Saturday, March 01, 2008

Rhone Reds: 10 Tasted of 10

RHONE: Area 4 on the map starts just below the city of Vienne and follows the Rhône river about 200 kilometres directly south to Avignon, roughly fifty kilometres from the Mediterranean coast. Long and narrow, the vineyards in the north Rhône are sculpted along the cooler hillsides up from the banks while in the south Rhône they spread out on rolling hills on both sides of the Rhône, where the climate is more moderate, then east along the Durance.

In contrast to Burgundy, Rhône reds can be blends of red and white grapes. Generally, one should expect a robust red, deep and sombre, from mainly syrah grapes and a dry full-bodied white of marsanne, roussanne or viognier, gold in colour, from the north versus a light- to medium-bodied fruity red or white from grenache bolstered by syrah and mourvedre in the south. Dependent on blends as well as terroir - the northern vineyards being on cooler granite soils and on limestone in the warmer south - the wines can be very different thoughout the Rhône. Overall most of the wine produced is red with the balance of both rosé and white. Viognier, a specialty of the north Rhône area of Condrieu is normally full, dry, floral and fruity.

Châteauneuf du Pape is located just east of the Rhône between Orange and Avignon and west of Provence. The reds from here are produced from as many as thirteen authorized and controlled grape
varieties: eight reds and five whites and successive vintages may be blended. They are medium-bodied and fruity making them popular sippers as well as meal wines and range from $30 to $100 when available (eg. Pere Anselme La Fiole du Pape NV, #012286, tasted Feb 4,2008 (Ww89)). Not too distant but west of the Rhône are Tavel and Lirac known mainly for their strong peach-pink coloured rosés. Further east is the Appellation of Ventoux and farther south are Costières de Nîmes and Côtes du Luberon, each producers of lower priced wines. As many as twenty other grape varieties can be used to produce wines of the southern Rhône.

Some nam
es, from north to south, to look for on labels are: côte rôtie - condrieu - château grillet - hermitage - crozes hermitage - cornas - côtes du rhône - côtes du rhône-villages - gigondas - châteauneuf du pape - côtes du ventoux - gigondas - coteaux du tricastin - vacqueyras - costières de nîmes. The 'sub' appellation Côtes du Rhône-Villages applies to a limited number (~95) of villages within the Côtes du Rhône appellation. The best can add the name of the village.

The following wines have been selected and as each is tasted it will appear in bold. Cheers, Ww

  • Cave de Tain Crozes Hermitage 2003, (90-2) - in the north Rhône, Crozes Hermitage covers an area surrounding the noted Hermitage up from the west bank of the Rhône.
  • Château d'Aqueria Tavel Rosé 2006, (88-1) - southwest of Châteauneuf du Pape.
  • Chapoutier Côtes du Rhône Villages Rasteau 2006, (88-1*) - Rasteau is a recent appellation located northeast of Orange nearer the Ouvèze river next door to Cairanne.
  • Caves des Papes Heritage Côtes-du-Rhône 2005, (87) - wines from approx 13 estates near Châteauneuf du Pape and Gigondas challenged to achieve consistent high quality are used for the 'Heritage' label.
  • Château LaMargue Cuvée Aegidiane 2003, (86) - from Costières de Nîmes, formerly part of Languedoc-Roussillon because of the character of its wines but now a Rhône appellation.
  • Domaine de la Croze Granier Lirac Cuvée Réserve 2005, (85) - slightly north of Tavel and west of Orange
  • Cellier Des Dauphin Cartes Noire Côtes du Rhône 2005, (83) - close to Orange.
  • Guigal Côtes du Rhône 2003, (83) - located in Ampuis near Condrieu on the west bank in the north Rhône.
  • La Romaine Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Vénus Laurée 2005, (82) - located in Vaucluse, on the east side of the Rhône and north of the city of Orange.
  • La Vieille Ferme Côtes du Ventoux 2006, (80) - southeast of Orange.


GUIGAL COTES DU RHONE 2003, Rhône, France, 13.0% D, #259721 $16.75 (Tasted February 6, 2008)

A General listing described as "Deep ruby purple colour; complex aromas of mixed spice, plums, dark berry and pepper with floral notes; dry, medium to full-bodied, well balance with supple tannins, and flavours of white pepper, cassis,black cherry and mineral; good length on the finish. Serve with pepper steak, lamb, grilled portabello mushrooms or seared duck in a cherry reduction sauce." The website says "The 2003 Côtes du Rhône red may be the finest example of this cuvée yet produced. While the blend varies from year to year, it generally includes approximately 50% Syrah, 30-40% Grenache, and the rest Mourvedre... 88-90/100 Robert M. Parker Jr (12/04)." My notes: A deep sombre ruby colour with good legs and, after airing ten minutes, light aromas of floral, tobacco humidor and pepper as the overriding scents. The initial sip is smooth but quickly followed by a tangy pepper and red cherry finishing with an even mix of red cherry, mushroom, slight pepper and woodiness. A touch of mint makes the ending bright with some dryness. A meal red for T-bone, bbq'd pork ribs, rack of lamb, italian sausage in a red tangy pasta, went well with a beef stew. Medium-bodied, old world character with a lot of process and for those preferring this style it may be priced right (and rated higher). A well made conventional red but not a value - cellaring hasn't helped. 83

CAVE DE TAIN CROZES HERMITAGE 2003, Rhône, France, 12.5% XD, #572230 $16.85 (Tasted March 1, 2008)

A Vintages release on January 19, 2008 described as "There's a really bright raspberry character on the nose here, with a definite hint of Brettanomyces, but giving a meaty edge that works quite well. The palate is dry and savoury, with a meaty, peppery quality and decisive acid structure with firm tannins. Very savoury and a reasonably good expression of northern Rhône Syrah. (Tom Cannavan, Nov. 2006)". The back label adds "produced exclusively from Syrah grapes grown on alluvial granite plains... A well balanced wine, rich and supple, with jammy red fruit flavours and overtones of liquorice and spice... ". The website describes it as "Intense garnet-red colour. Intense and delicate aromas of blackberry fruits, with vanilla and roasted notes. Rich on the palate. Powerful and well-balanced. Strong but smooth tannins with good length with final notes of fresh blackcurrant, cherry and oriental spices." My notes: A delicate aroma of berries and spice, a solid garnet ruby colour and a velvet layer of tart, medium- to full-bodied blend of raspberries and currants then finishing forever with dry, dark fruit, bright pepper and mushroom tones. Quite a nice sipper or as a quencher with stuffed mushroom caps or mild cheeses. Have with grilled meats or prime rib. A good value now and worth cellaring for many more years. 90-2

CAVES DES PAPES 'HERITAGE' COTES-DU-RHONE 2005, Rhône, France, 14.0% D, #535849 $14.85 (Tasted March 8, 2008)

A General listing described as "Medium ruby garnet colour; raspberry, tobacco leaf, plum and vanillin aromas and flavours. Light- to medium-bodied; soft and dry. Serve with stuffed peppers or eggplant; burgers; rack of lamb." My notes: Not 'Hermitage' nor 'Meritage' but 'Heritage'... this is 2/3 grenache and 1/3 syrah seasoned with cinsault and mourvedre. A deep ruby colour - serve in a broad bowl for full effect. Air for at least twenty minutes for a nose that is subdued, a warm plum and strawberry mix and smoky oak edged. The first sip shows a balanced blend of raspberry, strawberry and, I agree, tobacco leaf with a subtle brightness and fine tannin leaving a dry flavourful finish. An interesting medium-bodied european sipper. Have with nibbles of pate on soft breads, bacon wrapped (or not) sausage pieces, or an entree of prime rib, mashed, carrot/turnip and rich gravy. Cellaring for up to four years should mellow a slight roughness and build an elegant nose - the flavour will likely remain light - worth the gamble. For a General listing the price seems right. 87-1

CAVE LA ROMAINE COTES DU RHONE VILLAGES VÉNUS LAURÉE 2005, Rhône, France, 13.5% D, #028779 $12.85 (Tasted February 27, 2008)

A General listing described as "Medium ruby in colour with aromas of cocoa, licorice, cherry and spices. Medium-bodied, quite spicy with a good aroma replay. Serve with barbecued chicken, pizza or ribs." The back label says "Beautiful historic Vaison-la-Romaine has been a famous location for great wines since Roman times. The Vénus Laurée Syrah (30%) and Grenache (70%) vineyards are on the tops of the hills, with the best growing conditions, creating intense flavours. Our thoroughly modern cuvée offers an expressive nose, is bursting with flavours of red cherry and currant fruit, with harmonious tannins. ... Best at 16C." My notes: A gold medal winner at the Foire aux Vins d'Orange 2006. A clear deep ruby with no nose to sniff. Let air for twenty minutes minimum. The first sip is evenly balanced tannin, acid and having a soft texture with delicate red cherry flavours. The finish remains bright and lightly flavoured. Nothing 'intense' here... more like subtle. An OK sipper but somewhat uninteresting. Have with prime rib, veal dishes with elegant sauce, beef stroganoff or liver and onions. Should be able to cellar several years and at the price point could improve to be a good value. 82

CHAPOUTIER COTES DU RHONE VILLAGES RASTEAU 2006, Rhône, France, 14.0% D, #321539 $17.15 (Tasted March 4, 2008)

A General listing described as "Deep ruby/red colour; jammy, blackberry, floral and sweet spicy nose; dry, medium to full bodied, with plummy, dark fruit flavours and ripe fruit on the mid-palate; nice length on the finish. Serve with roast chicken, Mediterranean dishes or lamb kabobs." My notes: An opaque (unfiltered) violet ruby with aromas of black cherries and a slight floral strawberry. Air at least an hour before serving. There is a strong bite on the first sip with a long tart spiciness and firm tannin masking a dark fruit finish, full-bodied and bold. I found it rough and raw... too young for my sipping and recommend *cellaring four years. Pair with seared savoury steak, bbq'd ribs, likely roast game - not roast chicken. Surprising to me (Yes! I'm naive) the General listing doesn't indicate cellaring. 88-1*

DAUPHINS CARTE NOIRE COTES DU RHONE 2005, Rhône, France, 13.5% D, #110197 $9.85* (Tasted February 20, 2008)

A General listing (*sale priced regularly $10.85) described as "Light ruby colour; spice and berry fruit aromas; rich berry fruit on the palate and spicy wood notes in the finish. Serve with pork or veal dishes." My notes: A raspberry tinted ruby, a see thru in the glass with aromas of leather, ripe blackberry and raspberry tones. Has respectable legs, fine tannins and a dry texture with ripe berry flavours leading to a light fruity finish dry on the tongue, fairly long and a touch of spice. A well balanced, lightish medium-body sociable sipper - not demanding nor complex, just enjoy. Have with cocktail sausage, bacon wrapped scallops, French onion soup or with light meat dishes: a ham steak, pork chops or veal scallopini. An OK value for an open bar or house red. An instant quaffer not for cellaring.

COTES DU VENTOUX 2006, Rhône, France, 13.5% D, #263640 $11.55 (Tasted March 10, 2008)

A General listing described as "Medium violet/ruby colour; red cherry aromas with blackberry and floral notes; dry with perfumed raspberry character and a touch spice; medium finish with light tannins. Serve with medium cheese, grilled chicken or roast turkey." The back label says "... comes from noble vines grown high on the slops of Mont Ventoux. .. from an assemblage of varietals of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault... may find a natural sediment... " My notes: A Perrin et Fils wine and with a screwtop! The website gives the blend as Grenache (50%), Syrah (20%), Carignan (15%) and Cinsault (15%) A deep purplish ruby colour with aromas of strawberry blueberry blend fairly floral and flavours of blueberry-strawberry, a pleasant tang throughout finishing berryish, smooth with a fine tannin edge. An economical house red that would please most casual sippers. Have with luncheon spread or ham (no mustard) sandwiches, cocktail sausages or with light meat, fowl entrees and even tapas. Strikes me as a commercial slightly offdry drink-now red. 80

CHÂTEAU D'AQUERIA TAVEL ROSÉ 2006, Rhône, France, 13.5% XD, #319368 $19.80 (Tasted February 23, 2008)

A Vintages release on December 08, 2007 and described by Natalie MacLean as "Aromas of raspberry and maraschino cherry. Pair with: barbecued salmon, chicken caesar salad, pork roast. 90/100" The Majestic Wine website says "The region Tavel lies to the north east of Avignon on the right bank of the Rhône. Here, there are intense sunny summers yielding fruit of exceptional ripeness, concentration and intensity of flavour. A vibrant salmon-pink in colour, with a penetrating fruit fragrance offset by floral notes. Bone dry, full bodied and succulently fruity on the palate, its lush intensity and depth are balanced by an extraordinarily refreshing acidity carrying into a long, crisp finish with vibrant peppery nuances. A blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah." My notes: A cheerful red cherry colour in the glass with faint aromas of red cherry skins tainted by one bright raspberry. Let go offchill before serving, 10C - 14C. By itself it demands a nibble of mild cheese to balance the 'herbaceous' dryness. Pleasingly tart, nicely round without being plump, with light flavours of red cherries. The finish is long, dry, and a slight red cherry stone. Have with a flavourful fish or shellfish entree... or with warmed maple syrup on buttermilk pancakes and english bangers. Cellaring for up to two years should be OK. 88-1

DOMAINE DE LA CROZE GRANIER LIRAC CUVÉE RÉSERVE 2005, Rhône, France, 13.5% XD, #031518 $17.80 (Tasted February 27, 2008)

A Vintages release on July 07, 2007 described as "A blend of Syrah and Grenache, this Lirac wine is deeply coloured with a very intense nose of black currant, blackberry, pepper and spice. It is dry with layers of fruit surrounded by silky to firm tannins. Medium full-bodied with a long finish, this well-balanced wine
would match well with grilled duck breast and a side dish of butter-fried wild mushrooms." My notes: A deep ruby and an interesting nose of smoky black cherries, a few raspberries and slight white pepper. Medium-bodied, bright acid and fine tannins frame balanced flavours of fresh mint, berries and spice. The fresh mint carries into a long bright finish making this a distinct terroir. Sip for the difference then have hors d'oeuvres for contrast: mushroom caps and bacon chips, proscuitto wrapped anchovies, pepper pate - or have with chorizo sausage in a tomato pasta or dark fowl. Cellaring for several years should provide more integration of textures. 85

CHÂTEAU LAMARGUE CUVÉE AEGIDIANE 2003, Rhône, France, 14.0% D, #033993 $20.95 (Tasted March 7, 2008)

A Vintages release on September 29, 2007 described as "... This 80% Syrah, 20% Grenache blend is typical of the region's focus on Syrah for their AC wines. The 2003 Cuvée Aegidiane shows the black-fruit-and-pepper character of Syrah, while the Grenache (Noir) rounds out the texture. It is an excellent candidate for short- to mid-term cellaring, or try a bottle tonight with grilled lamb chops." My notes: A Gruppo Compari winery, Château Lamargue produces a range of ten wines divided in two price points: Costières de Nîmes and Vins de Pays d'Oc. Let air briefly to allow a warm nose of dark fruit and smoky oak to balance - a deep ruby with a garnet cast, has legs but minimum staining. A well balanced fruit and acid flavouring, medium-bodied with fine tannins leading to a long earthy finish. A subtle pepper edge to an interesting flavour (the year in durmast barrels?) blend builds between sips. Have with bacon or mushroom based hors d'oeuvres, riblettes or buffalo wings. Pair with a beefy or beefy-like entrees, not too spicy, lamb? absolutely!. This may have plateaued so, if cellaring, I'd try a year a time to see where it's going. 86

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