Tag Archives: syrah

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.

 

Wine Education Wednesday: Côte Rôtie

Posting Wine Education Wednesday on a Thursday… because I’m a day late and because I wanted it to coincide with the great deal Wine.com has on a fantastic Côte-Rôtie wine –the Domaine Duclaux 2004. Delicious stuff, usually $50 and on sale for $24.99. But first, a bit about the region:


Region: Côte-Rôtie

Appellation & Country: Northern Rhône region of France, near the town of Ampuis, a bit south of the larger city of Lyon.

Grapes: Syrahtee pee vine is the only red grape permitted, but up to 20% of Viognier can be blended in during fermentation.

Climate & Soils: Côte Rôtie translates into “roasted slope,” which accurately describes where the grapes are grown for these wines. The steep,  terraced hills of Côte-Rôtie are indeed roasted during the summer due to their facing south. The soil is primarily schist, and picking grapes can be a challenge due to the steepness and the rocky terrain. I’ve climbed these slopes before trying to get some good shots of vines, and trust me, it’s tricky. Can’t imagine trying to pick grapes from each vine. So, while most pickers are more adept than I, other options like pulleys and such are occasionally used.

The main two slopes are the Côte Blonde and the Côte Brune. Aptly named as the slope of the Côte Blonde has mainly granite, with a limestone element that makes the soils more white. On the other hand, the Cote Brune has more schist and an iron content that darkens the soils making them more brown in color.

How does the wine taste? Since the grape is Syrah, you’re going to get some concentrated dark fruits and a definite element of spice. But, Côte Rôtie is known for being one of the more elegant appellations of the Northern Rhône. Unlike Hermitage or Cornas, Côte Rôtie wines carry descriptors like “finesse” and “feminine.” These characteristics have some to do with the soil  and climate, but also with that small percentage of Viognier that is added during fermentation. The co-fermentation of Viognier with Syrah increases the aromatics of the wine, while deepening its color and softening the texture. Though up to 20% is permitted, most producers include about 3% – 5%. Typical notes for a Côte Rôtie include raspberry & blackberry, violet & other floral notes and a touch of spice. Tannins are  refined, texture is soft but also rich and round. Wines from the Côte Blonde are described as more elegant, while the wines of the Côte Brune are known for a bit more power and backbone. Age-worthy, wines are also often approachable while young. Not to say these wines are lightweights! They can be quite powerful in their seductiveness. And quite addictive, too. guigal

Notable Producers: Guigal is by far the most well-known producer in Côte Rôtie. Established in the 1940’s, Guigal owns many vineyards in the appellation and makes some of the most sought-after wines of the region – the “La-Las” – which are La Mouline, La Landonne & La Turque. Get a hold of these three wines to experience the powerful finesse Côte Rôtie can offer. Other producers to note include: Vidal-Fleury (which is owned by Guigal), Chapoutier, Jaboulet and Duclaux. If you can find them, Ogier, Clusel-Roch and Jean-Michel Stéphan are quite delicious examples of what Côte Rôtie offers.

Take advantage of our deal on the Domaine Duclaux 2004! It’s a steal!

Wine Education Wednesday: Syrah vs. Shiraz

 Lately I’ve been craving Syrah for two simple reasons: It pairs well with hearty meals and, best of all, it costs much less than other popular varietals. With so many options for wine lovers out there, one question I get from time to time is,  'what is the difference between Syrah and Shiraz?' Answer – Nothing!  In the true spirit of Australian individualism, the Aussies planted Syrah and called it Shiraz.  The two grapes are genetically identical, though in taste profile, you will find some differences.

Since Roman times Syrah has been grown in the a Rhône region of France.  Hence, it is commonly referred to as a Rhône varietal.  Syrah has seen a surge in popularity and is now grown in California, Washington, South America and South Africa. You can find it in just about every region, though those listed are most popular.  Despite these new challengers, I prefer Australian and French Rhône wines.   Syrah from these regions offer intense richness and a full-body.

French Syrah

French Syrah comes from the Rhone Valley, which is divided into the Northern and Southern Rhône.   Northern Rhône wines command a high price and produce some of the most sought after and long-lived Rhône wines.  Northern Rhône wines are made primarily from Syrah, though in some areas a small percentage of white can be blended in. Familiar appellations in the Northern Rhône include: Côte Rotie, Saint-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage and Cornas.

The Southern Rhône produces much more accessible wines in that they are priced affordably and made for much earlier consumption than Northern Rhône wines, which can take decades to mellow. The freshness of Southern Rhône wines is a result of blending Grenache with Syrah, as well as a myriad of other grapes, including Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvedre.  In fact, Grenache is considered the dominant grape in the Southern Rhône and Syrah is often added to beef up the blend with powerful tannins and flavor (a practice also followed in Australia). Familiar appellations include: Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Côtes du Rhône and Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Northern Rhône Syrah offers leather and spicy black pepper qualities coupled with intense tannins and a higher natural acidity than its Shiraz brother.  Complex flavors lead to a long wonderful finish worthy of contemplation. Southern Rhone wines, having a smaller percentage of Syrah and different growing conditions, are much softer, though still providing some spicy, earthy notes.

Notable Producers:  E. Guigal, Jean-Luc Columbo, M. Chapoutier, Chateau Beaucastel

Shiraz

Australian wines are booming and winemakers have made huge strides understanding which varietals grow best in each region.  Australian Shiraz is planted in several areas, but the best come from the Barossa, McLaren Vale and Coonwarra (also noted for its Cabernet Sauvignon).  These areas experience high temperatures resulting in very ripe fruit with lower acidity.  The ripe fruit coupled with Australian winemaking techniques create luscious, silky, mouth-filling wines.  The Barossa Valley in particular excels in the Aussie style offering round tannins and dark fruit flavors, accented with chocolate notes. Thirsty yet?

Notable producers:  Penley Estate, Penfolds, Hewitson, Tait, Peter Lehmann

My Picks

Delas St. Esprit Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge 2007 ($9.99). Contains soft tannins with smoky aromas of black pepper and burnt brown sugar.  Pair with roast chicken. A steal at $9.99!


Tait The Ball Buster 2007.  Luscious dark fruit with cocoa nuances.  Pair with steak or roasted lamb.