September 02, 2010

Côtes Du Rhône, Reds

Côtes du Rhône : The reds from the Southern region are perfect companions to an end of summer barbecue or dinner in the back yard 

Côtes du Rhône red are high up in my list of favorite French red wines. As you know Stéphane, I lived for a couple of years in Avignon and became at that time (between 1959 and 1962) much more familiar with this family of wines, that was rarely visible on my parents, grand parents, or aunt tables. As a matter of fact during my Parisian years (1963-1970) your mother and I practically never drank Côtes du Rhône. Don’t ask me why. In those days we were more into Bordeaux, Côtes de Provence, Languedoc wines like Corbières and Minervois, Sancerre, and sometimes Crus du Beaujolais. But since we moved to Chicago in 1970, we became addicted to good Côtes du Rhône. I have to say that the quality of Southern Rhône wines found in both retail stores and restaurants in Chicago increased in an exponential way over the last 15 years. And during my frequent trips to France since 1970, and particularly during our vacations in the ‘’Midi’’ I discovered lots of little gems from small winemakers of the Southern Rhône Valley. Many of them eventually came to Chicago to sell their wines to importers and restaurant owners

 It is important to differentiate Côtes du Rhône wines and Rhône Valley wines. 
The Rhône Valley follows the Rhône river, that starts in a Swiss glacier, crosses Lake Geneva before entering France, and runs all the way South before ending its course in a small delta in the beautiful and wild area of La Camargue on the shores of the Mediterranean sea. The vineyards of the Côtes du Rhône, côtes meaning hills, per se can be found on both banks of that river between the cities of Vienne, just South of Lyon, and Valence. These vineyards belong to the Northern Côtes du Rhône. Then farther South, the vineyards of the Southern Côtes du Rhône start South of Montélimar and can be found all the way on both left and right banks to Avignon. The Northern vineyards are often planted on hills. Most of the Southern vineyards are planted in flatter grounds. There are a few other AOC wine-producing areas which belong to the Rhône Valley wine group but are not considered as Côtes du Rhône.  
They are the Côteaux du Tricastin East of Montélimar, The Côtes du Vivarais in Ardèche on the Right bank, the Côtes du Ventoux, near Carpentras, The Côtes du Lubéron, just South of Ventoux reaching East to the Haute-Provence, and my dear Costières de Nîmes located between Nîmes, Beaucaire and the Camargue. Costières de Nimes is officially part of the Rhône family of wines, but in fact it should be one of the Languedoc appellations (AOC). Way South-East of Valence, in the ‘’département’’ of Drôme , is another Rhône wine that can be quite charming with its slightly ‘’muscat’’ tones and refreshing in its sparkling version, La Clairette de Die.  

A few facts and figures that you may want to know: The first Côtes du Rhône vineyards were planted by the Romans. But the development of these vineyards and the reputation of the wines were greatly enhanced in the 14th century when the Popes had moved their headquarters from Rome to Avignon. As you know one of the most celebrated CDR from the Southern area is the famous Chateauneuf-Du-Pape. Unfortunately, over the last 10 years prices of the best Chateauneufs have become quite exorbitant placing them out of reach to many average wine drinkers. I do not think yet that they will reach the extravagant prices of some of the best Northern Côtes du Rhône such as Côte Rotie, Hermitage, or Saint-Joseph. I also would like to mention that the CDR got their ‘’ Appellation d’origine Controllée’’ (AOC) certification from the French government in 1937. Nowadays CDR is the second largest AOC wine producing area in France after Languedoc. It covers 190,000 acres, counts 6,000 wine growers who sold 420 million bottles in 2008, according to INTER RHONE the Rhone Valley Professional Trade Organization.

The CDR production area is comprised of 171 villages or “communes” (townships). 95 of them carry the official appellation (AOC) of Côtes Du Rhône Villages and only 18 can add a specific geographical name to that appellation: 5 in the “département’’ of Drôme, 10 in the Vaucluse, and 3 in the Gard (my native département). But there are only 8 Crus des Côtes du Rhône in the North: Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu, Chateau- Grillet, Saint-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, Cornas , and Saint-Peray And 9 crus in the Southern region : Vinsobres, Gigondas, Vaqueiras, Beaumes de Venise, Chateauneuf-Du-Pape, Lirac, Tavel, Rasteau, and Muscat de Beaumes de Venise.  

The Northern Côtes du Rhône I will not talk much today about the marvelous, and quite expensive, wines from the Northern Côtes du Rhône. Their main AOC crus, based essentially on Syrah for the reds and Viognier, Marsanne and Roussane for the whites are: Côte Rotie, Saint Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, and Cornas. The very fragrant Condrieu and Chateau-Grillet are probably the best whites made from Viognier grapes that you will find in this world. At the most Southern tip of that Northern CDR Region another cru Saint Peray is also made exclusively from white grapes and is much more affordable than Chateau Grillet. . Cornas is the only cru that produces reds exclusively. The best Reds from the North are in my opinion in the Côte Rotie area of production Problem is they have become so expensive (close to $ 300.00 for a La Mouline from Guigal) that neither you and I can afford the best of them. If one day you really want to treat yourself to a very good Northern CDR buy a bottle of red Hermitage from Jean-Louis Chave, or a Saint-Joseph (my favorite affordable reds in that region) from Coursodon. But expect to pay close to $100.00 for each in a good year (1997, 2000, 2005, 2006,) The Southern Côtes du Rhône
  The largest majority of these wines are red, and most of the times are blends of 2 or 3 types of grapes. The most common red grapes are Grenache Noir, Mourvède, Carignan, Cinsault, Syrah and some other lesser known varietals such as Counoise or Terret Noir. They can be medium or full bodied, rarely light for the reds in better sunny years. Their distinctive aromas, concentration, bouquet, fruit, acidity, vary from one area to the other according to their respective terroir parameters: nature of the soil that can be made of pebbles, limestone, granite, sandy clay, alluvions, chalk, etc. and from their exposure to sun and winds. But some of their secondary aromas and flavors can be sometimes related to the wild herbs that grow in the ‘’garrigues’’ such as thyme, rosemary, and way farther in the Southwestern part of the department of Vaucluse, lavender. They quite often have notes of prune, licorice, violet, or cassis. Most of the ‘’Côtes du Rhône’’ without additional apellation can be drunk young.

The best Côtes du Rhône Villages and Crus benefit from additional aging. Some Chateauneuf and Gigondas can age up to 15 to 20 years. Do not be confused by what some reviewers say and by their totally arbitrary ratings. Some lesser-known ordinary Côtes du Rhône made by small but very creative or traditional ‘’vignerons’’ (wine growers) are as good and much less expensive than their Crus or specific ‘’village geographic secondary appellation’’ better rated cousins. They are usually imported by smaller but very astute regional companies such as, in the Midwest, Fine Vines, Julienne, Wine Adventures, Michael Corso, H2Vino, or in other regions Robert Kacher in Washington, Kermit Lynch in Berkeley, CA, European Cellars (Eric Solomon) in Charlotte, Kysela in Virginia, or LouisDressner.

But some larger Wine makers and brand name owners such as Guigal, Paul Autard, Perrin, Jaboulet, Jaume, Delas, Michel Chapoutier, and others sell some very good and respectable CDR in the U.S. 
There are also some regional French ''négociants-éleveurs'' most of the time wine makers themselves, essentially in Vaucluse, who buy wines from other small local ''vignerons'' from the CDR , give them advice about the vinification and aging process (élevage), assemble the wines, bottle them locally, and put them on the market. They sometimes choose a pretty label and a nice-sounding name for the wine, that occasionally can be a completely imaginary ''domaine name'', and market it most of times under an apellation of ''Vin de pays de...''.
These wines, most often found for under 10 dollars  a bottle, are not as complex as real AOC's but can be very nicely vinified and very enjoyable. Such a company, Ravoire et Fils , produces a very juicy and fragrant Vin de Pays de la Principauté d'Orange, sold under the name of Le Grand Destré. It is imported by Wine Adventures in Iowa, a very good importer of nice Rhône, Provence, and Languedoc wines, such as the Château Beauchêne that you will find in my list of some of my favorite CDR below.
I already wrote about Grand Destré on this blog last year in a piece under the title ''Provençal lamb stew''. Côtes du Rhône Rosé can also be very good in the summer time. Some of the best Tavel, on the right bank, are delicious, but often overpriced. You might find better buys in good and cheaper rosés from Languedoc or the Southwest (Bergerac, Côtes de Saint Mont, Corbières, Minervois, Coteaux du Languedoc) Two delicious fragrant fruity and sweet AOC wines from Southern CDR, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise and Rasteau, can be enjoyed slightly chilled with a cold appetizer such as melon with prosciuto, foie gras, or salmon carpaccio or with fruit deserts. And they are good companions to Roquefort, Stilton or Gorgonzola with nut bread.

Food pairing with Southern Côtes du Rhône:
  CDR wines are very versatile as far as food pairing is concerned. I always try to match them with dishes that are typical of the cuisine from the Northern area of Provence, such as: Any lamb dish like Leg of lamb with garlic and Tyme, Daube d’agneau ( a type of fragrant lamb stew cooked in wine), Lamb skewers, lamb chops coated with herbes de Provence , rack of lamb, either roasted or grilled on the barbecue. Meat-stuffed baked red peppers, zucchinis, eggplant, and of course tomatoes. Ratatouille Stewed wild mushrooms Provençal casseroles made of beef Or more generally-speaking, dishes from the Mediterranean or North-African regions such as: Tagines of lamb or chicken Couscous Royal Osso Bucco Grilled chicken coated with garlic powder, olive oil and herbes de Provence (delicious on an outdoor grill) Chicken wings or drumsticks in a barbecue sauce Any kind of pasta, cannelloni, ravioli, with a tasty tomato and meat or mushroom sauce. Duck breast in a peppercorn sauce Beef sirloin grilled Steak au poivre Any type of pork sausage grilled on the barbecue Grilled venison fillets Duck with olives Fresh Tuna steaks Braised ham And why not a good hamburger ? Several types of cheese can be enjoyed with CDR wines: Reblochon, Cantal, even ripe Camembert.

The dry white CDR AOC's are perfect with grilled fish such as salmon steaks, swordfish, or spicy grilled shrimps, as well as with spicy grilled chicken and plain grilled veal chops.

And now, as you asked me, a few suggestions of Southern CDR that you may want to try. Most of them are priced between 13 and 20 dollars: The 2007 vintage that you presently find in most wine stores is a very good year in red Southern CDR. The 2005 were also fantastic . 

Domaine Alary Côtes du Rhône Villages 2007
Domaine André Brunel Cuvée Sabrine 2005\
Le Pont Du Rieu Vacqueiras 2007 
Domaine de Piaugier Sablet 2007
Domaine de la Mordorée, Tavel rosé, 2009
Domaine Brusset, Le Grand Montmirail, 2007
Saint-Cosme Côtes du Rhône Red 2007 White 2009
Le Fond Du Vent, Signargues Notre passion 2007
Domaine Damien, Les Souteyrades Gigondas 2007
Domine Charvin CDR rosé 2008
Domaine de la Solitude CDR 2007 
Domainde de Beaurenard Rasteau 2007
Damaine Alary Cairanne 2007
Domaine Grand Veneur Champauvins CDR Villages 2007
Domaine des Apillhantes Cairanne l’Ancestrale 2007
Laurence Feraud Seguret 2007 Duseigneur Lirac 2007

Chateau Beauchêne CDR Villages 2007 (this one is one of my recent favorites and is damn cheap for such a great wine) But I would strongly suggest that you spend 2 dollars more and buy the marvelous Chateau Beauchêne Premier Terroir 2007. This very luscious and rich but harmonious and well balanced win is labeled as a Côtes du Rhône Villages but in fact this particular vineyard is separated from their Chateauneuf Du Pape vineyard by a tiny dirt path. So when you drink that CDR you are sort of enjoying a Chateauneuf Du Pape '' déclassé''. And for $ 12.99 ( at Binny's in Chicago) it is probably the best value I have found in CDR over the last 2 years.

And of course do not forget 2 of my favorite bargain-priced CDR from Trader Joe's: The very flavorful Valreas Cuvée Prestige from the Vignerons de l’Enclave des Papes at $ 6.49
And the always reliable and Juicy Perrin CDR Réserve 2007 at $9.99
A ta santé and Bonne fin d’été

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