The Rhone Valley is one of France’s largest appellations, rivaled only by Bordeaux in the West and the neighboring Languedoc-Roussillon to the south. Within the mass amounts of Cotes-du-Rhone wines produced there are more esteemed regions such as Gigondas and Chateauneuf-du-Pape to elevate this region’s status. The wines here are generally dominated by Grenache, with Mourvedre and Syrah to fill out the blend. There are several other allowed varietals in the region, however these three are the holy trinity of a Rhone wine. For last week’s tasting we surveyed six wines of the Southern Rhone exploring all levels of the classification system from base level Cotes-du-Rhone to the highly sought after Chateauneuf-du-Pape. All six wines, though stylistically and technically different, shared several common themes, creating a line-up of wines that better showcase their individual geography yet hold true to regional typicity. No two tasters completely agreed and though some wines certainly stood out, all of the wines showed extremely well.
Mas de Boislauzon 2009 Cotes-du-Rhone Villages
From a small-production brother and sister team, we find a simply delicious value. Amidst the Rhone’s torrential winds and intensely sunny days this pair has created a wine that way over delivers for the price. The Boislauzon brings extremely ripe red and purple fruits, a touch of the classic garrigue (scrubby underbrush) and is fleshed out with rich licorice notes to boot. What we love most is that despite this wine’s ripeness, there is enough acidity to bring balance and structure creating a full-bodied and complex libation.
Domaine Cros de Romet 2009 Cotes du Rhones Villages Cairanne
Cairanne is one of the few villages in the southern Rhone that is a step up from just villages level Cotes-du-Rhone, allowing the name of a single village to append its name. These wines are sourced from more specific regions creating a greater sense of identity and expression of terroir. This wine is the only one produced by the winery and is a more traditional style, following the Boislauzon quite well. Fruit is less of a factor here, and the stony and dried herbal notes create the dominant flavors. Also a Grenache base, the nose holds earthy purple fruits with a palate full of rocks, garrigue and earth. The elements of this wine are nowhere near as overt as the Boislauzon, but similar flavors and characteristics are found, reminding us of the great variety one can find in a single region.
Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2009 Cotes-du-Rhone
Though technically this wine falls into the lowest-level appellation of the Rhone Valley, it far exceeds the title. Chateau de Beaucastel produces some of the world’s most reputable and expensive Chateauneuf-du-Pape and across the road (and outside the geographical limitations for Chateauneuf-du-Pape) we find their Coudoulet vineyards. Case in point you have some fantastic winemakers, top of the line equipment and extremely similar growing conditions for a far less price. This wine has less Grenache than the other wines sampled further accentuating the variations of this tasting’s selections. It is one of the two to utilize oak (though primarily neutral, large casks) and has the ability to age incredibly well. With greater meaty and peppery notes balanced by a well-preserved acidity and ripe fruit extraction, a bit of garrigue and earthy mineral add to its layers. Drinks well now, will certainly cellar for the next several years.
Domaine la Garrigue 2010 Vacqueyras
The next three wines have all achieved full AOC status, allowing them to simply state the name of the region with any appendage of Cotes-du-Rhone. Vacqueyras is traditionally known as the most rustic of these appellations, but over-generalizing is tough as the world of wine progresses. In context of this tasting, it holds true, though knowing the producer and their style is best. Domaine la Garrigue has produced a fair amount of wine for a few generations and this bottle, though young, shows it well. Earthy, licoricey, full of dark fruits and with just a touch of grip, the garrigue alludes to a classic style of Rhone wine but holds a riper fruit component increasing accessibility.
Alain Jaume 2009 Gigondas
Gigondas holds many similarities to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but holds its identity well. This wine was perhaps the most modern of the bunch featuring a flashier red fruit profile, richer texture and slightly higher alcohol. Still holding on to acidity and a touch of earthiness, the Jaume is wonderfully balanced and showed a great contrast after the more traditional Vacqueyras. We see a touch of oak here as well, but it is not for big spicy flavor, but to soften the tannins of the Syrah and create a lush mouthfeel. Like a fruitier wine? Drink it now. Prefer mature? Give it a couple of years before imbibing. Great for gifting and for the curious modern palate.
Feraud-Brunel 2010 Chateauneuf-du-Pape
When two well-known winemakers team up to create a wine together, the results are usually astounding. No question here. The winemakers of both Les Cailloux and Domaine de Pigau (both well-known and established wineries) created this negociant line to showcase an affordable level to this appellation’s wines. They are both staunch traditionalists and the wine extols this immensely. Featuring darker, almost brooding fruit, ashy minerality and dark licorice with fine-grained tannins just a little funk to remind us it is the Rhone, this is classic CdP. The beautiful thing about high-end Grenache is the ability to drink well young, but when structured for it to age for decades. This wine already plays into the secondary and tertiary notes wine evolves into, but will only improve with age.