Tag Archives: Rhone

fullsizerenderFrench Roussanne — Brézème 2014

Departing from the noble grape varieties provides many new and interesting experiences.  The French have a tendency to blend this grape with many others including Marsanne and Viognier.  Here we have a Roussanne as a varietal and made in a natural way, with as little intervention as possible.  The wine is not filtered, giving it a fullness that is more noticeable here than in many white wines.  Some sulphur dioxide is added at bottling for stability.

The appellation is northern Rhone and in the mid 19th century, its wines rivaled Hermitage.  Rather than being a record of the influence of the terroir, this wine emphasizes the effect of winemaking and vineyard management.

Strong apricot, pear and floral notes meet and greet you.  Noticeable is the bright gold color.  Beeswax, cream, baked apple and honey also feature and these are representative of the grape.  The wine is also harmonious, smooth, with a medium length finish.  It is very well made.

Of note for our education: Along with the varietal aromas, this wine shows some ‘fat’ with a lower acidity.  Although it still refreshes, when combined with rich foods it would not cut through the richness and leave you longing for more.  It will appeal to those who like a lower acid.  As a sipping wine, it can be tiring after a glass or two.  I suggest you taste it along side the Creekside Cellars Roussanne (which we evaluated in a previous post).  The styles of the two  wines will come into strong contrast.

Rating: 87

Emotional rating:  Rewarding to those who love richness in a white wine.

Available:  Try wine.com

Dominantly Grenache – A Ravishing, Rustic Rhone Wine

From the Heart of Southern Rhone

Vacqueyras – Domaine La Garrigue, 2012

Domaine La Garrigue Vacqueras 2012

Domaine La Garrigue Vacqueras 2012

This wine epitomizes the wines of the Vacqueyras Appellation.  Several appellations comprise the heart of the Southern Rhone and this one is perhaps a little more on the rustic side.  The grapes ripen earlier in the stony and sandy soils of this dominantly scrub covered landscape.  Garrigue, the name of the winery, is also the word for scrubland in French.  The wine —  unfiltered, powerful, heady, and full of character — suggests the region has great potential for some excellent wines.  Winemaking is advancing fast in this Rhone region.

Black fruit, tar, licorice and a touch more burnt toast (all expressions of the dominant grape, Grenache) after it had been opened a while — this is for the strong of palate.  Riding on this strong attack and 14% alcohol, it hits you unedited by standards of finesse.  Not that the wine is unpleasant, it is not.  However, the most pleasant experience with this wine is in the company of a rich cheese, like the one I enjoyed with it — a full-flavored, rich, Irish Cheddar from pasture fed cows.  A charcoal grilled steak would also welcome this wine.

Its flavors are bold and the finish is l-o-n-g!  On the palate, it is definitely full-bodied and a wine of texture and substance.  The winemaking has been unrestricted in its search for a bold drink needing food.  As you taste, think of what this region may hold for a wine lover’s enjoyment in the near future.

Rating: 90

New World Wine vs Old World Wine Compared

Rhone — Guigal Gigondes Rouge 2011

E. Guigal Chateau

E. Guigal Chateau

The Rhone Valley, known as Cotes du Rhone, stretches from the town of Lyon all the way to Avignon, 125 miles to the south.  In the north, fine wine of outstanding quality is to be found and in the southern reaches, a great variety of wines exist —some fine and some not so outstanding.  Unlike many French wine regions, the climate is more constant.  The soils are stoney and mainly granite based.  It is an ideal climate for wine grapes.  Mainly red wines are produced and Guigal is one of the prominent names that is easy to find at the wine store.

The Guigal Gigondes Rouge is a good expression of the Grenache grape.  An intense purple color, clean and bright, meets the eye with beautiful appeal.  There are layers of flavor: peach, apricot, licorice, toast, and cedar with a touch of arugula and earth in a racy structure.  Smooth tannins, moderate acids and a long finish conclude the interesting journey.  Minerality forms this wine’s foundation and signals its origin.  It is a food wine and a pleasant diversion from some of the New World wines.

Rating 90

Two Hands Cellar Door

Two Hands Cellar Door

Compare what the Guigal Grenache offers to a Shiraz from McClarenvale: Fleurieu South Australia, Two Hands Angel’s Share 2012.

A rich, deep, gorgeous nose introduces this wine with a drum roll.  Eucalyptus, sage, blackcurrant, juicy red fruits, sweet tobacco, vanilla, milk chocolate, cream and leather are among the aromas that assail your senses with an obvious appeal to angels and humans.  It is a deep magenta and well extracted.  Everything holds together in a soft, silky texture.

If you want a luscious gustatory experience, no food is necessary but grilled meats would round out the taste.  These two wines are very different.  Form your own judgements and remember: we are not comparing apples with apples, but we are comparing two great experiences — one from the Old World and one from the New World.

Rating 92

Colorado’s Garett Estate — Unusual Red Blend: “Pheasant Run Red, 2012”

Garett Estate Winery’s Pheasant Run Red, 2012.

Garrett - Pheasant Run Red 2012

Garrett – Pheasant Run Red 2012

A blend of Syrah and Merlot is not found in every winery.  There are indications that in the very early days of Bordeaux, wines from upriver and from the Rhone (Syrah) was blended with the Bordeaux varietals.  Hence this blend is not new.  Many Cabernet Sauvignons in the New World are blended today with Syrah and in most cases with other varieties as well.  Merlot does not feature as often with Syrah and certainly not as a common blend.  Therefore, this is a wine to experience since the flavors of the two grapes combine to produce a dark fruit and evident oak background in which the blend of flavors is the dominant effect.  The Merlot mellows the characteristics of the Syrah.

It is an everyday, quaffable wine and, for the price, a good buy — especially if you like a red that reminds you of the heavy rustic variety of wine.  This wine will stain your teeth!  Little acid shows up initially, but it comes through on the finish giving you a final cleansing effect that is so good when matching it with rich meats.  A background of dark fruit climaxes in a medium acid finish that is fresh and mouthwatering.  Warm tones, like chords in a closely knit harmony, reflect the warmth of the site on which the grapes are grown.  A commendable table wine.

Rating: 85

Emotional rating:  A warm winter wine that leaves a happy wallet.

Available:  Distributed in Colorado.

Syrah, Part 2: The Rhone Valley France

(Part 2 of a 5-part series)

Now pour a glass of Syrah from the Rhone and note the differences between this and the Barossa Shiraz (from the previous article) as you sip and read.  Thomas Jefferson loved Syrah in the form of Hermitage, a famous wine hill of only 326 acres.  Hermitage has been favored by Royalty in as unlikely a place as Russia and also by wine lovers around the world.  The grape’s home is indisputably the Northern Rhone in France.   Since Roman times, it has laid claim to this region as it developed its notoriety because of its quality, longevity, and bold, full wines.  By the early nineteenth century, Syrah from the Hermitage slope (a south facing hill of granite overlaid by a thin layer of soil) was selling for as much as the best wines of Bordeaux.  To this day in the minds of many, it is Cabernet Sauvignon’s equal.  What do you think as you taste?

Syrah in the Rhone Valley

Cote Rotie — “The Roasted Slope”

Wine map of France

Wine map of France

In the far north of the Rhone Valley, steep and often dangerous slopes are worked with great risk.  They are exposed at a perfect angle to the northern sunlight and produce a growing site for the Syrah grape that would secure its fame.  Wines from this small area are expensive and if you can get your hands on one, you will be tasting fame and fortune.  They are deeply colored red wines, bursting with full flavors.  A young Cote Rotie is a gem in the making.  As they age, they become softer and release intriguing bouquets.  Is this the best of Rhone wines?  Some say, yes.

Hermitage — “The Granite Hill”

Like the Cote Rotie these are wines that take time to soften and prepare themselves for consumption without shocking the palate.  Full, rich, and powerful, they are liberal in their offering of a broad bouquet.  Some folk prefer them over the Cote Rotie wines and they have certainly earned themselves a lasting name in the annals of great wines.

The lower slopes around the town of Hermitage, where the wines are called Crozes Hermitage, are similar but less in every respect — but not much less.  These are well worth searching out.  They also are ready for drinking earlier.

Saint Joseph

One step further down the scale of fullness, these more delicate and lighter versions are preferred by those who like a wine with more finesse and ones that mature earlier.  While they are lighter, don’t discount the power of these wines.  They can live to a ripe old age and stand out with their distinct taste and aromas.  Try Saint Joseph, Offenus, 2012 (approximately $33).


You can find these for less money because they are less known.  However, they live to an old age and provide a silky Syrah with ample tannin in their youth.  They are usually more garnet in color than ruby, as is typical of the wines from Cote Rotie, Hermitage, and Saint Joseph.

Cotes du Rhone

These wines from a wider region carry a general appellation.  Easy to find and made in large quantities, they come from the Southern Rhone valley.  Lighter and yet quite appealing, they are good for that average meal.

Want to go just one step higher?  Look for a Cotes Du Rhone Villages or Cotes du Rhone with a hyphenated additional name, such as Gigondas.  An excellent Cotes du Rhone wine that is  available for around $16 is Domaine La Garrigue Cuvee Romaine, 2012.

Syrah is blended with other grapes in other parts of the Rhone Valley, such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but we will deal with them in a separate article.