As weather turns chilly and leaves turn colors, much of what we eat turns toward warm, savory autumn meals and wine-enthusiasts’ thoughts often turn to warm and approachable Rhone style red wines. Paired with hearty stews, and game night chili, the so-called “Rhone Varietals” are a solid red wine choice for the season’s cuisine. Indeed anyone who has enjoyed a slow-cooked cassoulet paired with a Chateaunuef du Pape knows how wonderful this seasonal dish can be!
Grapes used in France’s Southern Rhone, or Rhone Varietals as they are often called (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Carignan and several more which are produced in smaller quantities, 13 in total) are so-named because they are the primary components of the world famous wines of the Rhone Region. By contrast, the Northern Rhone wine region features red wines produced principally from the single varietal Syrah mostly, yielding completely different personality which warrants a separate discussion. Regarding the Southern Rhone, even if the grapes themselves are unfamiliar to many of us, many people have heard of wines from famous Southern Rhone sub-regions like Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas, not to mention the high-value and popular regional wines called “Cotes du Rhone”.
When blended, Southern Rhone grapes lend different character to their wines, Grenache brings spice and red berry fruit characteristics, Syrah contributes structure and smooth savory pepper and smoke qualities, while Mourvedre adds deep color and leathery dark fruit flavors. When combined into a blend – Rhone wines from different makers and regions can range from round, deep sophisticated classic Chateauneuf du Pape to herbal, raw-meat-game flavors of top Gigondas, to rustic, fruit driven and affordable regional wines called Cotes du Rhone.
In a restaurant setting, an easy technique to locate these wines is to keep it simple and remember three letters: G, S and M (for Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre). Many winemakers around the world use the acronym “GSM” when naming wines that contain Rhone varietals and blends of them. So with a quick reference to these three letters, or mention of Rhone Varietals, a knowledgeable restaurant sommelier will lead you to these wines. Important to remember, is that these varietals are used in blends and on their own, in wines all over the world. Differences between the old-world French and new-world versions fall along typical old/new-world lines with the French exhibiting slightly more herbal and complex savory fruit flavors while new-world versions are more dense and fruit driven. But all over the wine world, Rhone varietals are produced with great success – so one needn’t focus purely on actual French Rhone wines (although you wouldn’t be disappointed!).
Australia has a celebrated wine history driven in a large party by Rhone varietals (Syrah, or Shiraz as the Aussies call it, and many containing traditional GSM blends). South America and South Africa both are making waves for their Rhone varietal wines. And in California there is even a group of wine-makers called ‘the Rhone-Rangers’ because of their steadfast commitment to making top quality Rhone blends, and several actual French Rhone winemakers are producing wines in California. An added bonus: wines blended of these grapes from anywhere in the world are regularly food-friendly, so you cannot go wrong!
After some experimenting, you can identify different styles that appeal to you and can then seek them out in restaurants and at PLCB State Stores. Here are some I recommend:
Widely available Rhones/Rhone Styles at Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board Stores:
Cotes du Rhone – regional wine meant to be consumed within a few years of release, these are fruity approachable wines with rustic Rhone characteristics.
PLCB Code: 8132 E Guigal Red Wine Cotes du Rhone 2010 $14.99 Sale Price: $12.99
PLCB Code: 6794 Perrin et Fils Cotes du Rhone Villages $12.99 Sale Price: $11.99
PLCB Code: 6557 M Chapoutier Belleruche Rouge Cotes du Rhone $14.99
PLCB Code: 45213 JL Chave Mon Coeur Cotes du Rhone Rouge 2012 $21.99
Gigondas – meaty and rustic, often accessible when young, but can last many years.
PLCB Code: 33532 Domaine de la Tete Noir Gigondas 2012 $29.99
PLCB Code: 48191 Domaine du Cayron Gigondas 2011 $34.99
PLCB Code: 45033 Domaine du Cayron Gigondas 2012 $39.99
Chateauneuf du Pape – round, smooth and classic, Chateauneuf wines may last a long time, but don’t be afraid to try them when only a few years old.
PLCB Code: 7278 Domaine De Mont Redon Chateauneuf du Pape $41.99
PLCB Code: 6790 Clos de l’Oratoire Chateauneuf du Pape $44.99 Sale Price: $39.99
PLCB Code: 48462 Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf du Pape La Crau 2011 $84.99
New World – generally more fruit driven but highly satisfying
Australia: PLCB Code: 46194 D’Arenberg Stump Jump GSM 2011 $9.99
Australia: PLCB Code: 38883 Schild Estate Grenache Mourvedre Shiraz Barossa Valley 2012 $14.99
USA: PLCB Code: 45523 Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Rouge Paso Robles 2011 $17.99
Pittsburgh Restaurants (subject to change of course):
Open Bottle Bistro in Shadyside (5884 Ellsworth Avenue) serves the J.L. Chave Selections’ “Mon Coeur” Cotes du Rhone for $9 per glass, and will sell a recent vintage of Domaine de la Solitude Chateauneuf du Pape from the 500+ year old producer for $95 per bottle.
Dinette in Shadyside (5996 Centre Avenue) serves a Cotes du Rhone, Domaine du Joncier 2012, for $11 per glass and $42 per bottle.
Lawrenceville’s Allegheny Wine Mixer currently features a Rhone blend from Corbieres (Southern France) for $9 per glass and $36 per bottle. (Chateau Spencer La Pujade Corbieres – Carignan/ Mourvèdre/Syrah/Grenache – Languedoc, France 2012)
ROOT174 features Le Garrigon, Cotes du Rhone for $10 per glass
Downtown, The Carleton’s Wine List contains a Rhone section with 15 Rhone wines by the bottle, ranging in price from $32 to $220. This list also features several Australian GSM blends and another section dedicated to American Syrahs and Rhone-style blends.
Stagioni serves TWO Rhone blends by the bottle, one from Vacqueras (Domaine du Terme, Vacqueyras, Rhone, 2010 $50) and a Cotes du Rhone (J.L. Chave Selections’ “Mon Coeur” 2012)
Eleven features several Rhone wines in the bottle list, ranging from $45 to $210. None by the glass.
Legume features a French Rhone-blend (Corbieres) and an American (Qupe, Santa Ynez Valley), none by the glass.