Very accessible and clean (no herbicides, no pesticides here). It is is both organic and biodynamic and the blend is 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah. Very Highly Recommended.

Grenache qualities enhance fruitiness, warmth and body while Syrah can bring a hint of spice, as well as depth in colour and strength to the wine enabling it to age well.

Terram, Latin for land, is one of the four elements, so, not surprisingly, they also produce wines called Aeris, Aqua and Ignis (air, water, fire). Pairings recommended include appetisers, cold cuts, barbecued meat or small goat's cheeses and even more exotic dishes. This could be one of the LDR (light dry reds, now very popular). Recommended serving temperature is 14 degrees, so a slight chilling may be required.

Jérome Quiot Vacqueyras (AOC) 2015, 14.5%, €22.15 (Karwig, now closed)

Rhone wines by the Quiot family were a mainstay in Karwig for many years. This fruit was hand-picked from a single property located at the foot of the famous hills, the Dentelles de Montmirail. You can expect it to match with veal, game birds and cheeses.

Colour is crimson, legs clear slowly. Fairly intense aromas (dark berries, cherries, herbal notes too). Fruit and some spice on the palate, quite a juicy presence. Full bodied with good length on the finish that reflects the palate experience. Very Highly Recommended.

Vacqueyras is almost exclusively red wine country and grapes allowed include Grenache (at least 50%), Syrah  and Mourvedre (at least 20%).

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