I am one of those wine people who believe the soils and growing conditions can greatly affect the resulting wine. Fortunately, the Old World countries such as France and Italy, have had decades, even in some cases centuries to discover where the truly special vineyards are. In many of these cases the wine is then named after the place, rather than the grape variety.
To better illustrate what can be, let’s, for instance, take a look at the Grenache red grape variety.
While there may be some real standouts made exclusively from Grenache, this grape variety has really made quite the niche for itself when blended with other grape varieties such as Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault, just to name three.
In France’s southern Rhone Valley, many top echelon wineries have created quite the reputation and legacy through their blends of these grape varieties grown in their estate vineyards. Each vineyard offers different soils and growing conditions, which along with the skill of the winemaker, in my opinion result in a VERY different kind of wine!
Here are some which have stood out for me over the years.
2014 Catherine Le Goeuil Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne–The hilltop village of Cairanne in France’s southern Rhone Valley is little known outside of the country. Locally, it is generally considered the home of some of the finest Grenache based red wines among the 17 legally recognized Côtes du Rhône Villages. It is also the home to wine wonder woman, Catherine Le Goeuil, who is and has been one of the champions of the organic and biodynamic farming in all of France for quite some time. Her wines are rustic and earthy yet so charming and wonderfully delicious. I recommend you serve it slightly chilled for afternoon sipping, outdoor barbecues or just to wet the whistle. What a great value!
2012 Domaine Gallety “Côtes du Vivarais”–The Côtes du Vivarais runs along the western flank of the northern part of France’s southern Rhone Valley. I only became acquainted with this newer wine appellation in roughly 2007 upon a visit. I was so mesmerized by their tasty, interesting and unique red wine, we special ordered some for our VINO restaurant. This bottling is 50% 50 to 60 year old vine Grenache and 50% 25 to 30 year old vine Syrah grown in a very different mix of soils. A warmer, somewhat semiarid kind of spot, as the you will see in the picture. We were so taken by this wine’s transparency, refinement, class, texture and balance. I am so surprised this wine hasn’t really yet been discovered, so I suggest you take advantage of the fabulous pricing it still has, especially considering the superb quality in the bottle.
2014 Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras–The village of Vacqueyras is yet another small, relatively low keyed discovery. When I first visited, in 1991, I was taken back how many soils types I would see there during a 15 minute drive. We enjoyed a filling lunch at a café before heading to meet owner/winemaker Serge Férigoule. It was to be an introduction to a man, his vineyard and wine I will remember forever. To this day, it is one of my favorites. His vineyards are located on the Plateau des Garrigues, an elevated mishmash of rocks, rounded river stones, red clay and limestone, which gives this wine its strong, masculine, wildly rustic core, depth and soulfulness. Typically, the blend is mostly Grenache with a slug of Syrah and small tidbits of Mourvedre and Cinsault. This wine was also the partner of one of my all time food and wine pairings—Fire Roasted Ribeye Steak with a bay leaf chimichurri.
2014 Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape “La Crau”–Undoubtedly, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, is historically, the most famous wine appellation in France’s southern Rhone Valley. It is also home to one of the world’s most famous red wines, which over the past 20 years, have been getting lots of press and high scores, which will, at least, explain some the much higher prices. Like all areas, the are many nooks and crannies with different characteristics. (Think about how different Nanakuli and Manoa are on O’ahu). One of the most special and celebrated vineyards parcels of the appellation I have run across is La Crau, which is what I would characterize as a mound of rounded river stones (galets roulés) pushed together by ancient glaciers. This gathering of stones with other earthen soils, minerals and the old vines of mainly Grenache and Syrah, can create a VERY different kind of wine—majestic in a very masculine manner, with a very earthen, rustic core and the ability to age into something utterly magical down the road when cellared properly. Yes, $90 is pricey, but when one compares what you can get from Bordeaux, Napa Valley or Burgundy, this really is a deal.