The Rhône River Valley in southeastern France is a BIG place: 165K acres of BIG, and about 150 miles from north to south. About 5% of this region is considered “northern Rhône” featuring Syrah and Viognier, and 95% is “Southern Rhône” featuring Grenache and an assortment of other red and white grapes including Mourvedre, Cinsault, Marsanne, and Rousanne (which I will be writing about next week). The smaller northern region has a more moderate continental climate with a focus on Syrah with fresh acidity; the southern is more mediteranean and warm and allows challenging grapes like Mourvede to ripen.
This 165k acres makes the entire Rhône River Valley three times the size of the Napa Valley in California; just the southern Rhône is significantly larger than Napa. With an area of that size, it makes sense to help people understand which wines are better than others, hence a system that might be confusing if you don’t know it.
If you imagine a bullseye, the best wines in the Rhône are “cru” — right in the middle, and the smallest amount of acres.
Then there’s “named villages” — that’s the second level out from the center– for example, St. Joseph’s in the northern Rhône which we wrote about here. After named villages, the next level is just plain “village;” very few of these are in the north. Finally there’s “Cotes du Rhône,” a general description for wines from the entire region which can include grapes from just about anywhere there.
Grapes from the Rhône have roamed the world and found special success in Australia and the western United States.
But, says the lawyer for the Rhône River Valley, don’t call wines made from the Rhône grapes “Rhône wines.'” Uh oh!
In 1995, the US signed an agreement specifying that Rhône only means wine from that region of France — much like Champagne means ONLY the grapes from that region can be called Champagne. Everything else is sparkling wine, cava, Prosecco, Lambrusco, etc.
This hasn’t stopped the popularity of grapes from the Rhône region in the US, especially Syrah– we just don’t know what to call them!
- Earlier this summer, we featured white grapes from the Rhône as grown and made at Acquiesce.
- Earlier this week, we focused on three Rhône grapes grown in the California Sierra foothill region of El Dorado County as expressed in a Syrah, a Grenache, and two Viognier, one for dinner and one for dessert!
- Then on Thursday we featured two Grenache made in Ventura County for Grenache Day.
According to Jason Haas at Tablas Creek, acreage of Syrah in California increased elevenfold in six years! In a followup tweet, Jason says that Syrah “acreage peaked in 2010 at 19,280, and declined to 15,400 acres by 2019.” It’s now the sixth most widely planted grape in the world, up from #35! The California Grape Acreage Report shows that as of 1981 there were just 78 acres of Syrah planted in the state, and only 159 acres in 1988.
As accessible and enjoyable as these wines are for us in California like this one from El Dorqado’s Miraflores or these from Ventura County , it’s good to roam back to the grapes Rhone homeland and revisit two seminal wines of the northern Rhone, Viognier from Condrieu and Syrah from Crozes-Hermitage.
- Seared Scallops with Orange Beurre Blanc
- Smoked trout salad with grilled stone fruit and goat cheese drizzled with orange olive oil and pinot Grigio vinegar
- Basmati rice and grilled salmon
- Elderberry gallete
At the conclusion of our meal, Musikaravan’s traveling violinists, Etienne Gara and YuEn Kim, who are performing in vineyards and farms for workers and staying in our driveway, played for us! You’ll find more video clips from the evening here and here.
Scroll down for a short, one minute teaser video about Musikaravan based on their first week of adventures.
What a treat and delightful conclusion to an excellent evening!
2017 Domaine Chambeyron Condrieu “Vernon”
SRP $40; purchased on sale at WineHouse LA $30
only 100 cases imported into the US!
According to Winehouse LA, since 1895, the Chambeyron family has been farming tobacco, apricots, cherries and grapes in the Northern Rhône. Bernard Chambeyron is a distant cousin to the Chambeyron-Manin estate which means he has access to prime parcels of La Chavaroche and Lancement vineyards in Côte-Rôtie and Vernon of Condrieu.
After the phylloxera epidemic in the late 19th century, Bernard’s great grandfather, Jean-Marie Chambeyron planted new vines in Côte-Rôtie. Bernard’s uncle, Marius Chambeyron began bottling his own Côte-Rôtie in the 1970s, while his father, Maurice grew apricots and cherries. At first Bernard grew tobacco, which is more resistant to hail and rot but in 1977 he planted grapes for Côtes-du-Rhône production and planted Viognier on the north side of Vernon in 1985 on .7 acres.
Today Bernard’s son Mathieu Chambeyron makes the wines, and according to the importer, Viognier from Vernon is known for “unparalleled intensity and energy, one of the top three sites for Viognier in the world, trademarked by its mica-sifted “arzelle” soils. Chambeyron’s expression is made from destemmed clusters, fermented in steel and enamel-lined concrete. The aging takes place in a trio of vessels: steel, enamel-lined concrete and 30 year-old barriques. Our cuvée was bottled in the fall of 2018 and then allowed to rest in bottle for five months before shipping. Chambeyron’s Vernon shimmers with gold, sea-green and yellow. The high-volume aromatics of fresh and dried apricot, lavender and lemongrass roll seamlessly into a palate balanced by crushed stone and a confit of lemon-lime. This is a rock-star pairing for things with a shell, creamy sauces, Middle Eastern and Indian spices.”
Wine Advocate gave this wine 94 Points.
Color: Pale yellow-gold, almost buttercup
Nose: Very expressive nose, honeysuckle, anise, putty, mud, yellow flowers, bee pollen, nectar, nectarine, citrus flower
Palate: Grassy, herbal, honeysuckle, clean acidity, round mouthfeel, with a clean lingering finish, very much like a nectarine where there is fruit and tart.
Pairing: Marshall was drinking the beurre blanc sauce off the plate– so yummy. The wine picks up the nectarine citrus; I really liked the scallops with the wine. I loved the orange zest and the way it played with the wine, fantastic with the orange beurre blanc. Sue and Etienne felt that the scallop was almost too rich for the wine; Etienne felt that Sole would have been a lighter fish more complimentary. The wine went very nicely with the grilled fruit in the salad, but some thought the salmon was overwhelming with the wine.
The wine loves the grilled fruit and the smoked trout and the goat cheese in the salad; what a great pairing.
All around, this is a delicious wine and I’m so glad I bought two bottles at this price!
2017 Maison Les Alexandrins Syrah, Crozes-Hermitage
SRP $29; sample for my review supplied by Vineyard Brands
Seafood dish ideal for red wine? Nicolas Jaboulet recommends seared tuna or octopus prepared in the Provençal way with tomatoes and olives, with a fruity Crozes-Hermitage like his Maison Les Alexandrins Crozes Hermitage 2017. We had fresh salmon so that’s what we tried! Next time, I want this Provençal octopus! Yum!
Color: Medium Plus density, Garnet, Santa Rosa plum
Nose: Silex, and flint, the French soil comes through, cherries, raspberries, cocoa nibs, pepper, cedar, sandalwood, the nose is very inviting, all about the earth and the herbs combined with brambly fruit.
Palate: Very French, dry and acidic. Tart bramble fruit, raspberry, blackberry, very very tart, elderberries, this is not a sweet wine, but there’s plenty of fruit. Classic black pepper. This is a wine that yearns for food, This is definitely French Syrah!
Pairing: When we were sent this wine, we were told that it is fantastic with rich fish dishes like salmon. We talked about so many other things other than the salmon and wine pairing. There wasn’t a WOW effect. It was not bad, it was not off putting, but it was fine, but just fine. The wine was very mono-dimentional. even after being open for several hours. The wine appreciated the grilled eggplant over the grilled salmon. The rich fattiness of the salmon overwhelmed the wine and made it become flat and unexciting. The eggplant however woke it up and made it take notice. On subsequent nights I had it with a New York steak and with a high quality hot dog, and on another night with crab friend rice and a squash curry. Honestly, I really liked it with the hot dog but it really worked with both of the lightly spiced, rich Thai dishes. This is one surprising wine!
We thought this wine was an excellent value.
Join the French Winophiles as we learn about this large and diverse region of France. Below you’ll find who’s doing what for Winophiles this month followed by our twitter chat prompts. At the very end you’ll find a fun teaser video from Musikaravan!
- A Côtes du Rhône from Franck Balthazar and A Deconstructed Pairing by Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles
- A Côtes du Rhône Tasting by Payal at Keep the Peas
- All the Colors of Côtes du Rhône with Famille Perrin by Nicole Ruiz Hudson at Somm’s Table
- A Trio of Côtes du Rhône Pairings by Cam Mann at Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- A Window Into The Côtes du Rhône Through Maison M. Chapoutier by Susannah Gold at Avvinare
- Back on the Rhône Again by Christy Majors
- Beef Tongue Stew with a Côtes du Rhône Gigondas by Wendy Klik at A Day in the Life on the Farm
- Côtes du Rhône and Clearwater Camping: Charcuterie in God’s Country by Terri Steffes at Our Good Life
- Côtes du Rhône: Essential French Wines by Jill Barth at L’Occassion
- Lamb Meatballs Paired with Côtes du Rhône by Jane Niemeyer at Always Ravenous
- Leaning Savory with a 2016 Alain Jaume Côtes du Rhône by Linda Whipple at My Full Wine Glass
- Rhône Roam #3: Crozes-Hermitage Is Syrah, Condrieu Equals Viognier — Paired with Fish Dishes by Gwendolyn Alley at Wine Predator
- Rhône Wine with Brisket by David Crowley at Cooking Chat
- Turkey Does the Côtes du Rhône by Andrea Lemuix at The Quirky Cork
- What the Heck is Côtes du Rhône Villages? by Mel at Wining with Mel
Join our twitter chat at 8am Pacific Saturday 9/19/20 by following the hashtag #Winophiles. We will be discussing the following in this order and following this timetable more or less:
8am Welcome to the #Winophiles chat on Côtes du Rhône! Introduce yourself, and from where you are tweeting. Share a link to your blog if applicable.
Q1 So we are talking about the Côtes du Rhône, for today’s #Winophiles. Have you ever visited the region? Tell us what you thought.
Q2 Introduced in 1937, sitting in the Rhône Valley in eastern France, Côtes du Rhône is a region-wide appellation that applies to all colors of wine – from red to rosé to white wines. What did you pour? Share a link to your blog if you wrote on the topic today. #Winophiles
Q3 The Rhône Valley region is split into two segments, North and South. The climates vary greatly, with the North experiencing severe winters with warm summers; the South experiences mild winters and hot summers. From which part was your wine? North or South? #Winophiles
Q4 Tell us something interesting about the wine or winery that you picked. Does anything notable stand out? #Winophiles
Q5 What did you serve with your Côtes du Rhône wine? How did the pairing fare? How did the flavors in the food complement your wine? Share a link to your blog if you wrote on the topic today. #Winophiles
Q6 If you didn’t make any food for this month’s #Winophiles, what DID you pair with your Côtes du Rhône wines? Thinking of cheese pairings, perhaps. How did the flavors in the food complement your wine?
Q7 There are some interesting grapes being cultivated in the area. Did you, or have you, tried any of these: Bourboulenc, Brun Argenté (locally called Camarèse or Vaccarèse), Cinsaut, Clairette, Counoise, Piquepoul, Ugni blanc? What did you think? #Winophiles
Shoutout to the #Winophiles bloggers who posted about Côtes du Rhône today. Cheers! @WiningWithMel @LemieuxAndrea @cookingchat @ArtPredator @linda_lbwcsw @always_ravenous @jillbarth @tsteffes @WendyKlik @ChristysPalate @sommstable @CrushGrapeChron @reefraff_pv @Vignetocomm
Q8 #Winophiles Any final thoughts about Côtes du Rhône? Did you learn something new about the region, the wines, the food? Do tell!
Next month #Winophiles will be focusing on the Jura hosted by David of @cookingchat. Thanks for joining the September #Winophiles chat as we talked about the Côtes du Rhône wine region.
Stay tuned for more about Musikaravan possibly coming to a vineyard — or driveway– near you! Invite them!