The big star of the Southern Rhone is Chateauneuf-du-Pape. It is the place that should be on everyone’s bucket list, the place where you want your ashes scattered, and easily the place where you could get lost and never even care. However, before I get carried away, I must make mention of the fact that there other important appellations in the Southern Rhone area. They are Vacqueyras, Gigondas, Tavel, Lirac, Cotes du Rhone-Villages, and Cotes du Rhone.
I am looking at my map from my last trip to the Rhone. The northern Rhone does not end and the Southern Rhone immediately begin. There is a 50 mile stretch from St Peray in the North and City du Tricastin in the South along the Rhone River where not much is going on in the world of wine. At Tricastin starts the Southern Rhone region. It carries all the way south and enters seamlessly into Provence.
Now, let’s go shopping. For us here in the Lowcountry we should have no problem obtaining most of the wines from The Southern Rhone. The first would be a Rose from Tavel, and I yield to Karen MacNeil where she describes the Rose as difficult but doable to blend. Usually, the Rose Wine is a result of blending whole red and white grapes together. The weight of the grapes on top begins to crush the grapes below. The pink color comes as the juice sits in contact with the red skins. What the winemaker is looking for here is a wine that possesses freshness and a bright color. This is a wine that should be drunk young and chilled. It will match well with Mediterranean foods. A good Rose to try is Chateau d’Aqueria.
Our next wine is Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Grapes from this area are grown in vineyards that are completely covered with smooth, rolled stones. The stones are a leftover from the glaciers, however there is a benefit to letting them stay. Although the stones make the earth very difficult to work, and tending the vineyards is a slow process, the stones retain heat thus hastening the ripening process. At the same time, the stones protect the soil by blocking the soil from the excessive heat of the area and keeping the moisture soil bound.
Chateauneuf-du-Pape is also unique in that there are 14 grapes from the area that are available for blending. Of the 14 there are four red varietals that are primary. They are Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Cincault. Beyond these varietals there are four additional reds and six whites. Here the blending is left to the imagination of each winemaker. Evidently talent for winemaking in Chateauneuf-du-Pape is superior as the area has enjoyed uninterrupted popularity for 50+ years. There are approximately 75 producers in the area and no less than 18 are considered superior producers of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Are the wines expensive? Yes and no!! It requires shopping. However our area is good as far as representation of superior blends and those at a lower price point. Remember, a lower price does not mean lesser quality. My all-time favorite is Domaine de la Janasse.
The next wine to highlight is Vacqueyras. I mention this wine because it is available in the Lowcountry in the $16-$21 range. Vacqueyras came into its own in 1990 when it was awarded its own appellation. Prior to this it carried a “Cotes du Rhone Village” wine status. Vacqueyras is essentially a red wine district that produces one of the great “wine Values” of the Southern Rhone. Granache is the primary grape used. The result is rich, warm and full-bodied wines. Good distribution and competitive pricing for us in the Lowcountry, this wine is best drunk in the three to six year age group.
I am compelled to stop here as I must pass on to all readers of the Lowcountry Weekly an announcement of an important event to be held on Monday, November 5 at Breakwater Restaurant. It is called DIVINO DIVINE HOLIDAY WINE EXTRAVAGANZA in support of the DragonBoat Beaufort cancer survivor missions. This will be a wine tasting event of approximately 40 wines with an international theme. The wines as of this printing have yet to be announced however I am informed that the quality will be there with reds, whites, and sparkling wines available.
The following was passed on to me as description of what DragonBoat is. “Beyond survival, an ancient Chinese Sport catapults an unlikely crew of cancer survivors into a new way of being. Redefining the word ‘sick’ and reframing the meaning of their diagnosis, these fractured individuals transform into a single force of power and beauty.”
Tickets for this event are $15 in advance or $20 at the door. Advance tickets may be purchased at Breakwater or the Cuthbert House Inn. Again, this promises to be a first-rate event. Breakwater has yet to disappoint.
Cheers! Hope to see you at the DragonBoat event.