About this Blog

The blog focuses on the essence of wine and food, not how many points or stars it receives. The opinions are mine and should be taken only as that, an opinion not gospel.

Like many collectors, initially I was very much influenced by wine ratings. I purchased wines based on points, even if I had never tasted the wine. And it was much worse than that. I would drink a wine with a high rating, not like it, yet since it was highly rated I’d rationalize that I did not yet appreciate the wine, or that my palate was not sophisticated enough to understand the wine. How’s that for lunacy? As a result my cellar grew in all directions while my palate narrowed. By the time I realized the style of wine that I enjoyed, my cellar abounded with wines whose styles I did not enjoy. All of these wines were very highly rated, just not my cup of tea, or glass of wine to be more accurate. Fortunately I was able to sell many of these wines to those who either enjoyed them or wanted highly rated wines. Don’t misunderstand, I am not against wines with high ratings, in fact I own many. It is just that I now purchase wines based on the producer, the style and my palate, not the rating. Nor do I shun reading reviews. I very much respect Antonio Galloni, Alan Meadows, Eric Asimov and John Gilman and read their reviews routinely. I pay attention to what they write, not the points they award.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Red Wines of Southern France

Our monthly wine group was treated this month to five different and very nice red wines from three of the wine regions in the South of France.  I find the wines of this area, especially the reds, to be quite distinctive in character and marked by a peppery Mediterranean flair.  Marc selected the wines as well as The Pluckemin Inn to have the tasting at.  As I have praised the food at the Pluckemin in previous posts, I will focus this time on only the wines.  Suffice it to say that the food was excellent as always.  A search of my Blog will provide more info as well as photos of the food from previous posts.

The Rhone wine region is situated in the Rhone River Valley in Southern France.  It is further divided into two sub-regions, The Northern Rhone and Southern Rhone.  The Northern Rhone Valley is known for red wines primarily made from the Syrah grape.   French wine law does allow for up to 20% of white wine grapes such as Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne to be added. Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Cote-Rotie, Cornas and Saint Joseph are the appellations of Northern Rhode red wines.

The Southern Rhone Valley is principally known for its Châteauneuf du Pape.  While thirteen grapes, eight red and five white, are allowed by law to be blended when making the wine, Grenache and Mourvedre are the primary grapes used by many estates.  Other appellations of note are Côtes du Rhône, Gigondas and Vacqueyras.

Below the Southern Rhone Valley, at the most Southern tip of France is the Languedoc-Roussillon region.  In addition to the traditional Rhône grapes of Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah, and Viognier international varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are grown here.

Southern Rhone

2009 Chapoutier Chateauneuf du Pape la Bernardine.  Made from 100% Grenache this was decidedly the most modern styled wine of the evening.  I found the fruit to be a bit muted and a bit light on the palate compared to the others, but a good wine for the price.  $50.  Wine-Searcher.  

In the opinion of many, myself included, Chateau Rayas is the iconic producer of wine in the Southern Rhone. The estate is but ten-hectares, and is located in the heart of the woods where the vines are planted in a very poor, sandy soil that produces wines with great finesse.   The wines from the estate are among the most sought after wines from the region, if not the entire world. They are highly allocated and thus not easy to come by.   The estate, today run by Jacques Reynaud’s nephew, Emmanuel, also owns Chateau Fonsalette, which is located just outside Châteauneuf-du-Pape, near the village of Lagarde-Paréol in the Côtes-du-Rhône appellation.  

The estate produces three wines, a Blanc, a Rouge and a 100% Syrah, all of which are superb. Marc brought along a 2004 Chateau Rayas Fonsalette Cotes du Rhone Reserve.  While some might consider this a “second” wine to Rayas CdP or Pignan CdP, I do not.  In my opinion this is simply the finest example of a Cotes du Rhone red I have ever tasted.  What a soulful wine it was.  A blend of 50% Grenache, 35% Cinsault, and 15% Syrah the wine had a magnificent earthy and herbal bouquet with vibrant fresh fruit and a peppery backend.  The wine was completely round and delicious and at $55 (about 1/4th the price of Rayas and ½ the price of Pignan) it's a sensational bargain.  Wine-Searcher.

2005 Chateau Rayas Pignan Chateauneuf du Pape.  The grapes for the CdP wines at Rayas come from their three vineyards, Le Couchant, Le Levant and Le Coeur. Like his magnificant Chateau Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Riserve, the wine is made from 100% Grenache.  Rayas chooses to harvest late so that he has ripe fruit for his wines.  It is a philosophy that produces completely round and delicious wines.   The bouquet from tonight’s wine exploded from the glass and on the palate was full-bodied with great balance, ripe fruit and soft tannins.  The wine was stunningly delicious and elegant with a 45+ second finish.  $115.  Wine-Searcher.

Northern Rhone

1999 Francois Villard Cote Rotie la Brocarde.   This Syrah based wine includes 10% Viognier from Cote Brune in the blend.  The wine is aged in 80% new oak for 18 months before being bottled without filtration.  The oak was very well integrated, as I would have guessed for a 15 year old wine.  I found it to be medium-bodied, with a pleasant palate and decent finish, but not worth today’s price of $106.  Wine-Searcher.


1998 Domaine de la Grange des Peres VDP de l’Herault. The wines of Laurent Vaillé have achieved cult wine status. Having spent his early career training under such masters as Jean-François Coche-Dury (Meursault), Gérard Chave (Hermitage), and Eloi Durrbach (Domaine Trévallon, Provence), he settled in the l’Hérault of the Languedoc and purchased his own land in 1989.  

The wine we drank tonight was a blend of 40% Syrah, 40% Mourvèdre, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cunoise.  The grapes are harvested and vinified separately and then aged in 228-L barrels separately before Vaillé decides at a later date in what proportions to blend them. Tonight’s wine had a dark red hue and intoxicating earthy bouquet.  The palate was balanced, full-bodied with hints of pepper and herbs and soft tannins that made for a nice finish. $200.  Wine-Searcher.

I believe that the consensus of opinion was that the Rayas wines tonight were the hit of a very, very good tasting.  Thanks for a great selection Marc.


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