A region that really deserves so much more than a quaint paragraph or two, the Rhone is no longer lingering in the backstage of Bordeaux and Burgundy’s fame. It has grown into a sought-after class of its own, claimed a voice in its own right, and given broke wine enthusiasts, such as myself, a shot at owning a few gems in the cellar for aging.
Some of my favorite wines in the world are born here, particularly within Chateauneuf-du Pape. Perhaps it is the name alone that entrances me so much, though I’d like to think it has more to do with the fact that the complexity per pound is a startling delight with each uncorking.
The southern and northern Rhone are starkly different from one another, though divided by a mere 30 mile stretch of land. To the north, a cooler climate permits one red grape to be prized: Syrah. Here, this (possibly) native grape grown on steep hills under challenging conditions comes to produce some of the most complex, heralded wines in the Rhone. Sub-regions within the north include the most valuable Cote Rotie, followed closely by Hermitage and Cornas. Condrieu—the homeland of the highly esteemed whites of Viognier—sing of sweet honeydew and perfumed notes of fig and anise. Other regions to be explored are Saint Joseph and Croze Hermitage—both small sites of great value.
Though I could pull from my favorites of all time, I think I will narrow it down to some of my picks for the shop I manage in Denver—what’s on the shelf right now in the way of Rhone. To start with the north, there’s the 2006 Pochon Crozes-Hermitage ($21.99) or the 2006 Gaillard Saint Joseph ($46.99). If you desire to find out what the test of time will make of these ageworthy gems, go with the 2004 Betts & Scholl Hermitage Rouge ($59.99).
To the south, more affordable, Grenache-based blends are birthed. The wines here are gritty, herbal, and sun-kissed—a reflection if its relentless overseer in hot, summer months. The soils are mainly limestone, and the soils consist of chunky rock in the spectacular Grenache vineyards (a vine that has such an incredible presence). A well-made Rhone from the south will decode the land for you with each sip: garrigue, tea leaves, dried cranberries, lavender, wet rocks, dirt, and the smell of the sidewalks after it rains…
The first wines that come to mind are those of the Reynaud family: Chateau Rayas, Domaine des Tours, Chateau de Tours, La Pialade, Pignan, or Fonsalette. They are, without a second of doubt, my favorite.
There are several other Cotes du Rhones that cannot be missed. If you like a lighter-bodied, earthy style, try the 2007 Domaine du Trapidis ($13.99), 2007 Chateau les Quatre Filles CdR or his more complex older brother the 2006 Chateau les Quatre Filles Cairanne ($18.99). And then there’s the 2006 Domaine de Durban Beaumes de Venise ($21.99—a region that is renowned for their dessert Muscat but can makes dry reds and whites under the Cotes du Rhone AOC). If you like meatier, heavier CdRs, go for the classic 2007 J.L. Chave ‘Mon Cour,’ 2007 Feraud-Brunel CDR ($16.99), 2006 La Garnacha ($15.99) or 2007 Domaine les Cote de L’Ange ($14.99).
Drink your way through the Southern Rhone valley by selecting wines from these other sub-regions:
Vacqueyras: 2007 Domaine de la Garrigue ($19.99) or the highly revered 2006 Domaine de Sang de Cailloux ($29.99)
Lirac: 2006 Maby ($19.99)
Vaucluse: Domaine de la Damase Grenache ($12.99)
Cotes du Ventoux: Cave de la Romaine ($9.99)
Tavel: 2008 Lafond Tavel Rosé ($16.99)
Gigondas: Domaine de la Cassan ($22.99)
Chateauneuf du Pape: 2006 Sabon ($39.99) and Domaine Lucien Barrot ($28.99)
Random Vin de Pays: 2006 Les Hauts Lastour ($11.99), 2008 Domaine le Grand Chemin ($9.99) and the 2008 Domaine des Rozets ($8.99)