In these challenging economic times, most of us are only too happy to learn of exciting new regions that offer quality wines at a good value. Last Fall I was lucky enough to visit the Rhone valley in France and see many wineries. It may be hard to believe in this day and age, but unlike in the Napa Valley, with its sleek visitors' centers and formal tours, producers in the Southern Rhone are very old-school when it comes to introducing their wines to the public. Some of the wineries are hundreds of years old and are just now modernizing their "showrooms" for the many millions of fans around the world.
Today I am going to talk about two very affordable wines from the Rhone Valley, but first let me set it up for you. When you visit the Rhone, you can fly into the airport in Marseilles, or take a train from Paris (next time I'll definitely take the train!). The Rhone is not so much a city as a collection of many small villages, some of them so tiny you will only see a restaurant, a small park, a post office, and a shop or two. The scenery along the road is gorgeous.
Rhone wines still offer value for wine lovers who want to experience authentic, quality wine at a decent price. Recently I sampled two that are quite good. Let’s start with a Tavel rosé from Domaine de la Mordoree. It is a gorgeous pink color, with an aroma of tart frambroise (tiny strawberries), and on the palate a very nice body, refreshing acidity, and subtle but gripping tannins. I’d pair this with salmon (poached or grilled), a composed salad with protein such as chicken or shrimp, or vegetarian fare. Note that this is a dry rosé, as is the tradition for pink French wines, yet it is hearty enough to accompany a steak salad. This wine is 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Cinsault, and 10% Clairette.
I also tried the Domaine du Gour de Chaule Cotes Du-Rhone Cuvee de la Vigneronne, a red wine that is the typical mix of Grenache, Syrah, and Mouvedre. Now, this domaine has a very interesting history. First, it is positioned in the very pretty village of Gigondas, an AOC (the term denotes a quality wine region with specific terroir that renders it different from other vineyards in the area). When the estate was founded in 1900 by Eugene Bonfils, all the wine it produced was sold in bulk to negociants. Only in 1972 did the house begin to slowly bottle for private clients. Today 50% of the annual production is selected for sale in bottle (approximately 25,000 to 30,000 bottles). 85% of the vineyards are planted to Grenache, with approximately 10% dedicated to Syrah and Mourvedre and the balance planted to Cinsault.
This is a great wine to pair with grilled steak or stews, especially if the stew is spiked with cinnamon. You won’t get a lot of oak on this wine, as it is aged in large oak "foudres" where it stays for approximately 18 months.