There’s no place like Rhone

Scott Greenberg, special to

Many wine regions that have their own distinctive personalities.

Napa drips with big, rich cabernet sauvignon. Burgundy seduces with its pinot noirs. Tuscan wines demand cuisine. And Rhone wines wrap you in a warm blanket.

The Côtes du Rhône region is located in the Southern part of France and is actually two distinct vinicultural areas; the Northern Rhône Valley and the Southern Rhône Valley.

The most famous vineyards, Côte Rôtie and Hermitage, are located in the northern end of the Valley, where the hearty syrah grape grows on steep, sun-drenched slopes and accounts for the majority of the wine production from this area.

The southern half of the valley has a distinctive Mediterranean influence and is home to the famous Châteauneuf du Pape appellation where red wines are blended from a variety of grapes, including granache, mourvèdre, cinsault and carignan, to name a few. In addition, aromatic white wine varietals, such as viognier, marsanne, roussanne, bourboulenc and grenache white are grown throughout the region.

The different soil combinations provide each grape varietal with its own specific characteristics and provide winemakers with a veritable spice cabinet from which to create well-balanced, finely tuned wines. For example, grenache adds red fruits and warmth. Syrah contributes dark fruits and body. And mourvèdre provides structure and tannins for aging.

A classic example of a white Rhône varietal blend is the 2010 Gonnet Cotes du Rhône Blanc. According to the winemaker’s website, “The Gonnet family employs strict biodynamic and organic practices in their viticulture… absolutely no chemical fertilizers have been used.” And, no oak either. This wine has been vinified in “neutral” oak barrels, which allows the pure flavors of apricot, peach and orange peel to shine all the way through, from start to finish. The bright acidity keeps the wine fresh and clean. $12

The 2007 Santa Duc Vieilles Vignes is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre that hails from four villages in the Northern Rhône Valley that neighbor the region of Gigondas and delivers a lot of wine for the money. The average vine age is over 40 years old and the mature fruit produces a wine full of ripe raspberry and black cherry flavors on a dense, medium-bodied frame. It has nice balance and a long spice-laden finish. $13

The Vacqueyras appellation is located next door to Châteauneuf du Pape and is known for value-oriented hearty red blends. The 2009 Arnoux Père & Fils is chocked full of fruit, including blueberry, black cherries and red currants. There is the slightest hint of cedar on the back end of the rustic finish. $18

One of the most prominent producers in the Northern Rhône region is the Chave family, and their 2007 Jean-Louis Chave Crozes-Hermitage is one of the best values in red Rhône wines. It features a distinctive bouquet of candied cherries and dark plum on the nose, leading to flavors of ripe cherry and blueberry on the tongue. Hints of tobacco and cedar buoy the medium-bodied finish. $20

Of course, no review of Rhône wines would be complete without mentioning at least one from the Châteauneuf du Pape appellation, and the 2009 Pere Caboche Châteauneuf du Pape is a solid value worth considering. This multi-varietal blend is supple and rich, with scents of berry fruit and cedar on the nose. Luscious flavors of black cherry, tobacco and Asian spices glide over the tongue on their way to a smooth, smokey finish. $25

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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