As the colder winter weather sets in and the holiday season is behind, many of us are looking for a wine which won’t break the bank but to share and be warming to the soul as suggested in the 900 year old words of Omar Khayyam.
Many sturdy, complex and elegant wines at reasonable prices hail from the expansive Côtes du Rhône (KOHT doo ROHN) region in Southeastern France.
The Côtes du Rhône is an area extending roughly 100 miles south from Lyon to just north of Marseilles. The Northern Rhône is home to the hallowed slopes of Hermitage and Côte Rôtie, many fetching hundreds of dollars per bottle. The Southern Rhône is a region of varied soil types which grows a large number of different grape varieties. The sunshine is plentiful and the days are hot, but cool nights and the fierce, prevailing Mistral winds help the wines retain their bright, fresh acidity while keeping the clusters free of mold and mildew. This ensures perfect fruit at harvest time and keeps the wines consistent from vintage to vintage.
Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre are the primary red grapes of the region. The wines can be delicate and airy or bold and dense, but will always deliver a complex, satisfying array of flavors along with a soft, round elegance. These lovely red wines are bold enough to stand up to hearty beef entrées and rich sauces. They will not, however, overpower a roasted chicken, will be perfect both in and with coq-au-vin and all the while will retain the acidity and fruit to shine like the mid-day Rhône sun with an array of seafood stews and soups in these colder months. This is comfort food in a bottle.
The wines of the Southern Rhône also have another attractive feature – their price. While there is a hierarchy of quality, general Côtes du Rhônes will usually cost between $8 and $15 per bottle, and rarely exceed $20 retail. Côtes du Rhône Villages, a wine blended from the wines of designated single-villages, remains the best bargain, ranging in price from $18 to $25. Indivdual single-village wines such as Gigondas and the Rhône’s most famous, Châteauneuf du Pape will be more expensive (the best estates can be well over $100), but worth the money for a special occasion. The best part (other than the wines themselves) is that most of the wines’ prices have remained very comparable for over 20 years, only fluctuating a few dollars!
Two of my personal favorites for over 25 years, both from solid, perennially consistent producers are still available regularly in our market.
La Vielle Ferme 2018 ($8-12) is soft, round and full of blackberry and black cuurant flavors and aromas with a lingering delicate herb-and-spice finish. The E. Guigal, 2015 ($21) shows a dense, dark raspberry and blackberry nose leading into a long, rich, peppery, mineral finish. This has always been one of my favorite wines! Bold and beautiful! This with a small wedge of Roquefort and a basket of simple toast points enjoyed with a classic movie or book is one of my long-standing secret indulgences. Simple, hedonistic magic!
Another currently available locally is the 2018 Le Grand Valmal ($12) which has a lovely burst of both red and black raspberry and cherry aromas and flavors, finishing with pretty notes of cocoa powder and white pepper. Rich and lovely!
Coasting through the winter months either return to or check into the wines of the Southern Rhône for super-approachable and moderately priced staples. You’ll enjoy them throughout the year!