The Rhone Valley gets its name from the Rhone River, which runs south from Lyon to the Mediterranean. The region has been creating robust reds with rich, earthy flavor for centuries. The more expensive wines usually come from the north and the better-known, affordable wines from the south (plus the schmancy Chateauneuf-du-Pape). Like most French wines, Rhones are inscrutably labeled for their region or domain. Assume the primary red grapes are syrah, grenache, and mourvedre. Some villages produce very specific varietals (Saint Joseph, Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, and Cote Rotie are entirely syrah) while others are known for complex blends, labeled “Cotes du Rhone.”
This month’s selections are available at Dolce Vita Wine, Hwy. 101 at U.S. 212, Chaska, 952-361-0044
Cellier des Dauphins Cotes du Rhone Rose 2005, $7.95
With a beautiful deep-pink color and a bright strawberry/vanilla nose—this blend of grenache, cinsault, and syrah is fruity, but not sweet, with a cranberry tartness on the finish. It is delicious on its own or with an Easter ham or turkey.
Chateau Beauchene Cotes du Rhone 2003, $13.95
This blend of syrah, mourvedre, and grenache offers dark cherry fruit with a touch of nutmeg spice. It’s balanced, easy drinking—mellow and deep, but not big or overpowering. It goes well with pheasant or a good cheese.
Alain Paret 420 Nuits, Saint Joseph 2003, $34.95
This is not your typical California or Australian syrah. The wine has big, robust fruit and is complex, deep, and peppery. And, considering it is grown across the river from the pricey Hermitage, you get a lot of wine for the price, but will be left wanting more. Pair it with the venison you’ve been saving in the freezer.
Benjamin Brunel Cotes du Rhone Villages 2000, $21.95
“Villages” is a step up in quality from plain Cotes du Rhone, and it is worth the effort. The rich fruit and earthy spice balance nicely in this syrah-grenache blend. It holds up to grilled meats and roasts and is the perfect companion for beef stew.
Chante Cigale Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2001, $39.95
Big, big, big! Papes can be made from up to thirteen grapes—mostly grenache and syrah. The domain is more important than the blend anyway. These wines are about soil and centuries of tradition. This one is deep and keeps changing with every taste: from vanilla and chocolate to spice and cedar. A real treat even for monster Napa cabernet lovers. Think out of your box.
Bill Coy runs Vintage U, which organizes wine tastings, classes, and events for corporate groups, wine enthusiasts, and the general public. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.