As autumn begins to settle in, my thoughts, wine-wise tend to shift from the crisp refreshing white and rosé wines of summer towards warming juicy-fruited reds, these thoughts inevitably lead me to one of my favourite wine regions of all: The Rhône Valley.
The Rhône is one of the longest established regions for wine production in the world, so if you believe that “practice makes perfect”, these guys have been making delicious wines for centuries.
Although viticulture as we know it arrived in Southern France with the Greeks in the 4th century BC, it was the Romans who really established the vineyards and reputation of the area, using the Rhône as their highway through France (and planting a few vineyards along the way).
If we flash-forward a couple of thousand years and take a look at the wines produced in the Rhône today, it is definitely a game of two halves, if you will excuse the footballing cliché.
Starting in the Northern Rhône, Syrah is the star grape here, and in sites such as Côte Rotie, Hermitage, Cornas it accounts for some of the very finest wines produced anywhere in France, of course these wines fetch a pretty fine price too, so I have picked out below a couple of stunning Syrahs below which won’t break the bank.
With fruit sourced exclusively from vineyards in the northern Rhône valley, Nobles Rives Syrah from (€14.99) is one of the best cool-climate Syrahs I have tasted. Incredibly pure, fragrant, wild berry fruit, well-structured with every element working in harmony.
The Cave de Tain are one of France's best Cave Co-ops making great wines at all levels. Their textbook St. Joseph (€17.99 down from €22.49 until October 5th) has delicate aromas of dark berry fruits, with vanilla and light oaky notes. It is wonderfully rich on the palate with a firm yet smooth tannic structure and a long finish with notes of fresh blackcurrant, violet and oriental spices.
In the Southern Rhône, Grenache is king and it is here that, perhaps the regions most renowned wine is produced, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Thankfully the Châteauneuf-lookalikes below come in at a fraction of the price commanded by Châteauneuf itself.
Costières de Nîmes is an Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) for wines that are produced in the area surounding the ancient city of Nîmes. Formerly considered part of the Languedoc, it is now part of the Rhône wine area as the wines more closely resemble those of the Rhône valley in character than those of the Languedoc. Château de Nages is the top estate in the region and their Vieilles Vignes (€12.99 down from €18.49 until October 5th) is made from the estates oldest vines. Powerfully built but very much in balance, the fruit is exceptional and is lent a helping hand by subtle use of oak.
Côtes-du-Rhône AOC accounts for 50% of the valley’s production, Ortas Reserve (€9.99 down from €13.99 until October 5th) is an absolute classic Côtes-du-Rhône from a multi-award winning producer (Caves de Rasteau). Made in an upfront juicy style with lots of fruits of the forest, this wine is far better than any other Rhône available at this level.
Hopefully you will enjoy these wines as much as I have done, and remember, when the leaves begin to turn, there’s no place like Rhône!