By Elspeth Brown
A friend of mine recently got really interested in red wines from the Côtes du Rhône region located in southeastern France. The first time he tasted the Grenache/Syrah blend, he said it was the smoothest and most drinkable wine he had ever had, and it left him wanting more. His comment made me want to re-examine my love affair with the whites and reds from one of the oldest wine growing regions in the world. For a very long time I have been comfortably enjoying the delicate nuances in Pinot Noir, but this gave me the perfect opportunity to enjoy the dark fruit flavors, warm spice and sweet earth that wine drinkers can find in all reds from Côtes du Rhône. If you are just beginning to explore French wines, the Côtes du Rhône region is a great place to begin your journey.
One of the largest wine growing regions in France, the Côtes du Rhône valley is separated by the Rhône River. Northern Rhône is steep, while the Southern Rhône is much flatter. Each area has variations in climate, soil and grape varietals, but, in general, the average climate is hot and sunny. The soil being very rocky, it retains the heat both day and night. The bright sun causes grapes to develop more sugar, which, in turn, produces more alcohol. Winemakers are required by law to have a minimum alcohol content of 10.5 percent. Red wines from this region tend to be the most alcoholic wines in France. Ninety percent of all wines produced in the Côtes du Rhône region come from the southern area. The main grapes used in making the red wines are Grenache and Syrah. White wines from the region typically use Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne or Marsanne.
Wines from the Côtes du Rhône region are extremely approachable, and easily paired with a variety of foods. A white Côtes du Rhône wine pairs well with shellfish, sushi, chicken and lighter cheeses, such as Brie or a creamy Jarlsberg. The warm, bright fruit and spice of a red will pair well with almost anything, including pork, game, lamb, beef, chicken and stronger cheeses such as aged Gouda, sharp cheddar and Gruyère.
Some of my favorite producers are Domaine de Châteaumar, Ferraton Père & Fils, M. Chapoutier and Château de Saint Cosme, which all are sustainable, organic or biodynamic wineries. Red wines from the Côtes du Rhône region are, arguably, the best value in the world. When in doubt, choose a Côtes du Rhône.
Elspeth Brown is the owner of Maggie B’s Wine & Specialty Store, 10 C South Main Street in Weaverville. For information, visit MaggieBsWine.com or call 828.645.1111.