The Wine Palate
November 4, 2006
There are many regions that I look for when trying to find a fine bargain wine. After all, we can’t all afford to drink first growths every night.
While France’s Rhone Valley certainly has its premium wines that hold just as much water and cost just as much as a top Bordeaux, it also has a wide variety of wines that cover all price ranges.
The Rhone Valley is located at the northern tip of the Mediterranean and is certainly subject to its climate.
Hot summers and long days lend well to grapes that have thick skins and a lot of sun hours for ripening. The other major climactic characteristic that makes this region unique is the "mistral," a wind that whips through the valley throughout the growing season that has the ability to reach speeds of 70 kilometers per hour. It is both a curse and a blessing. It has the ability to dry out a vineyard after heavy rains that can sometimes be harmful, though in many cases the mistral can also damage grapes.
The Rhone Valley is clearly divided in style between the north and the south. In the north, the red wines are made entirely of Syrah. These wines have a characteristically peppery flavor and can be huge and powerful.
The white wines of the region, while much less common, are produced from Marsanne, Roussane, and Viogner and are dry, crisp, and minerally. The most famous, finest, and most expensive appellations from the northern Rhone are Hermitage and Cote-Rotie.
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There are many other appellations worth perusing such as Crozes Hermitage and Cornas, some of my favorite sources for great values. The state of Utah is limited on the northern Rhone selection, but E. Guigal is one that the state does distribute and their Crozes-Hermitage and Cornas wines can both be quite delicious.
The south is a land of blending. While the reds of the north use only one variety, the wines of the south use up to 13, though the most common are Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, and Mourvedre.
When you see a bottle that says, "Cote de Rhone," it means that it came from a number of sites in southern Rhone. It is a basic appellation that is commonly one of the best-value wines out there.
Paul Jaboulet Aine produces a great Cote de Rhone wine that comes in at just under $13 and is a regular at my table.
If a wine of the south takes a step up in the classification system, it is written as a Cote de Rhone Village.
The next step up are 16 villages that have earned the right to classify themselves under their own names exclusively. Some of my favorite regions are Gigondas, Lirac, Vacqueyras, and Rasteau. Then of course, there is the prestigious appellation of the Southern Rhone, Chateauneuf de Pape. These are some of the finest wines in the world and there are many to choose from.
The state of Utah has two in particular that are truly world-class. First is the Chateau de Beaucastel. This wine has been heralded as the finest wine in southern Rhone and one of the best in France. Second is the Vieux Telegraphe, which is a fine example of this region’s ability to combine fruit and spice in a truly balanced way.
The ’03 vintages are hanging around right now at the liquor store and are a truly great buy.
Zev Rovine is the sommelier and resident cheese monger at the Spotted Frog Bookstore Cafe and Wine Bar where he teaches weekly wine classes. His wine education comes from the American Sommelier Association in N.Y.C. and he tries his very best not to spill the Pinot on the bestseller section. If you have any wine queries or comments he is easily contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .