If you look at a map of France, the Cotes du Rhone wine appellation is a 125 mile long vertical strip of land on the eastern side. It starts about fifty miles south of Burgundy, a little south of the N-S midpoint of France, and follows the Rhone River south ending near Lyon. A hundred miles to the east of the appellation lies Switzerland along with the northeast corner of Italy.
About two thirds of the way down the appellation, the town of Montelimar marks the accepted dividing line between the northern Rhone and the southern portion. Again on the map, the south is a bell-shaped expansion as opposed to the slender strip to the north. North of Montelimar the climate is continental with cool breezes influenced by the Alps. The southern Rhone is Mediterranean in climate with hot summers and mild winters. The topography of the north is hilly to mountainous featuring terraced hillside vineyards while the south is flatter; consequently, ninety percent of the wine production comes from the south.
Syrah is the primary red grape in the northern Rhone where place names like Cote Rotie, Hermitage, St-Joseph, Cornas, and Crozes-Hermitage have established the supremacy of the north as the finest Rhone wine production region. Grenache is the primary grape of the South with top production regions including Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Vacqueyras, Rasteau, Gigondas, Beaumes de Venise, and Cairanne.
Close to ninety percent of the wine production of the entire Rhone valley is red wine. The great white wines of the region feature Viognier as the primary grape with Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, and Rousanne in supporting roles. Sweet Muscats are produced in Beaumes de Venise and the commune of St-Peray produces sparkling wine. The noteworthy place names for Rhone whites include Hermitage, Condrieu, and Chateau-Grillet (its own appellation) in the north and Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the south. The Rhone Valley is one of only a few wine production regions in the world where the whites are often valued higher than the reds.
Having just covered Tavel in the previous post on roses, we will just add here that Tavel roses are the finest wines of their kind in the world. Lirac lies just to the north of Tavel and theirs are comparable.
So why this post now? In preparation for last Friday's French/Italian tasting we noticed an abundance of Rhones in the French wine rack along with three stacks on the floor. The wines range in price between $15 and $40 and as has always been the case, they are some of the finest red wine values available. Red Rhones, in general, are medium-bodied, spicy, dark berry wines that marry well with most any red meat dish. Consider picking some up for your weekend cookout!
Please join us this Friday after 5 when Dean Johnston of Eagle Rocks makes his debut at the weekly event with an eclectic lineup of wines from three continents, and by all means, become a follower of this here blog!