Category Archives: Uncategorized

Thanksgiving Wine and Pie Pairings

Dessert and fortified wines are one of fall’s most delicious wine treats. While many of these dessert-themed wines find happy pairing partners in the traditional blue cheese or salty seasonal nuts, many will shine exceptionally bright when partnered up with the season’s favorite pies. Check out some top pie pairing picks ranging from fortified favorites to late harvest delights, Banyuls and more.

  • Pumpkin Pie – traditional, rich and filled with warm seasonal spice – the perfect pick for Port. To slice through the yummy spice character and lean into the creamy textures and full-on pumpkin flavors, consider the nutty nuances, smidge of citrus and innate spice of Graham’s 10 Year Old Tawny  to bring synergy and contrast to the sweet pumpkin motifs.
  • Lemon Almond Tart – With Italian roots and the perfect mix of sweet meets savory, the famed lemon almond tart begs for the decadent, late-harvest, botrytis-ensnared themes that Bordeaux’s Sauternes deliver so well. Meshing the full-bodied medium sweet, honeyed profile of Chateau Guiraud Sauternes’ citrus character with the peppy palate offerings of the not overly sweet lemon almond tart brings the old standby of complementary pairing protocol to full flavor fruition.
  • Pecan Pie – Sticky, nutty and ultra-sweet, what’s not to love about this seasonal favorite? For this pairing we’ll travel southwest off the coast of Portugal to the island of Madeira. Opting for Blandy’s 15 Year Old Malmsey Madeira, where a full body and smooth palate texture delivers generous brown sugar character, rounded out by caramel, walnuts, and distinct mocha influences. The high acidity in the wine is what makes this pairing work. Acidity cuts through the sugar in the pecan pie like a knife and carries the residual sugar in the Madeira itself to brighter levels preventing the sweet spike from being turned into an insulin-induced sugar spiral void of competing flavors and palate interest.
  • Apple Cobbler – Ahh, apple cobbler. That sweet fall treat that fans the flames of ripe apples, nutmeg, cinnamon, sugar, and toasted oats crumbled with butter – does anything say fall louder than that? For this autumn dessert, we’ll run with a lighter-styled white wine from the hillside heart of Italy’s Langhe region in Piedmont. Light, bright and insanely aromatic, Saracco Moscato d’Asti  engages everything from apple cobbler to the famous French upside-down apple Tarte Tatin to biscotti and Milan’s famous panettone with exceptional versatility and pairing potential.
  • Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie – Beginning with a basic pecan pie and turning it up a notch by adding the unmistakable flavors of both bourbon and semi-sweet chocolate, this particular high-octane pie demands something with a bit of palate heft itself. Enter Taylor Fladgate’s 20 Year Tawny, big, rich and complex, marrying the best of figs and caramelized character with the savory elements of walnuts and warm spice.  This pairing highlights the complement over the contrast with both the pie and the fortified wine showing full throttle flavors and spotlighting some overlap in terms of aromatic and flavor elements.
  • Cherry Pie – There’s just something cheery about cherry pie. An American staple and perfect for pairing with the French dessert wine from the Roussillon, the traditional cherry pie will find a friend in the sweet cherry and chocolate flavors of Grenache-based Banyuls. Gerard Bertrand Banyuls promises significant ripe red and black fruit on the nose and palate combined with a sweet style, full body, and moderate tannins. If you plan on opting for a piece of chocolate in lieu of a slice of pie this Thanksgiving, Banyuls also delivers some serious pairing potential with all things chocolate.

While pairing Port with pie and Banyuls with chocolate are both decadent and delicious endings to a Thanksgiving feast, there are many that consider dessert wines as dessert themselves.  The choice is yours! Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Ten Wicked Wines for Halloween

Halloween party planning is in the works and if you’re scouting for some spooky sips to serve friends and fiends at Halloween happenings, then look no further! From wicked reds to a ghostly white, these wines vow to take a creepy spin on the fruit of the vine.

besiegedbottleRavenswood Besieged Red Blend 2014 (CA)

A blood-red blend of plush Sonoma fruit, Besieged gives a dubious nod to the day winemaker, Joel Peterson, harvested grapes under thunderous skies and circling ravens, the notorious bird of ill omen. Happily, the day’s dark clouds rolled by and Ravenswood wines shine brighter than ever with intensity, power, and rich berry-driven flavors. Besieged is no exception, built on the blood red blend of Petite Sirah, Carignane, Zinfandel, Syrah, Alicante Bouschet, and Barbera, this limited-edition, Sonoma-county carrying bottle rocks the palate with dark fruit, a full body and a tangle of well-integrated tannins.

velvetdevilbottle1The Velvet Devil Merlot 2014 (WA)

If the devil’s in the details, then this lip-smacking, pitchfork-wielding Washington State Merlot has them covered. Columbia Valley, through and through, showing off whole berry fermentation that gives aromatics a leg up and tannins a smoothing out, 10 months of barrel aging (30% new oak), and going for gutsy by utilizing some native yeast influences during fermentation, the Velvet Devil delivers black plum, Bing cherry and a dash of cocoa in a medium-bodied, easy to drink style.

 

chronic_purpleparadiseChronic Cellars Purple Paradise Red Blend 2014 (CA)

From the heart of Paso Robles, brothers Josh and Jake Beckett have given voice to regional wines with unforgettable labels built on quality fruit and a signature easy-going style. Expect this Zinfandel-dominated blend with a smidge of Syrah to engage ghouls and goblins with a deadly mix of black cherry and strawberry driven fruit medleys. The loud, eye-catching label leans heavily into Mexico’s Day of the Dead holiday themes, making this bottle a go-to grab for all sorts of Halloween gatherings.

 

 

sinisterhandbtlOwen Roe “Sinister Hand” 2012 (WA)

This is a classic Rhone-inspired blend delivering Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Cinsaut, but with an ominous name like “Sinister Hand” – you know there’s got to be a haunting backstory. And there is. Seventeenth century legend holds that two Irish families, the O’neills and O’Reillys (of course), determined their claim on a prized plot of land by entering into a rowing race. The straightforward agreement was that whichever team reached the land first won. Fair enough. However, when O’Neill’s boat began trailing behind, a member of the crew, reached for his own sword, chopped off his hand and tossed it to shore – going to great lengths to secure the land for the O’Neills. Rumor has it the land remains in the O’Neill family today.

plungerheadredbottlePlungerhead Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (CA)

Not all Halloween wines need to be devious and dark, some may inspire last minute costume designs: enter Lodi’s Plungerhead Cab. A light-hearted Cab that is as affordable as it is drinkable. Perfect for pairing with tricks and treats, making the most of mini milk chocolate candy bars, malted milk balls, and more, this Lodi red is fun and flexible with plenty of blackberries and raspberries up front and center well-supported by slices of chocolate, a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice and a smidge of smoke.

 

 

faust4Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (CA)

For the more cerebral Halloween imbiber, Faust is a deeply concentrated Napa Cabernet deriving its name from Goethe’s tragic play whereby Dr. Faust sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for power, pleasure, enduring youth and infinite knowledge. While this richly textured Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t make any such promises it does deliver, mystery and intrigue, brooding dark fruit, a full body, stunning structure and an ongoing finish.

 

alma_negra_m_blendbottleAlma Negra M Blend 2013 (Argentina)

What does the “M” stand for? Mendoza, moon, mystery, Malbec, magic. Well, Alma Negra says, it’s up to the drinker. Whatever the connotation, this magical red wine brews up a healthy blend of Bonarda and Malbec, and pours almost as inky black as the label itself. Black fruit character, dusty dark chocolate, and peppery spice with a snip of black licorice all fold themselves into dense layers of liquid delight. The M Blend label, a foreboding enigma, promises to deliver some serious mystery on Halloween night.

 

ghostpineschardonnay-bottle1

Ghost Pines Chardonnay 2013 (CA)

Named for the shadowy pines that border the Ghost Pines Vineyard in Napa Valley, this otherworldly Chardonnay is a certain sip for those eating as much candy corn as they’re passing out. Expect to go bobbing for apples with this one as Granny Smith meets Gala and tart mingles with sweet, medium-bodied, with creamy textures and an ethereal finish.

 

 

 

poizin2Armida Poizin Zinfandel 2014 (CA)

Poizin, dubbed the “wine to die for,” is a Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel that’s made for Halloween.  Adorned with blood-red labeling, complete with creepy font and a haunting skull and crossbones graphic, this wine is the one to sip while passing out Halloween candy.  And it’s delicious with both milk and dark chocolate, that may or may not make it into the candy bowl this year. What’s not to love?

 

 

 

apothicdarkApothic Dark Red Blend 2014 (CA)

From the makers of Apothic Red and dripping with Gothic intrigue, the Apothic dark delivers a haunting blend of Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. No need for candy, this one carries its own stash of ripe berry fruit flavors wrapped up in dark chocolate decadence.

Best Bets for Budget Wedding Bubbly

When it comes to wedding day wine picks, many couples are scouting for good (cheap) bubbles to raise their glasses in the traditional toast. There’s no doubt that Champagne is often the first stop on the wedding wine train, but for savvy, budget-bound folks, there are plenty of solid sparkling wine options that cost significantly less than classic French Champagne. Enter, Crémant, Cava, and domestic sparkling wines.

Crémant: Beyond Champagne, Best Bets for Well-priced French Bubbly

Crémant wines are regionally-inspired French sparkling wines made (way) outside of the strict delineated boundaries of Champagne. Crafted in the same traditional, time-consuming method as Champagne (dubbed “méthode champenoise“), with both bottle fermentation and lees-aging, these sparkling wines may stray well beyond the conventional grapes used to make Champagne (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier). Crémants offer a lively glimpse of a particular growing region’s given grapes all wrapped up in a sparkling, celebratory twist. For couples interested in toasting their vows with a classy crémant, bottle labels offer key clues as to which region a wine represents. Take Alsace for example, carrying front label terms like “Crémant d’Alsace,” essentially communicating that this particular bubbly hails from the tasty growing region of Alsace, in northeast France, and may very well carry Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, or even regional Riesling within. The same is true for bubbles from Burgundy (“Bourgogne” in French and on the label), which will spotlight “Cremant de Bourgogne” front and center, or lively Chenin Blanc ambassadors from the Loire Valley, dubbed “Cremant d’Loire.”

Crémant Producers to Try:  Gerard Bertrand, Chateau Gaudrelle, Jean-Baptiste Adam, Louis Bouillot, Lucien Albrecht, JCB, Pierre Sparr, Simonnet-Febvre

Cava: Spain’s Snazzy Sparkling Wine

Shining bright as Spain’s signature sparkling wine, Cava courts many couples with well-priced, fresh-faced, food-friendly bubbly that is made in the same traditional method as Champagne, where the second, bubble-capturing fermentation takes place in the bottle (not a tank). Built on the back of three local, Spanish white wine grapes: Macabeo, Xarel-lo, and Parellada, Cava hails predominately from the Penedès region of northeast Spain (just west of Barcelona), and accounts for a significant 10% of Spain’s total wine production. Cava’s consistent claim to sparkling wine fame lies in its outstanding quality to price ratio. Couples looking to cash in on Cava savings will find remarkable bottles readily available for well under $20 (and often under $10).

Cava Producers to Try:  Bodegas Codorniu, Freixenet, Jaume Serra Cristalino, Bodegas Muga, Poema, Segura Viudas

American Sparkling Wines: Bringing Serious Bubbles to the New World

While many couples say they want Champagne to toast their nuptials, most mean they want festive (persistent) bubbles rocking the flute, but don’t necessarily want to pay premium prices. Keep in mind, Champagne is only Champagne if it’s made within the strict geographical boundaries of Champagne, France. Champagne is a place. It lies about an hour and a half east of Paris. Every other bottle of bubbly made outside of this small growing region is categorically considered sparkling wine. At its cheapest, Champagne still commands right around $40 a bottle. The good news is that many of the top Champagne houses have extended their inspiration and influence to vineyards around the globe to make some serious sparkling wine from regional grapes, at considerably lower price points.

Today, most wine regions offer at least one rendition of sparkling wine. However, the U.S. has taken its sparkling wine endeavors to new heights, with many domestic producers finding their funding and future in Old World Champagne houses. For example, as the name implies California’s Domaine Chandon shares its heritage and sassy style with French Champagne idol Moët & Chandon. Or take Mumm Napa, whose prestigious roots trace back to parent company G.H. Mumm, the largest producer of Champagne in the Reims region, and today Mumm Napa leads Napa’s sparkling wine initiatives with innovative style and ongoing accolades. Last, but certainly not least, take Louis Roederer, premium producer of the highly exalted Cristal Champagne, quietly and audaciously esteemed by royalty and rappers alike, which has significant investment in the cool climate of Mendocino’s Anderson Valley for all estate grown grapes that make their way into Roederer Estate’s renowned sparkling wine renditions. While California bubbly often bares more forward fruit character than its classic, counterpart, the method and tradition remain very much the same as Champagne.

Domestic Sparkling Wine Producers to Try:  Domaine Chandon, Domaine Carneros, Gloria Ferrer, Gruet, Iron Horse, J Vineyards, Mumm Napa, Roederer Estate, Schramsberg

 

Nebbiolo Prima

 

A showcase of just-released Barolo, Barbaresco, and Roero wines

Every BaroloBottlesBlindMay Albeisa, the Unione Produttori Vini Albesi (Union of Producers of wines from the Alba area), hosts journalists from all over the world for an event called, Nebbiolo Prima, one of the most important Italian wine summits of the year. This year over 250 wineries submitted a total of nearly 500 of their just-released Barolo, Barbaresco, and Roero wines as part of this blind tasting and pre-marketing event.

Up for examination were the following wines: Barolo (2012 and 2010 Riserva), Barbaresco (2013 and 2011 Riserva), Roero (2013 and 2012 Riserva).

While the entire tasting is done blind (producer names are not given until the end of each tasting day), the village denominations are grouped and revealed to the journalists beforehand.

With over 100 wines to assess each morning, there isn’t time to deeply analyze each and every one. Having done the event many times, I focus on getting an overall impression of each vintage for each denomination and villages, while noting obvious standouts. I make brief tasting notes for each wine and score top wines with three stars down to 2.5, and so on to 0.5 stars. I don’t give any stars to wines that are acceptable, however not spectacular in any way.

Barolo
The 2012 growing season started with a very wet winter and spring. Warm temperatures and continued precipitation in June contributed to vegetative growth but reduced berry set. Neither was a huge concern as less compact clusters help prevent disease and the soil’s water reserves helped the vines survive a very hot late summer. Though results for 2012 Barolo were mixed, some villages—and wines—clearly outshone their counterparts.

Barolo vineyards Sep 2012 fogWithin the 2012 vintage, I awarded the most points to wines in the Barolo “più communi” (many villages) category. These are often labeled as “Classico” or simply state “Barolo” on the label. They show big, sweet, dense, red cherry, cinnamon, marzipan, potpourri, chalky but ripe tannins, and are quite balanced overall with integrated floral notes. (39 wines; 18 total stars for the category)

Barolo from the village of La Morra scored highest of all of the single villages. The best 2012 La Morra Barolo reveal pretty mint and rose, sweet aromas of wild strawberry, and a polished texture; others are huge in structure with tannins that need to resolve. But even some of the more challenged samples retain enough fruit and non-fruit characters to support the power. One particularly striking example of the potential of this vintage was Renato Ratti’s Barolo from the Conca cru. Intense and gorgeous aromas of rose, licorice, and fresh herbs pop out of the glass. This complex young wine is already in balance, showing potential for a long life ahead. (57 wines; 32.5 stars)

Ripe red cherries, smoke, dark earth, and sweet tannins characterize the best Barolos from the Verduno village. One of my favorites was Alessandria Fratelli’s San Lorenzo Barolo. Its aromas of red cherry, cologne, spice and forest floor lead to a full, lush mouthfeel and that is still a bit tight but pleasant. (14 wines; 6 stars)

The Castiglione Barolos show a concentration of ripe unctuous black cherry; they have bold structure and sweet perfume. One of the most representative samples of the best from the village was Cascina Bongiovanni’s Pernanno Barolo, which is full of heightened black cherry, sweet rose, and fine-grained tannins. (18 wines; 7.5 stars)

The best 2012 Barolos from the Barolo village are identified by smoke, tar, earth, and rose with ripe red and blackberry, marked aromatics, a juicy mid-palate, and polished tannins. Two single vineyard Barolos from Borgogno, the Cannubi and Fossati, were among my favorites. The Cannubi shows lovely aromatics of mint and cherry whereas the Fossati, while also pretty on the nose, shows a bitter spice quality that isn’t unpleasant—both still prominently showing their youth. (41 wines; 16.5 stars)

The Serralunga Barolos are profoundly structured with distinct aromas of tobacco and fireplace. The best ones integrate rose petal, potpourri, and forest aromatics with ripe red cherry fruit and refined tannins; on the other hand, some are thwarted by oak. Standouts included GD Vajra’s Baudana, which is a gorgeous wine with mixed berry compote in the mid-palate, scents of perfume and ash, and a linear, powerful finish. Another extraordinary Barolo from the village was the Pio Cesare Ornato, which gives off the canonical tar and roses, with a hint of fireplace. It is clean, pure, on point, and balanced. (46 wines; 16.5 stars)

The Monforte wines in general had aromas of candied fruit and cocoa, were concentrated with super ripe blackberry, raspberry, and black plum on the palate, and the tannins were strong and rough in many cases. Sorì Ginestra from Conterno Fantino was an outstanding example of the best from the village in 2012; while fleshy and certainly in its adolescence, it isn’t coarse like some. The Pecchenino was the prettiest with currant, blackberry, eukalyptus, and silky tannins. (43 wines; 9.5 stars)

Barbaresco
The 2013 growing season in Piemonte was a funny one in that everything was delayed by about two weeks. Low temperatues slowed the vegetative cycle in the spring and while cool weather can lead to good acidity levels in resultant wines, it also necessitated longer hang time in the fall, which led to a vintage with mixed results. While aromatics could be lovely, some wines were herbal and thin. Some examples seemed too advanced or were thick with bitter tannins. The best 2013 Barbarescos find a nice balance in range of aromas and flavors. The wines came in all over the board.

barbarescoAlbino Rocca’s single cru Angelo Barbaresco was my highest scoring 2013 Barbaresco from the Barbaresco village. Its engaging bouquet of ripe, red cherry, smoke, dried violets, and sweet rose surprised me and stood out among the other 100 wines that Tuesday; the palate is juicy and finish, long and fine-tuned. (33 wines; 16.5 stars)

Among the 2013s from Treiso, many were smoky, tight and rustic with some problems of over-oakiness. But some of the better ones showed elegance. (19 wines; 11stars)

One of the best examples among the 2013 Neive Barbarescos was Moccagatta’s Basarin. Scents of camp fire, cinnamon, black cherry, and fresh herbs reveal themselves, leading to a wine that is both delightful and supple on the palate. (39 wines; 19.5 stars)

The Barbaresco “più communi” (many villages) category didn’t show so well overall. Though the Produttori del Barbaresco’s 2013 Barbaresco comes forward a little too bold, it shows consistency and balance of ripe fruit through to the finish. (12 wines; 3 stars)

Roero
The 2013 vintage of Roero (23 wines; 19 stars) and 2012 Roero Riserva (24 wines; 16 stars), as a whole, were the best I’ve ever tasted! Normally as a category Roero can be a mixed bag but not in these vintages; overall they were some of the best wines of the week. The besbarolosheett 2013s did an amazing job showing off pretty Roero aromatics, redolent of orange peel, strawberry candy, and mint or sometimes a mix of dark fruit, forest and cocoa. Either way the wines are perfumed, lush and charming. One of the best examples of the latter style was Malvirà’s 2013 Roero Classico. Their 2012 Riservas showed amazingly well too; my favorite was the Vigna Trinità. Powerful aromas of violets and roses lead to a refined integration throughout the palate of bold and juicy fruit as well as cocoa-powdery tannins. Other notable bottlings from the 2012 Malvira Riservas were the Vigna Mombeltramo and Vigna Renesio.

There were 66 wines in the Barolo 2010 Riserva and Barbaresco 2011 Riserva categories, though overall I scored them low in stars. The same can be said for the Barolos from Novello (14 wines) and Barbarescos from Alba (4 wines).

Find more information about the event and the Albeisa organization at these links.

http://www.albeisa.it/pagine/eng/albeisa.lasso

http://www.albeisa.it/welcome_eng.lasso

 

 

 

 

Somm things I think about: The Reds of Southern Rhône

Most people have some degree of familiarity with the Rhône wines of Southern France. They have typically heard of Grenache, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, or Côtes du Rhône. However, many people  may not be aware of some of the other red wine regions, such as Vacqueyras, that can produce amazing reds for great value. This blog will try to explain a little about the history and basics of the southern Rhône and the wines that come from the Southern Rhône Valley region. Hopefully this will inspire you to discover and enjoy the Rhône as much as I do!

The Rhône Valley is a wine region in southeast France and is named for the Rhône River that runs through the region on its way to the Mediterranean Sea. The Rhône River separates the Alps from the Massif Central, an elevated and mountainous part of southern France. The north is mountainous ancient granitic rock. The south is partially an ancient seabed with calcareous clay and limestone. The river has deposited sand, flinty pebbles, and clay silt as well.  This gives growers a wide variety of different soils and terroir to choose from in the Rhône.  And given the range of soils as well as the variance of elevations in the region and the diversity of available grape varieties, styles of wine vary greatly from big, long-aged Syrahs to bright and cheery rosés.

Rhône wines are some of the most ancient in France. Evidence has suggested that the Greeks were growing grapes in the fourth century BCE in Marseille and in the first century BCE in the northern part of the Rhône Valley. A good deal of the success was due to the presence of sandstone clay deposits allowing the Greeks and Romans to easily make their earthenware jars, amphorae or dolia, which were used to transport wines as well as the famous roman fish sauce.

The Romans had a lasting impression on the area. They established many of the towns and vineyard sites that still exist today. At the height of the Roman Empire, the Rhône Valley wines were rivaling those from Italy in terms of quality and production. Yet after the fall of the empire, the export markets for Rhône wines dried up and great interest wasn’t renewed again until the Catholic Church rediscovered the amazing wines of the Rhône in the middle ages.

As with many wine regions in France, the Catholic Church has had a role in forming the wines made in the present day and establishing some of the best vineyards. In the late 13th century, the French king Louis VIII granted a parcel of land to the Catholic church around the town of Avignon called Comtat Venaissin.

Also in the late 13th century, riots and general unrest ushered in a chaotic time for Rome.  Politically speaking, the church had lost the respect and control of the nobles around Rome to the point where they no longer granted military protection. Following the election of French bishop Clement V to the papacy, he moved the papacy to the Southern Rhône region around the town of Avignon. A general rumor at the time was that the goal was to cozy up to the King Philip of France for political power. Regardless of the explanation, this ushered in the Avignon Papacy that lasted from 1305 until 1378. While this blog is not about Châteauneuf-du-Pape (French for “new castle of the Pope”), it is worth noting that the church ushered in a renaissance of Rhône wines and invigorated the region. The quality summarily increased, vineyard sites were replanted, and the export markets began to grow again.

Even though the popes eventually moved back to Rome, the Rhône was on the map and the wines were firmly established. Trade was flourishing due to the high reputation of the wines, and local ports were busy. Due to increased popularity, local wine regulations were introduced in 1650 to guarantee provenance and quality. First known as Côste du Rhône, the famous name of Côtes du Rhône was established in the mid-18th century and validated by the courts in 1936.

Baron Le Roy, a grower in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, championed the establishment of a governing body to maintain and regiment wine appellations. The Baron also successfully lobbied for the first AOC in the Rhône in 1933. The terms and limits he set forth became the standard for all subsequent AOC regions (appellation d’origine contrôlée, or controlled area of origin). To this day, the entrants follow limits on growing area, grape varieties, local practices, cultivation methods, minimum alcohol content, and harvest periods. Baron Le Roy later became involved in the founding of the INAO (Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité), the governing body that eventually took over the governing of all AOC regions and entrants, and presided over it from 1947 to 1967.

The Southern Rhône accounts for nearly 95% of the total Rhône wine production, and the majority of that is red. Most of those are wines based on blends with Grenache as the star player. The popular blend is called a GSM, as it consists of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, and Cinsault is frequently included as well.

Côtes du Rhône

The Côtes du Rhône is the largest appellation and the base designation for wines for the entire Rhône. While it’s possible that a Northern Rhône Syrah could be de-classified down to the Côtes du Rhône level, it is more than likely to be a Grenache-based wine from around one of 17 different villages or a blend of all the villages intended to achieve a certain style. Usually lower in price than the more prestigious regions, the quality for the price is very high.

A great example that we like is:

Guigal Cotes du Rhône Rouge 2011

90 Points. “A perennial favorite, it’s reassuring to see that the quality continues to remain high even from Guigal’s least expensive cuvee. Red fruits—cherries and raspberries—marry easily with hints of clove, cracked pepper, black olive and espresso. It’s round on the mid-palate, showing more focus and ample length on the finish.”

Wine Enthusiast

90 Points. “Deep ruby. Smoky cherry and blueberry aromas display very good clarity and a touch of cracked pepper. Showing its Syrah component, with sappy black and blue fruit flavors sharpened by a spicy nuance. A sexy floral note comes up on a gently tannic finish that lingers with very good persistence. As usual, this wine punches well above its category and should reward at least another four or five years of patience.”

– Antonio Galloni’s Vinous

Côtes du Rhône-Villages

Imagine a large pyramid: at the bottom of the pyramid is the base (and obviously the largest part)—this is the space reserved for Côtes du Rhône. The next level up is referred to as the village level. As of 2016, there are 17 villages or communes, and the label must bear the name of the village as well as the title Côtes du Rhône. In this case, Seguret is that village. If it is a blend from more than one village, the village names will be left off and just “Villages” will be present.

A great example we like is:

Domaine de Mourchon Côtes du Rhône Villages Seguret Grande Reserve 2011

93 Points. “In the same ball park and another incredible effort from this producer, the 2011  Côtes du Rhône Villages Grand Reserve is a blend of two-thirds Grenache and one-third Syrah that was aged in 60% barrel and 40% tank. Awesome on all accounts, with a thrilling bouquet of raspberry liqueur, crushed flowers, spice, licorice and herbs de Provence, this medium to full-bodied beauty has no hard edges, beautiful purity of fruit and a heady, lengthy finish that pumps out loads of fruit while staying fresh and clean. It’s a superb effort that should not be missed.”

– Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate

90 Points. “This is solid, with a nice core of crushed plum, blackberry and boysenberry fruit, lined with lightly briary tannins and framed by a graphite note on the finish.”

Wine Spectator

Gigondas

Some of the communes and villages have been awarded their own AOC designations or named areas, and these make up the next-highest level in the quality pyramid. Gigondas is made from at least 50% Grenache, and compares to its more famous cousin Châteauneuf-du-Pape in a lot of ways including soil type, ageing, and winemaking.

A great example we like is:

Famille Perrin Gigondas Clos des Tourelles 2012

94 Points: “Ratcheting the quality level up a notch, the 2012 Gigondas Domaine du Clos des Tourelles comes from a property, purchased in 2008, that’s located just outside the village of Gigondas and that’s completely enclosed by a stone wall (hence the use of Clos in the name). It’s also the only wine not vinified at the Famille Perrin winery (which is located just north of Beaucastel) and is vinified in Gigondas. Serious on all accounts, with stunning aromas of sweet black and red fruits, bouquet garni, dried flowers and dusty soil notes, it hits the palate with medium to full-bodied richness, loads of textured and chewy tannin. Improving in the glass, this beautiful Gigondas will benefit from short-term cellaring and have 12-15 years of total evolution. Drink 2016-2027.”

– Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate

92 Points:  “A ripe, silky style, with lush boysenberry and plum confiture notes that glide along, maintaining definition as hints of fruitcake, anise and chocolate move throughout. Drink now through 2022.”

Wine Spectator

Vacqueyras

Larger than Gigondas and known to be a bit more rustic, the same rules apply, as does the similarity to more famous regions with better value. This region can have more variable quality due to its size but if you look carefully, you can find some great wines.

A great example we like is:

Dom. La Garrigue Vacqueyras La Canterelle 2012

92 Points  “Bright violet color. Sexy aromas of black raspberry, cherry compote, potpourri and incense. Supple, pliant and focused on the palate, offering intense red and dark berry fruit and floral pastille flavors that deepen with air. The long, sweet, intensely spicy finish features silky tannins and a suave, lingering suggestion of candied flowers. These vines reportedly range from 80 to over 100 years of age.”

–  Antonio Galloni’s Vinous

Lirac & Cairanne

Similar to Gigondas and Vacqueyras in that Grenache is the star but not as well-known, these regions produce great value wines (but not necessarily cheap). They sit above the village level and are a great choice for lovers of richer, new-world-style wines.

A great Lirac we like is:

Domaine de la Mordoree Lirac La Reine des Bois 2012

93 Points  “Even better, and a smoking Lirac that vies for the top wine of the appellation, the 2012 Lirac La Reine des Bois has gorgeous crème de cassis, licorice, pan drippings, wood spice and hints of graphite. Offering knockout purity, full-bodied richness and ultra-fine tannin, it tastes like a top flight  Châteauneuf-du-Pape and will drink nicely for over a decade.”

– Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate

A great Cairanne we like is:

Domaine Roche Cairanne 2012

90 Points:  “A sexy wine made under the auspices of globe-trotting oenologist Philippe Cambie, this 2012 Côtes du Rhône-Villages Cairanne was produced from 40 to 105-year-old vines. The blend was 70% Grenache (aged in concrete) and 30% Syrah (aged in barrique) from yields of 20 to 30 hectoliters per hectare. It exhibits a delicious, up-front, front end-loaded, richly fruity style with lots of raspberry, black cherry, roasted herb, loamy soil and underbrush notes. This corpulent, fleshy red can be enjoyed over the next 4-5 years.”  – Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate

I hope you enjoy your wine travels through the Rhône. There is so much more still that has not been mentioned here, including the amazing whites, rosés and dessert wines to try. Cheers!