LIQUOR / rhone Blend
The term Rhone Blend commonly refers to wines produced or inspired by the traditional wines from the southern Rhone Valley located around Avignon with Châteauneuf du Pape its most famous appellation. Wines from the Rhone are divided into Northern and Southern growing regions with the Northern Rhone being devoted to Syrah or Syrah blended with small quantities of Viognier while the most planted variety in the southern Rhone is Grenache which can be blended with up to 12 other varieties. After Grenache, the most common are Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Counoise, Terre Noir, Vaccarese and Muscardin while some of the main white varieties are Marsanne, Roussane, Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Bourboulenc. Grenache's characteristics of sweet fruit, high alcohol, low tannin and acidity forms the basis of these red blends with Syrah and Mourvedre typically adding colour, tannin and structure to the blend. These Southern Rhone Blends offer some of the best value French wines available. The ripe nature of the wines makes them easy to consume young and they offer a window into the more concentrated wines from the vineyards of Chateauneuf du Pape proper. For example, Guigal’s delicious Cotes du Rhone Rouge 2010 at around $20 is one of the world’s great wine bargains. Other outstanding producers include Guigal, Delas, Charvin, Domaine Marcoux, Domaine Usseglio and Vieux Telegraphe.
The traditional blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre is also produced in other wine regions in France including parts of the Languedoc, Costières de Nimes, Provence and Bandol (here Mouvedre is king). In the New World the most important regions for Rhone style blends is the McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley in South Australia, and more recently California, and South Africa. Rhone inspired blends from South Australia are typically higher in alcohol, deeper in colour, with rich ripe fruit profiles tending to blackberry, softer tannins and less savoury spice. Outstanding producers include Yalumba, Charles Melton, Hewitson, Cirillo, Landhaus and S C Pannell.
The Oxford Wine Companion, (ed) Jancis Robinson MW
The Wines of The Rhone Valley, Robert Parker Jnr
The Rhone Valley is kept in check by a sweeping Mistral wind that is tunnelled from the north of Rhone to the open and flatter southern Rhone. The Rhone river runs through the valley dividing the schist and granite soils.
The Northern Rhone is a difficult place to grow grapes, the slopes are steep to work and costly. Most of the wines grown are premium styles and its production is tiny when compared to Southern Rhone. Syrah hits new heights here in the form of spicy delights.
Red or White? Mainly red with a small amount of white made. And there is a blend where red and white is co-fermented together in Cote Rotie. Syrah with a splash of viognier - a rarity!
White: Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne
This is spicy syrah land - black olives, smoked meats, cooking spices and heady florals are common tasting descriptors. And the tannins can be firm and fine in youth, becoming slender with age. The whites are richer and fleshy, viognier is the queen of hedonism.
Guigal, Coursodon, Pierre Gonon, JL Chave, Bernard Faurie, Balthazar, Stephane Ogier
Grenache reigns supreme in the south, although it is commonly blended with Mourvedre and syrah. Planted throughout the region, Grenache loves the warmth and sunny exposition made available to it in southern Rhone. Look out for the galette pebbles found in Chateauneuf du Pape - these heat up during the day and the extra warmth overnight continues to ripen the grapes on the old bush vines.
From rosé to affordable weekday pizza wines (Cotes du Rhone blends) through to ageable beauties like Chateauneuf du Pape, Grenache is a chameleon of grapes centred around vibrant red fruits and slippery tannins.
Red or white? Red and a little rose. There's also a small amount of a fortified white called Muscat de Beaume de Venise
White: Muscat a Petits Grains
Red: Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah
Cotes du Rhone are the cheerful wines you want to reach for mid-week. Their fleshy and fruit nature make them deliciously enjoyable and they won't burn a hole in your pocket. The pinnacle of Grenache is reached in Chateauneuf du Pape wines. These have built-in structure and can age gracefully for many years. Look out for Village or Cru wines such as Vinsobres, Vaquerays, Gigondas as these are a happy medium between the bookend styles.
Font du Courtedune, Rayas, Beaucastel, Chateau de Fonsalette, Marcoux, Mont Redon
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