Thursday, April 3, 2014

Rhône Reds

By Liza B Zimmerman

I cannot think of a better pairing for most fatty meat dishes or a more welcoming red to sip by the fire than a Rhône red. From the intensity of Cornas and the lush balance of Gigondas to the super values of the Côtes-du-Rhône in the South, I adore their tannic, spicy and peppery intensity. Every time a restaurant serves me a fatty duck or fruit-influenced venison dish and doesn’t pair it with a rustic Rhône red my disappointment is almost palatable.

I was first introduced to the value side of the Rhône Valley with Jaboulet’s Parallèle 45. It was the affordable red of choice at one of my favorite Syrian restaurant in the Village that no longer exists. Even if they have taken my Kibbe away, I can still enjoy these fruit-packed reds at home or on a picnic. M. Chapoutier's Côtes-du-Rhône Belleruche is also a delicious bargain. Both these corporate Rhône-producing kingpins have the size and scale to make great wines at superb prices.

The High End of the Region
On visit to Jean-Luc Colombo’s vineyards in Cornas on a miserable rainy day more than a decade ago, I came to understand why the great reds of this region come in at big-ticket prices. As Mr. Colombo himself stood out on a wind-whipped vineyard and showed how small the parcels of land can be in Cornas and how little they can yield—in the wrong harvest—I truly understood why these wines command such hefty prices. I still have a lot of affection and respect for Colombo’s wines, although some might consider them too modern.

If price weren’t an object I would probably drink a lot of Yves Cuilleron’s wines from Cornas and Côte-Rôtie. They also make wine in Saint-Joseph, an appellation that is often too tight and dusty for me. Come summertime I would pour endless rivers of Tavel rosé, made mostly from Grenache grapes, at lunch and as an excuse to have a bite or a glass on someone’s balcony or up in wine country.

Party Games and More
Let’s not forget what a stellar job many California producers, particularly in and around Paso Robles, are doing with Rhône-grape based wines. Tablas Creek’s Côtes de Tablas and Esprit de Tablas have long been favorites. L’Aventure’s Optimus is a lush blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvginon and Petit Verdot. Owner Stephan Asseo is quite a character and tells great stories of how he ended up in Paso Robles, when he couldn’t afford to buy land in Napa, and did enough experimentation with local soils before he spoke a word of English to keep the realtors amused.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is one of the Rhône’s greatest appellations and it is challenge for even the biggestwine geeks to remember all the 13 grape varieties that are allowed to be used in the blend. When I was studying for the WSET Diploma—the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine—which I proudly completed more than a decade ago, we were afraid of being asked to name them on an exam. Playing, “Who can name all the 13 varieties in Châteuneuf-du-Pape?”  is also a great party game to indulge in if you run in wine-geeky circles.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

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