In the world of bold red wines there are many options from which to choose. From Barolo to Bordeaux and to fruit-forward New World Cabernet Sauvignon the list of options seems to be as endless as the rows of wines on the shelf at your local supermarket. One of my favorites, however, comes from the southern regions in France from the southern Rhone Valley, where the hot Mediterranean meets the Rhone River and produces complex and memorable wines you are sure to love.
The Rhone Valley is split into north and south with several distinct differences as you make your way toward the Mediterranean. Not only does the climate warm dramatically as you make your way to the coast, the soil composition changes from granite and slate in the north to a blend of clay, sandy limestone and large gravel in the south. You will also notice the primary grapes produced changes as you venture from the northern Rhone wine regions to the southern ones. In these, one of the oldest wine-making regions in France, Grenache and Syrah are the primary grapes used, with Syrah most widely produced in the north, and Grenache in the south, often blended with Mourvedre and Cinsault to add complexity and roundness of flavors. The regions of the north are split into seven primary regions:
In the south, the appellations are broken into nine primary regions of production including the areas around Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Tavel, Lirac, Rasteau, Cairanne, Vinsobres and Beaumes-de-Venise. In these areas of the south, a trip through the countryside is dotted by picturesque fields of lavender and groves of olive trees, and punctuated with vineyards.
While the hot and sunny weather found in the area wouldn’t otherwise be indicative of grape cultivation, the region benefits from “le mistral,” cold, gusty winds traveling down the Rhone River from the Alps to cool the region during the growing season, steadying the ripening process, and reducing humidity and likelihood of mold.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is cultivated on vineyards totaling just over 8,000 acres. Large for the area but four times smaller than Napa Valley. Located about 15 minutes from the historic city of Avignon, the walled city was the papal residency during the 14th century before Pope Clement V relocating to Vatican City, in Rome. The name Châteauneuf-du-Pape literally translates as “new home of the pope."
Produced for such prestigious courts, one would expect the wines to be none other than prestigious as well. Thirteen grapes are permitted in the production of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines, and the result is a big, bold expression of southern French wine production. Earthy with a presence of dark fruit, leather and gamy, yet elegant, these wines age well and are an exciting treat to bring out for your guests with a fantastic meal.
- Terret Noir
The 2011 Château de Vaudieu Chateauneu-du-Pape (retail: $75, $50 for newer vintages) offers an experience one might expect from this region. The château was built in 1767 by the French lieutenant Admiral Gérin and is one of three original castles from the 18th century in the region. The vineyard site, a combination of terraces and hillsides, offers both exposure and protection from the le mistral winds, and has been producing grapes for over 250 years. This “sanctuary” has led to the ultimate naming of the Chateaux and comes from the French “Val de Dieu,” which translates Valley of God.
Passed down through generations of the Bréchet family and grown to 70 hectares, the vines are planted across 32 vineyard plots, and across these regions elements of sandy soils assist the grapes in offering ripe complexity, yet refined tannin structure, in the final product.
As this wine rests in your glass you’ll notice that it’s developed a beautiful garnet hue with a brown orange rim on the edge. Aromas of blackberry and plum are paired with dried flowers and licorice and accompanied by smells of wet earth and rich leather.
As you taste the wine, a beautiful assortment of flavors emerge as the wine opens. The flavors call out the aromas detected but also cherries, stewed dark fruits, tobacco and a mineral element of gravel. Elegant, yet very powerful, this wine is both high tannin as evidenced by the dryness on the palate and high in acidity to pack a serious punch. With a wine as bold as this, look for food pairings that match the intensity of the flavorful wine. Goat and sheep’s milk cheeses like Roquefort, and cured meats and olives are a great pairing to start your meal. With many of the ingredients in a meat and cheese board also offering a fat component is sure to be a welcomed match to the tannin structure in the wine. For the adventurous at meal time, this wine offers a great pairing to gamier additions at the table. Wild boar, lamb and venison, with rosemary, herbs and garlic offer the bold complexity this wine benefits, and the fatty nature of red meats helps to round the tannin structure in the wine, offering a refreshing sip in between bites. Also, try dishes that incorporate native herbs and spices. The blend of Syrah in this wine benefits from the addition of these spices in the dish and can be quite delicate and refined.
As we awaken from the winter slumber, reawaken your palate with one of my favorites wines, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Bold in flavor and offering complex flavors of dark fruits, leather and earth, these wines are great when aged and perfect for any cellar. Sure to quickly be one of your favorites and perfect for any dinner party, you will most certainly see me enjoying a few of these on my patio as we go forth into the season ahead.
Carson Bodnarek, a self-proclaimed “cork dork”, is a certificate recipient from the Court of Master Sommeliers, WSET Level II and is currently studying for his certified sommelier exam. Always on the hunt for his next great bottle of wine for his collection, he is an avid jetsetter and devout foodie. After moving to Quad-Cities from Iowa City in 2013, Carson now resides in Bettendorf.
Contact Carson Bodnarek at 563-383-2299 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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