Friday, May 21, 2010

{ Rhone Valley + "Thinking, Eating and Drinking" Part 5 }

In Southern France sits the Rhone region and produces many wines under various Appellation d’origine controle (AOC). The Rhone is sectioned into two sub-regions with distinct vinicultural traditions, the Northern Rhone and the Southern Rhone. The northern sub-region produces red wines from the Syrah grape and white wines from Viognier grapes. Other white grapes produced are Marsanne and Roussanne. The southern region produces an assortment of red, white and rose wines, often blends of several grapes such as in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

The northern Rhone is characterized by harsh winters but warm summers. The appellations in the northern Rhone from north to south are: Cote-Rotie, Condrieu, Chateau-Grillet, Saint-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, Cornas and Saint-Peray.Northern Rhone reds are often identified by their signature aromas of green olive and smoky bacon.

The southern Rhone is more of a Mediterranean climate with mild winters and hot summers. The most famous red wine is Chateauneuf-du-Pape and is a blending of varieties of wine, both red and white. Southern Rhone reds may include Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre, Carignan and Cinsault. They are full bodied, contains tannins when young and have aromas of prune, foliage, chocolate and ripe dark fruit. A few of the southern Rhone appellations include: Cotes du Rhone, Cotes du Vivarais, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rasteau and Gigondas.

We began our evening’s journey through the Rhone valley with a 2009 Domaine Rouge-Bleu “Dentelle” Rose. This wine is 55% Carignan and 45% Grenache from the Vin de Pays de Mediterranee. Tasting notes include cherry and black currant flavors with hints of smoke. Asparagus is one of those incredibly hard vegetables to pair with any wine however, Suzanne hit a home run with this wine. She roasted asparagus and garnished with crispy pancetta.

Next was the 2008 Domaine Rouge-blue “Dentelle” and it was paired with sauted baby shitake mushrooms with thyme and minced garlic. Tossed at the last minute with some wonderful fleur de sel, it was perfect with this well balanced wine from the south of France. Our third bottle had the cork removed and we poured our wine, only to find out when we smelled it, the wine was corked. If you open a bottle of wine that smells like a musty trunk or wet dog, it is most likely corked. The cork in the bottle and the oak barrels in which wine was aged can expose the wine to a fungus induced by the natural compound trichloranisole (TCA). I would suggest that you discard that bottle and move onto a new one to enjoy.

Staying in the Northern region, we enjoyed a wine from the Hermitage appellation, called Laurent Combier Crozes-Hermitage which was a 2008 vintage. It is 100% syrah with a perfume quality, hints of mineral, smoky black fruit, spicy and clean. Let this wine sit and open up for a fantastic tasting experience. We enjoyed this wine with oven roasted fingerling potatoes mixed with fennel and scarlet turnips, tossed with olive oil and fresh thyme. A long and slow cooked roast pork shoulder with a crispy caramelized crust was accompanied with the roasted veggies. The crunchy crust from the pork was to die for - so rich, crispy and full of delicious flavor.

Two fellow students in the class, Meg and Joe have an affinity for wine and brought a bottle from their personal cellar. It is from Stolpman Vineyards located in Los Olivos on the California central coast and called L'Avion. This wine is 10% viognier and 90% roussanne. Full bodied, floral, honeysuckle, pear, caramel and a tiny hint of minerality are flavors and scents found in this wine. This wine paired beautifully with the roast chicken served. One of the highlight wines of the evening for me.

Nearing the end of our wine adventure we tried a 2006 Domaine de la Bastide Blanche Bandol, a commanding red, with concentrated red and dark fruit flavors, including fig, dark plum and raspberry. Remarkable tannins and acidity support the finish, which is blended with notes of chocolate and black olive. It is a blend of mourvedre and grenache grapes. The scent of this wine is a bit funky and almost like a rusty penny, but let it open and I guarantee you will enjoy.

Now at the end of our class along with almost at the end of the six week course, we enjoyed our final wine, 2005 Edmunds St. John “Wylie-Fenaughty” Syrah. It has a rich ruby color, dark berry, smoky, minerals and black olive on the nose. Cassis flavors are underscored by cracked pepper and candied licorice qualities, with soft tannins. The smoke and dark fruit qualities repeat on the finish, which could only be syrah. The wine is very controlled, with sweet, big tannins encompassing dark fruit and plenty of acidity. This wine is produced in El Dorado Hills near the American River.

As the saying goes “save the best for last” and indeed that is what we have planned to accomplish at next weeks class. Suzanne has graciously opened her home for the entire class to be held for our last one of the six week series. Chad plans on sharing very special and unique wines with us and Suzanne will prepare some exciting food pairings for us to enjoy. I can’t wait to share the last class of the series with all of you. Until then…… Cheers!


  1. This all sounds wonderful! Loved the post:)

  2. Nice write up. Hope you are enjoying all your wine journeys!


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