Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Love of the Rhône

I must confess a personal love of Rhône wines. Some of the first wines I got into drinking were Côtes-du-Rhône. I drank them mostly because there were good and solid and I could afford them. They've been in my rotation ever since. I just love the generosity without pretension that the wines have, the full, ripe flavors combined with an earthy, peppery quality that makes for totally enjoyable consumption.

Another thing that I love about these wines is that you find just about the best quality/price ratio on the planet. What I'm talking about is that there are delicious and serious wines to be had for under $20! No other region in the world can lay claim to so many interesting wines of quality in that range. Rhône wines are bargains and they can make a lot of mass produced wines seem overpriced and one-dimensional. Furthermore, if you go up to $30 or $40, you can find wines equal to those from other regions costing twice that price.

For this article I'm referring to red wines that are from what is called the southern
Rhône. As for grape varieties, grenache dominates the blend with syrah, mourvedre, cinsault, and carignan also playing a role. The categorization is pretty easy. It goes like this. Basic wines from anywhere in the area are called simply Côtes-du-Rhône, they have to be made from at least 40% grenache. The next step up in quality is labelled as Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages and their grenache component has to be at least 50%. If there is a village name added to that moniker (i.e. "Cairanne Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages") then you're in the next tier, less than 20 villages are permitted to do so. The top of the pyramid are the Rhône Crus (or "growths") and they have their own A.O.C. which means that only the name of the village appears on the label. The notable ones for red wine here in the southern Rhône are Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueryas, Beaumes de Venise, and Vinsobres.

Although you can find exceptions, these wines are full bodied with loads of personality and flavor. The best wines have power and opulence while also showing some refinement along with a silky elegance. They are great wines for hearty stews and braises, and grilled or roasted meats. The wines are nicely food flexible and I find them wonderful partners with Middle Eastern cuisine. In fact one of my favorite combinations in the Terrace is a leg of lamb or lamb shawarma platter from Bedawi Cafe or Shawarma Flame House and a hearty glass of Côtes-du-Rhône.

Try it! This is a great region to explore


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