Roads of the Rhone

The Rhone Valley is one of my favorite wine growing regions in the world. Perhaps part of this reason is because I have the privilege of visiting the area almost every summer. Not only are there delicious warm summers with fields of wild lavender and rosemary wafting to your nose, but there’s some pretty spectacular wine as well.

Two things that make the Rhone stand out to me – diversity and quality. The northern and southern Rhone are so distinctly separate, both in geography and style, that were there not a river to connect them, they would easily be two separate appellations.

I drink more southern Rhone wines by far, which I assume is true for most people. Northern Rhone wines are known for being a bit more structured, age-worthy, collectible and expensive. Thus our value-driven wallets and drink-it-now palates are drawn to the south, where these styles of wine abound. And yet, the northern Rhone has some excellent wines that could be considered great values.


A quick northern Rhone cheat sheet: Syrah is the exclusive red grape, though most regions can blend a small percentage of white grapes into the wines (except Cornas, which is 100% Syrah). Viognier is the exclusive grape of Condrieu, while Marsanne and Roussanne join Viognier in most other northern Rhone white wine blends. Vines are trained high on steep, terraced slopes with granite-based, gravelly soils.

A few gems to look out for in the north:
Crozes-Hermitage – the little step-sibling to Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage is a great way to introduce your palate to the northern Rhone style, at a lower price tag. Guigal and Delas make some excellent examples.

St.-Joseph -Though Cornas is one of the more talked-about regions in the north, I love to find a good St.-Joseph. Sometimes they are a bit less… rustic than a Cornas and more approachable. They can range from great value to slightly collectible (see Guigal).


Southern Rhone cheat sheet:Grenache is the primary red grape, though almost all wines are blends, and include red grapes such as Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault. Whites are more rare, but are also blends, with Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne and Clairette leading the make up of most blends. Vines are often bush trained over flat terrain, with a warmer climate than the north.

Gems of the south:
Yes, I love a great Chateauneuf-du-Pape or a refreshing Tavel or a spicy Gigondas. But a few others I look out for are:
Cairenne – I think Cairenne will eventually be elevated to “cru” status, just as the Cotes-du_Rhone Villages Vinsobres was in 2004. Cairenne, one of the 18 Cotes-du-Rhone-Villages, is totally worthy of a try – it has the depth and complexity of many cru wines from the southern Rhone, but often with a lower price tag. Domaine Alary is a favorite of mine, but most Cairenne labels deliver beyond expectations.

Cotes-du-Ventoux – move over Cotes-du-Rhone, this is where you can find the new values! Offering refreshing and fruit-driven whites as well as rich and fruit-driven reds, this is a region I am watching. Loving that more and more wines are coming in from here.

It is Rhone Week at Wine.com, so it's a good time to stock up.

No matter what your palate, the Rhone most likely has something to satisfy it.

 

The Pregnant Palate: Tasting with a belly

Being 16 weeks pregnant, I thought I'd try to incorporate this hindrance – and benefit – into my blog. The obvious hindrance would be my inability to drink. The benefit? My enhanced senses for tasting. It's not easy carrying around a belly in the wine business, but it does give a different perspective!

This is my second time around at this, and I am very grateful for nature, who swoops in and makes wine absolutely unpalatable for the first few months and gets you used to not drinking. When the taste buds return, they come back full force, with additional receptors that seem to pick up on everything. Which is where tasting becomes so interesting.

So over the next few months, as I taste (and spit) wines that I deem worthy to share, they will be noted from a different palate – my pregnant palate.

d’Arenberg: A profile

In 2007 I had the pleasure of visiting the great wine country of Australia. The two things I noticed there: the country is REALLY big and the people are REALLY nice. And I mean genuinely nice.

One of our favorite properties we visited was d'Arenberg. Not only did we enjoy a personal tour with d'Arry himself, but we got to taste some fantastic wines.

One of things that makes d'Arenberg stand out – other than the wild hair and loud shirts of Chester Osborn – are the labels. All the d'Arenberg labels have the signature red stripe that runs diagonal through them, which make them stand out on a shelf. Plus each wine's name has a story behind it. A few of my favorites are:

The Laughing Magpie – this name comes from a story of Chester's little girl. Finding the word kookaburra too difficult to pronounce, she called the bird a laughing magpie instead. Laughing Magpie is a Shiraz+Viognier blend that earns great reviews every year and is a perfect representative of the blend in Australia – usually available for under $25!

Love Grass Shiraz – the flowers on the label make me think Grateful Dead, but the story comes from actual grass that is so sticky, they call it 'love grass' since it is so hard to detach from you. See the picture attached!

The Dead Arm Shiraz – a personal favorite and Wine.com's feature today. Dead Arm is named for the disease that affects the vineyard that Dead Arm grapes come from. The disease is called Eutypa dieback, which is actually a fungus, most often found in older vineyards. Most vineyards are trained with two arms out to the side. What happens with "dead arm" is that one arm of the vine becomes infected, and eventually dies off, leaving the other arm to receive all the vines energy and nutrients. The result is very concentrated grapes, which lead to a very concentrated wine, as you get in d'Arenberg's The Dead Arm. It's dense and jammy, but with layers of delicious fruit and spice. The sweet spice aromas actually remind me of the holidays, which makes it perfect for the season.

 

The Pregnant Palate: Tasting the wines of Langmeil

First a preface on the new series. Being nearly 16 weeks pregnant, I thought I’d try to incorporate this hindrance – and benefit – into my blog. The obvious hindrance would be my inability to drink. The benefit? My enhanced senses for tasting. It’s not easy carrying around a belly in the wine business, but it does give a different perspective!

Tasting the Wines of Langmeil

The other night at a dinner with some wine and food savvy friends, one of them remarked on the rampant mis-pronounciation of Mascarpone. Why do people say “maRscapone,” inverting the “r” before the “s.” I stared at the word. How did I miss that before? I’d be one of those people mis-pronouncing it for so long! I, a stickler for grammar and pronunciation, never noticed this. At least there aren’t that many words that I mis-pronounce like that. Or are there? I can now add a winery to this list of my mis-pronunciations (which I hope will get smaller rather than larger): Langmeil. I have been calling the winery “lang,” with a hard “a” like mangle, “meal.” Incorrect. Having lunch with the Director of Sales and Marketing, James Linton, on Monday, I learned it actually means “long mile” and is pronounced quite similarly, close to “lahng-mile.”

Now that I know how to pronounce it, I was able to taste it. Our lineup at lunch included the following:

Earthworks Barossa Shiraz – a partnership between Langmeil and Yalumba, this


Wines for the tailgate

When one thinks of drinking at tailgates, wine is not the first beverage that comes to mind. Beer probably ranks top of the list for most, though for me tailgate means bourbon & coke. Okay, maybe not anymore, but it did 10 years ago back in my days at UVA. Point is, most of us don't think wine when we think tailgate.

But perhaps we should. Look at the myriad of foods that come in tailgate parties – hamburgers and hot dogs. Crab dip and casseroles. These flavors are just screaming for wine. Maybe not all wine, but there are some wines that are tailgate friendly, and here are a few of my favorites.

Screw cap wines – this is a general category, but I think it is valid. Just as you pop open a beer, you want to reach into that cooler and just screw off the cap to pour that wine into what is most likely a plastic cup. Taking the time to use a corkscrew doesn't quite fit as you're eating baked beans from an aluminum platter.

Bubbly – I will clarify that I enjoy bubbly primarily at early season tailgates, particularly in the south, when the weather is still toasty and a super chilled bottle of bubbly is a perfect treat. My favorites are Cava, and while you cannot go wrong with Cristalino, an amazing wine for the price, I also like the Poema Brut we recently tried. Dry and crisp and great with anything salty.

Albarino– this may not be the most recognizable wine at your tailgate party (and some go against my screw cap suggestion), but it will be absolutely delicious! Crisp and clean, Albarino will go with any grilled seafood or seafood dip at the party. Favorites include the Burgans Albarino (great value at $14) and the Bodegas Fillaboa (also about $14).

Malbec – the perfect wine for grilled meats, hamburgers and hotdogs and just drinking on its own at a party. I'm going with the Ben Marco '08 Malbec here as we've got a great deal on it at $15.99 (down from $20). Mainly because this is a BIG Malbec. It's ripe and jammy with a spicy kick – it's a great match with food, but in particular, easy (maybe too easy) just sipping on its own.

No matter what you pick for your tailgates – beer, bourbon or wine, I hope you enjoy that general football season warmth – fall weather rolling in, the sound of the stadium roars and a chance to be a crazy fan. Me? I'll be watching my Virginia Wahoos as they take on the season with their new coach and new attitude. Are we in for a renaissance of Virginia football? One can only hope!

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