With the arrival of frost and snow and Dry January coming to an end, it’s a good time to turn to some warming reds to enjoy with our stews and casseroles or just on their own and what better to look for than Rhône reds.
The Rhône starts in the Swiss alps from melted glacial ice, passing through Lake Geneva flowing mostly east until it reaches Lyon. Here the river takes a straight southerly direction down to Arle where it delta-splits into the Mediterranean. The river flows through some of the warmest French climes, and, though also producing white wines, is a natural home to black grape varieties producing red wines.
The wine region begins at Vienne in the north where the valley is steep and narrow. Here the Mistral wind begins its long journey south.
Vines are planted on steep slopes and due to the high winds are tightly staked into the ground to prevent damage.
The king grape here is Syrah (aka Shiraz in the new world). This is the natural home of the grape. Syrah produces black fruit grapes with a tell-tale pepper aroma in the regions of Hermitage and Crozes Hermitage in the southern part, while at the northern tip Cote-Rotie with its judicious addition of a touch of Viognier is the most prized and expensive wine produced in the region.
South of Montélimar the valley widens and flattens and the climate warms.
Here the Spanish origin grape Grenache (called Garnacha in Spain) is the main grape with other grapes such as Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan and Cinsault counted among the 13 permitted for use. Local rules determine the minimum amounts of Grenache and maximum of other grapes that can be included in a blend. These wines are often 14.5%. ABV giving them that cosy warming character.
Wines made from vineyards across the valley are labelled as Cotes du Rhône. while more serious wines come from the sub regions. Ninety-five communes can produce the slightly better quality Cotes du Rhône Villages while there are 18 communes (villages) that can include their name on the label. Look for Cairanne, Sablet and Plan de Dieu in UK shops.
Finally, the Cru mark – the very top of the tree with the famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but look for the more affordable Vacqueyras, Rasteau and Gigondas.
I’ve never been disappointed by wines from Vacqueyras so would recommend one of these with a hearty winter stew.
Try the Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos des Cazaux 2014 from the Wine Society at £12.95. We enjoyed one at the weekend, intensely fruity with blackcurrant and blackberry and a little gentle spice.
Other wines to try…
Majestic’s Léon Perdigal Chateuneuf-du-Pape 2015 is a steal at the mix-six price of £22.95. The intense red plums are complimented with herbs and licorice spice on a long finish.
For a budget wine try the Coop Cotes du Rhône at £5.75. Ripe fruits and spice make this an enjoyable glugger or great with cured meats.
There are many examples in the shops, give them a try.