As a southerner, I’ve always thought it to be grim up north. It turns out I was wrong – especially when it comes to wines from the Rhône valley. The north-south divide is as evident there as it is here, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with the north.
I’ve never bothered with the detail of the wines from the Rhône valley. I’ve considered them generally to be good all-round food wines and enjoyed them as such. Burgundy and Bordeaux are where I’ve concentrated my efforts, taking wine-tasting holidays there and keeping a constant eye out for a decent Chablis or Nuits-Saint-Georges.
Preparing for my wine-tasting course has had me researching areas I don’t know so well – such as wines from the Rhône valley.
Ironically, though, it was a wine from the Rhône that first got me into red wine. I never touched reds until Damon introduced to me to a Châteauneuf-du-Pape 20 years ago.
My research has helped me understand the differences between the two basic styles of red produced in the Rhône.
In the north, the vines cling to the steep sides of the valley and the red wines produced are more or less 100% Syrah. Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage and Cornas are considered the best wines of the region, while Crozes-Hermitage offers a good value alternative. These rich wines have plenty of plum, black pepper, blackcurrant and olive on the palette.
The larger, southern region typically produces blends of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. The Grenache adds hints of strawberry and tobacco to the Syrah, while the heavier Mourvèdre brings colour, tannin and black fruit flavours. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is perhaps the best known of the wines from this area, and, almost incredibly, some 18 varieties can be included within the blend.
“I never touched red wine until Damon introduced to me to a Châteauneuf-du-Pape 20 years ago”
Increasing my understanding of the regional differences is great, but the real test is in the glass. We’ve had a case of Rhône valley reds arrive this week that we ordered from a merchant at the France Show last month, so I should have plenty of opportunity to do just that.