As the temperatures start to drop, and leaves start to turn colorful shades, and fall vegetables and cuisine start to fill our menus, I find my palate moving away from the crisp
white and rosé wines of the summer to rounder, softer wines with more mouthfeel that are very fall food friendly: the wines and varietals of Rhone. The whites pair well with roasted root vegetables of the fall and the reds are delicious with turkey and roasts. The wines can be a bit challenging to find, but worth the time, if for nothing else but the adventure of the search and the joy of discovery and trying something new. In working on two recent events, clients have told me that they plan on serving Cotes du Rhone and some alternative whites. This agreement with my personal preference made me smile and know that I had to share this experience with you. Just today I saw a vignette on TV for roasted carrots with maple syrup! I love these paired with a blend of Viognier, Marsanne, Roussane. If Rhone wines are off your radar, you can also get the experience from Australia, from Yalumba Wines or D’Arenberg Hermit Crab, they produce wines in the tradition of Rhone and are usually widely available and affordable. I encourage you to step away from the pumpkin spice and try something new! As you may recall from my newsletter about gin, I defer to my colleague and good friend Joel, who is a sommelier, to share with you the history and nuances of the region with you this month. Please enjoy his descriptions below.
No other wine producing region in Europe is as intriguing and fascinating as Rhone. There are so many AOC as well as an array of varietals that we have not heard of or even tasted. Due to the immense information in the region, in letter, we will discuss Northern Rhone and save Southern Rhone for the next issue. Syrah is the primary red wine producing grape in Northern Rhone but there are a few white varietals that are outstanding and worth noting.
Most of the wine produced in Rhone is from cooperatives or negociants. The growers sell their grapes to them, who in turn make the wines and sell them under their name/labels. Due to the cooler climate of Northern Rhone, the grapes here do not achieve the high sugar levels, so are left on the vines and enjoy longer hangtime, which in return result in grapes that are more complex and not too fruity. The rows in the vineyards are lined with rocks and pebbles, which retain the warmth from the sun during the day and emit that warmth during the night, giving the Rhone wines that terracotta, toasted nose and well as longer warm hangtime, not hot but warm. Red wine is made from Syrah or Shiraz, as it is known in Australia and the whites can be from Marsanne, Roussanne or Viognier.
Wine sub regions of Northern Rhone are:
Condrieu-the white wine made here is all from Viognier grapes. This wine is a bold expression of the region. The wine ranges from medium to full body depending on the winemaker’s goal, however the minerality in the glass is unmistakable. An excellent accompaniment to any raw bar and even grilled seafood, Condrieu is an amazing white wine.
Cornas-made entirely from Syrah grapes, these are bold wines that show off the earthy and minerals of the terroir. Cornas is just an amazing wine with earthy and mineral nose with bold dark fruit flavors on the palate and a dry lingering spicy finish.
Cote Rotie-one of my personal favorite regions from Northern Rhone, wines here are a blend of Syrah and Viognier. By law it has to be at least 80% Syrah blended with at most 20% viognier. Cote Rotie loosely translates to toasted slopes which explains the toastiness on the nose. Biggest and boldest expression of terroir in all of Rhone with tobacco, plums and dark fruit with terracotta nose and a long lingering finish.
Hermitage/Crozes-Hermitage-white wines are made from Marsanne or Roussanne or a blend of both. There are no laws pertaining how much each can be used in the blend. Reds are made of Syrah blended with the afore mentioned whites. The laws regulate at least 85% Syrah to be blended Marsanne or Roussanne. Lighter than Cote Rotie these wines are still big and bold with fruit forward palate and that earthy nose so noted for Rhone.
Saint-Joseph- more like Hermitage region, the wines are Syrah based blended with Marsanne and Roussanne but the Syrah has to be at least 90% in the reds and the whites are made of Roussanne and Marsanne either exclusively or blended. Saint-Peray-made from Roussanne and Marsanne only, this white wine region produces a little bit of sparkling wines that very few have had the pleasure of tasting.
These regions are just a few areas of Northern Rhone that produce world class wines in a variety of blends, these are wines enjoyed with different dishes around the world. If you have not tried any of Rhone wines, may I recommend beginning your journey with one of the Cotes du Rhone which is a larger region covering parts of Northern and Southern Rhone.
If you would like to discuss fall menu ideas or plan a fall event or discuss wines with Joel, reach out now at firstname.lastname@example.org.