How well do you know world history? How well do you know history of the Christian tradition? How well do you know the history of wine? Why am I asking you these questions? Because historically there is no separation of church and wine. We know that the first vineyards predate Christian history by hundreds of years. In fact, the first Biblical reference to wine comes in the Book of Genesis; thus wine has existed from the beginning. We know the Greeks were excellent viticulturists and the consumption of wine thrived long before Christianity. However, many of the vineyards planted throughout the world, old and new, were planted by monks as a source of sacramental wine. Furthermore, Emperor Charlemagne, his soldiers and Roman soldiers also enjoyed the consumption of wine. In fact it was the Roman soldiers, who used the Rhône Valley as their highway through France, who were largely responsible for the history of the vineyards in the Rhône Valley. Once Pope Clement V moved the papacy to Avignon (Châteauneuf-du-Pape, today the most famous AOC in the Rhône Valley) in 1305, where it remained for over 100 years, wine production dramatically increased and the Rhône Valley was forever poised among the top wine producing regions in the world.
This month’s French Winophiles are exploring wines of the Rhône Valley. I was blessed to attend a lunch as well as an educational seminar sponsored by Rhône Valley Wines at this year’s Texas Sommelier Conference (TexSom). Not only did I taste 9 wonderful Rhônes at lunch but an additional 10 Rhônes at the seminar. Furthermore, Rhône Valley Wines provided useful information on the region. I will share with you today the information that is relevant to the two wines I selected for this article.
Key Facts regarding Rhône Valley wines:
- 390 million bottles of Rhône Valley AOC wines are sold around the world in 2012-13
- Every 12 seconds a bottle of Rhône Valley AOC wine is enjoyed somewhere in the world
- The US is the number one export market for Rhône Valley AOC wines
- The Rhône Valley is France’s second largest quality wine producing region; with 80% of its production being red wine
- 95% of total production of the Rhône Valley is made in Southern Rhône. These are primarily red wines crafted from Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre (known as GSM).
Major grapes of the Rhône Valley:
- Red: Syrah, Grenache, Mouvedre, Carignan, Cinsault and at least 8 minor varietals
- White: Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, and at least 4 minor varietals.
Côtes du Rhône simply means “hillside of the Rhône.” It can be made anywhere in Rhône Valley, as long as it meets the appellation standards, but almost all of it is made in the southern region. And although there is white and rose, 80% of Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Villages is red.
As is the case with all French wine regions, the wines of the Rhône Valley are divided into levels:
- Côtes du Rhône AOC: Entry level classification, accounts for about 50% of all Rhône Valley wine production, most are red blends, known as easy drinking everyday wines that pair great with food
- Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC: one step up on the pyramid, a bit more complex, lower yields, good for aging
- Côtes du Rhône (named) Villages AOC: Only 18 villages are allowed to declare their name on the label, continued increase in quality and age ability
- The Crus: 18 distinct regions, 8 in the northern Rhône Valley, 10 in the southern Rhône Valley, these regions produce the highest quality wines that express their unique and individual terroir, they only produce 20% of the Rhône Valley wine production, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the most famous of these regions
In preparation for this article I decided not to feature wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape (meaning “Pope’s new castle’) even though wines produced in that region are among the best in the world and some of my favorites. Instead I wanted to feature value wines from Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Villages of Séguret to highlight not all wines from the Rhône Valley are expensive and that you don’t have to spend a lot on wines from this wonderful region to get high quality wines.
Guigal Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2013: This wine was crafted of 65% Viognier, 15% Roussanne, 10% Marsanne, 8 % Clairette, 2% Bourboulenc from 25 year old vines in soil comprised of sediment, limestone and granite. This mineral driven wine poured a soft yellow into the glass and offered inviting aromas of a bright bouquet of flowers with a basket of citrus, melons and honeysuckle. These aromas delivered on the palate in a mineral driven, creamy, smooth texture on the palate with fresh acidity and a dry, long finish. A beautiful example of Côtes du Rhône blanc. This wine is a perennial favorite among Rhône Valley wine lovers, receiving accolades and glowing reviews upon each vintage release. An outstanding value at $15.99 SRP.
“The history of the GUIGAL family reflects the glory of the wines of the Côte-Rôtie. Three generations working with land over 24 centuries old.”
From the Guigal web site: The Guigal Estate was founded in 1946 by Etienne Guigal in Ampuis, a small ancient village and cradle of the Côte-Rôtie appellation. It shelters a unique vineyard where the vines and the wines have been famous for 2,400 years. Arriving in 1924 at 14 years old, the founder vinfied 67 harvests in Côte-Rôtie and, at the beginning of his career, took part in the development of Vidal-Fleury establishment. The Château d’Ampuis has become the headquarters of the Guigal Estate whilst the offices and the cellars remain in the ancient small village of Ampuis. We are not very far from the first few square metres of the small cellar where Etienne Guigal first laboured, but today there are 3 hectares of cellars and galleries which house barrels, tanks and vats. The history and the soul of the Guigal family are clearly present in these cellars which discretely house the most exceptional wines.
Domaine de Mourchon Côtes du Rhône Villages Séguret 2012: This wine was crafted of 65% Grenache, 25% Syrah, and 10% Carignan from 40 year old vines in soil comprised of clay, limestone and grey sandstone on steep slopes. This fresh and savory wine poured a deep ruby with maroon highlights into the glass. Fierce black berries, black cherries, red raspberries and plums are beautifully married with savory herbal notes, violets, spice box, graphite and a touch of dry dirt filled the nose and danced across the palate in a layered and fresh wine. Round acidity and integrated tannins create a full mouth-feel that lingers on the palate in a pleasingly long finish. Superb and another perennial favorite among Rhône Valley wines receiving awards and accolade each year upon release; the 2012 vintage was awarded Gold in the Decanter World Wine Awards. This wine was an outstanding value that delivers well beyond its $22.00 SRP.
From the Domaine de Mourchon web site: We established Domaine de Mourchon in 1998 with the purchase of 17 hectares of existing vines. Until that point the fruit from these vines had been vinified at the local co-operative and so it was necessary to both build a winery and create a brand at the same time. We were convinced by the outstanding ‘terroir’ and the quality of the vines (average age 55 years) and commissioned the building of a state-of-the art gravity-flow winery, which was completed just in time for the 1999 harvest. Joined in 2000 by winemaker Sebastien Magnouac, Mourchon soon began to make a name for itself and in 2003 a further 7 hectares of vines were purchased in order to supply an ever-increasing demand from both the international and domestic market.
I went round and round on what to pair with these wines. I was craving Cassoulet with Duck Confit but had no time for that so I improvised on a non-cassoulet dish with a French countryside comfort food feel. I heated EVOO and 1 TBS butter in my cast iron skillet on the stove, sprinkled salt and pepper on four boned, skinned chicken breasts and browned them, breast meat side down for several minutes. Then I flipped them and coated the breast meat side with Herbs de Provence and minced garlic, poured ½ cup of E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2013 and 1 TBS fresh lemon juice on the chicken, topped each breast with a pat of butter, covered and cooked in a 375 degree oven for 40 minutes. While chicken was cooking I drained and rinsed 2 cans of Northern Beans, heated in a saucepan with EVOO till warmed through, then added 1 diced clove of garlic, chopped fresh rosemary and thyme, and 1 TBS butter; I then mashed the beans till thick and creamy like mashed potatoes. To complete the meal I sliced an array of colorful fall carrots, topped them with EVOO, salt, pepper and freshly chopped thyme and roasted them for 20 minutes in a 375 degree oven with the chicken. The end results was a delicious meal that was easy, comforting and paired exceptionally well with BOTH wines! A true success!
Now let’s see what my fellow French Winophiles created for their Rhone Valley wine and food pairings:
Anna from Anna Dishes “Brown Butter Red Wine Filet with Mushrooms,Baby Potatoes & Asparagus”
Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Souk-Spiced Leg of Lamb with L’O de Joncier”
Cindy from Grape Experiences shares “Costières de Nîmes – The Rising Star of the Rhone”
Christy from Confessions of a Culinary Diva “Rhones Gone Wild”
David from Cooking Chat “Rustic Chicken Stew with Cotes du Rhone”
Jeff from foodwineclick shares “Roti de Cochon Tout Simplement et Hermitage”
Martin from Enofylz Wine Blog “A Taste of Gigondas and Vacqueyras”
Sarah from Curious Cuisiniere “French Onion Soup and Cotes du Rhone Wine”
Wendy from A Day in the Life of a Farm “Braised Chicken with a Dual Pairing from Cotes du Rhone”
Please join the #Winophiles Rhône Valley conversation on Twitter this morning at 10am CST. And join us again in November as we explore the beauty of Bordeaux!
I am currently on vacation with my husband in Italy and will not be able to properly promote this article. Will you please help me spread the Rhône Valley love by sharing the article on any and all social media platforms? Thank you for your assistance and continued support!
My Song Selection: These two wines were fresh, crisp and full of flavor. Two lovely wines representing an outstanding wine region. They tasted like this:
Get your own bottles of Rhône Valley wines and let me know what song you pair with it. Cheers!