It should be no surprise that winemakers in southern California, like Doug Margerum of the Margerum Wine Company in Santa Barbara, take inspiration from the Rhone wines of southern France. Of course, Doug has also been a consultant for a Rhone winery, so the relationship goes both ways. His M5 wine blends 42% Grenache, 34% Syrah, 13% Mourvedre, 6% Counoise, and 5% Cinsaut, in explicit pursuit of the flavor profile of Grenache-based Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
The Rhone Valley is generally hot and arid, the south more so than the north, but featuring a diversity of microclimates and topography in a vast region. Did you know that the Valley is the second largest producer of Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) wine in France, after Bordeaux? With climate change upon us, affecting vineyards everywhere, the hot-climate viticultural knowledge in the Rhone will bode well for Rhone wines, as will some of the higher elevation vineyards. Indeed, vineyards above 500 feet in elevation, previously considered marginal, now have a new prominence in producing wines of balanced acidity.
The Rhone Valley runs from a point about 20 miles south of the big industrial city of Lyon to Avignon, about 120 miles in length. This is big, expressive, alcoholic red wine country, depending on where: north: Syrah; south: Grenache. There are refreshing white wines as well, especially from the south, and actually a multitude of grape varieties and wine styles.
Northern Rhone wine growing occurs on steep slopes above the river, between the Massif Central and the Alps. Most vineyards are terraced and there is a predominantly continental climate. Appellations include Cote-Rotie, Cornas, Condrieu, Hermitage, and Crozes-Hermitage. Southern Rhone wine growing occurs at lower elevations as the river snakes closer to the Mediterranean; the countryside is more expansive and open and the climate changes. Southern Rhone appellations include Cotes du Rhone, Cotes du Rhone-Villages, and Gigondas. The mistral winds can affect both areas. There is Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the south as well, of course, whose characteristics stony soils, made up of rocks known as galets, remain etched into the memory of anyone who has seen them.
Notably, the villages of the Cotes du Rhone-Villages appellation in the southern Rhone have stricter quality standard than the larger appellation, and produce wines from vineyards featuring a variety of soil types, microclimates, and grapes for red, rose, and white. Village appellations include Valreas, Suze-la-Rousse, Plan de Dieu, Chusclan, and Rousset-les-Vignes.
One Villages appellation wine is the 2018 Tardieu-Laurent “Les Becs Fins” Cotes du Rhone Villages, which scored 91 points from Wine Enthusiast, a enticing blend of 60% Syrah and 40% Grenache. With hints of spice and smoke, this full-bodied red wine features flavors of mulberry and black cherry, showing off the dominance of Syrah. Other choices for sampling the variety of Rhone wines abound.
Among the more intriguing possibilities are a white wine that puts the typical white grape varietals on display: 60% Viognier, 15% Roussanne, 10% Marsanne, 8 % Clairette, 5% Bourboulenc, and 2% Grenache Blanc. The 2019 E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone Blanc is just $12.99 online wine at Bottle Barn. The dominant Viognier provides aromas of white flowers, acacia, and definitely peach. This elegant wine has balanced acidity and is perfect for drinking now. The use of wine grapes Roussanne, Clairette, and Bourboulenc makes this a clear-cut southern Rhone beauty.
Finally, not forgetting the most famous Rhone appellation, the 2019 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape will charm you. From a renowned producer, this 2019 wine is well balanced now, but can age for the medium to long term. Silky tannins compliment aromas of blue fruit, leather, violets, and a field of other wild flowers! This wine earned 96 points from Decanter and Wine Spectator!
Written By: Charlie Leary