French Wine My Way Part II

French Wine My Way Part II
Today, let’s  take three of my favorites poured in our last Wine Appreciation Class this November. They all have their own characters and they’re all great values. Santé! Variations on a Theme: Three Rhône Southern Valley Reds First, let’s look at a little basic history. In the dawn of the Roman Empire, the Rhône River was used to transport wine from Rome, to trade with local tribes. Throughout the 13th to 16th centuries, the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region in Avignon established a new credibility with the local Syrah grape variety, as the monasteries developed and improved the vineyards, creating major competition with Burgundy. Even Bordeaux wine merchants eventually jumped into the fray, recognizing the “miracle” varietal, and used Syrah to improve the quality of their Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends. It became the Wild, Wild Rhône until the government stepped in and defined the boundaries of the North and South Valleys, specified varietals grown, and laid out rules for Châteauneuf-du-Pape production, creating the first appellation contrôlée system that would eventually form the specific wine regions of France. The Rhône Valley became respected and successful. Robert Parker’s appreciation of Rhône wines gave them the prestige that had been reserved for the great Bordeaux reds. The Rhône Valley entered the 21st century in the catbird seat. Our first Rhône is a simple basic blend of unfiltered 70% Syrah and 30% Grenache from the Southern Valley, directly under the village of Bonnieux. This 2008 Chåteau La Canorgue Côtes du Lubéron is produced by Jean-Pierre and Martine Margan, who work sixty acres of terraced 30-year-old organic and biodynamic vineyards that have abundant water sources, truffle oak and cherry trees, surrounded by wild herbs.  This prestigious wine has become popular in Europe, thanks to Peter Mayle’s book, A Year in Provence, which is set in the area around the estate. Now on to what we are here for. Let’s get our nose and mouth into this wine. First give the glass a swirl and get some aeration, which is going to smooth out some of the acidity and alcohol. Take a generous mouthful and pull the air back over your tongue. Do you get a hint of thyme or rosemary or a bit of pepper and leather? How is the balance for you? I find the tannins are well balanced with just the right acidity. There is a strong mid-palate, no drop-off at the finish, and  a peppery reaction on the tongue. I get what the French call “garrigue”, a general sense of herbaceousness, but nothing specific. I am enjoying what I would call a subtle hint of dried dark cherry, but massive fruit flavor, which makes me think of how good this would be with “pastas, grilled lamb, hearty stews and just about anything that screams for a big, bold red wine with plenty of finesse,” as Michael Sullivan of Beaune Imports states on his website. Any grilled food would be in a happy marriage with this wine. Given the price of $18, I would say that this is a red wine that should be in everyone’s cellar, closet or kitchen wine rack as a staple. Our second Southern Rhône red is the 2008 Domaine de la Bastide Côtes du Rhône “Cuvée Les Figues” (roughly translated “The Fig Vintage”). This organically farmed blend is 60% Syrah, 20% Grenache and 20% Carignan and is also from the valley that stretches towards Provence. The vineyard is near Avignon, in a small village named Visan, where the Knights Templar developed wine growing within their “Enclave des Papes” of four enclosed villages. The Bastide was built on a Roman village, turned farm by the Templars until the French Revolution. Skilled winemakers Bernard and Nicole Boyer have over 500 years of family history in farming and winemaking. Their stony soil vineyards are uniquely historic and their family tradition is preserved and continued with great pride. A few words about Carignan: It is originally from Spain and its purpose is to give color, tannin and acidity in blends common to the Rhône, Provence and the Languedoc regions. The “Concours des Vins d’Orange 2010” awarded this wine their “Médaille d’Or”. Let’s find out why. First, check the aroma and the flavor for the “garrigue” that is supposed to give a hint of the Mediterranean. Or is the “garrigue” only in the taste? The importer Casa Viñedo claims that the nose shows an abundance of ripe berries, violets and a hint of anise. In the mouth, the flavor is dominated by red berries, with a little herbes de provence. You will find that this is a very deep, robust, red-berry-dominated wine in body and taste, and without aggressive chalky tannins. It has  a smooth acidity on the mid-palate, and a slight dried herb “awareness” on the very lengthy finish. Quelle Horreur, I missed the violets. But the good news is that this wine is a bargain at $18 and will be the wine of choice at any barbeque. Our third and final wine is a 2007 Domaine Richaud Cairanne Côtes du Rhône Villages, organically farmed and crafted by the talented hands of master vintner Marcel Richaud. His Southern Valley vineyards are located near the village of Cairanne, which almost touches Provence, and is bordered by the Ardèche to the West and Alpine foothills to the East. Richaud’s wines are a favorite of Paris bistros, including Willy’s Wine Bar, which receives special bottlings exclusive to the bar/restaurant. This exceptional vintage is a formidable blend of 38% Mourvèdre, 36% Grenache, 18% Syrah, and 8% Carignan. Michael Sullivan of Beaune Imports writes that Richaud “has coaxed the true essence out of both his terroir and his grapes in this truly exceptional vintage.” Let’s see. But first, a few words about the blending grape Mourvèdre:It is spicy and an integral part of a red Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This grape, cautiously blended by a talented winemaker, can…

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