Autumn reds for autumn foods – Rhone always delivers!

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.

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Next up: Rhone Tasting!

Our Bordeaux tasting/dinner at e2 (www.e2pgh.com) was certainly tasty and instructive – so we are moving forward to our next region where we will dive into some interesting wines of the Rhone region.   We will taste and discuss the wines as a group, and then finish with a dinner to see how they stand up (or change/improve) with food.   I am a huge fan of Rhone wines as I feel they offer great value for money and, even at the lower price points, a great deal of character and sense of place.  

An added dimension for this tasting is the inclusion of two currently unavailable vintages of Chateauneuf du Pape wines (2001 Marquis Anselme Mathieu and 2007 Chateau de Beaucastel), acquired through a friend who shares our interest in wine and was quite generous to help us include these fantastic wines in our tasting.

Seats are available for this Wed Oct 30 event at: http://www.off-the-grid.ws/2013/10/30/rhone/

France’s Rhone Region produces what many consider to be the most characterful, rustic and big wines in France.   Join us to taste two Rhone whites and three Rhone reds, including the historic and hard to find 2007 Vintage of Chateau de Beaucastel!!!   If you are interested in the flavors of the Rhone – you won’t want to miss this tasting/dinner.

We expect a fantastic dinner from our friends at e2 (probably something with Lamb this time) that will match wonderfully with the rustic Rhone wines.

Domaine de la Solitude, Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2012 – Southern Rhone White, exotic fruit flavors and clean finish.

J.L. Chave Sélection Saint-Joseph Blanc Céleste 2011  (90pts IWC) – Northern Rhone White from Roussanne and Marsanne grapes, rich and deep with long finish.

J.L. Chave Sélection Saint-Joseph Offerus 2010 (91pts IWC) – Syrah-based Northern Rhone Red, red fruit flavors, spicy and sleek.

Chateauneuf du Pape Marquis Anselme Mathieu 2001 – Fully mature example of Chateauneuf du Pape red, 90% Grenache grapes, blended with 10% traditional Southern Rhone grapes (13 varieties permitted).   This wine is light to medium bodied, with layered fruit flavors – not powerful at this point in its maturity, but pleasingly complex.

Chateauneuf du Pape Chateau de Beaucastel 2007 (96pts Robert Parker, 96pts Wine Spectator) – This is a serious and highly sought after wine, from one of the most successful vintages of the past two decades – Rich and complex with more Syrah content than most Chateauneuf du Pape reds this one shows flavors ranging from cedar to licorice to red fruits and floral notes – – tasting this will be interesting as it will be interesting to see how many of us agree with the critics!

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Wine events this week 21Mar11…

Kathryn Hall bottle signing – Tuesday 4-6pm East Side Wine & Spirits Store (Penn Circle South near Whole Foods)   If you are a fan of California Wines (I am) – here is an opportunity to meet Kathryn Hall, proprietor of Hall Wines (www.hallwines.com), who will be conducting a bottle signing & wine tasting at the Penn Circle Wine & Spirits store.  A limited number of HALL Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, which garnered #18 on the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2010, will be available for purchase ($39.99) and signing.   These wines are highly sought after – so this may be the only opportunity we have to get them AND meet the winery owner! 

Tuesday Tasting 530-730p Braddock’s (Renaissance downtown Pgh)   $5 per glass – incredible value! (look’em up if you want!)   White – Codorniu Brut NV (Spanish Sparkler we’ve tasted before and enjoyed!)   Red – Beringer, Knights Valley Cabernet from the stunning 2007 Vintage      (don’t forget to try the $7 Lobster Gnocci!)

Wednesday Stateline Fine Wine (Weirton WV) 7pm – The Rhone Report with Greg and Dave    –    Just a few months ago Kate and I and our friends Manny and Debra enjoyed a few days in France’s Rhone Valley…   But Dave DeSimone (the Trib Review Wine writer) was in the Rhone only a few weeks ago and he tasted a HUGE number of wines so that he could come back and let us in on the upcoming releases of Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, and more  – Plus, Greg Godels is Western PA’s legendary French wine importer who will share his vast knowledge as you taste and experience some fine Rhone Wines!    Incredible value at $15.00/person – please call or email to rsvp Martha Shaver, Proprietaire  Stateline Fine Wine wine@statelinefinewine.comcastbiz.net  Store phone number is: 1.304.723.45813520 Pennsylvania Avenue Weirton, WV 26062-4028  www.statelinefinewine.com

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT:   Squonk Opera “Mayhem and Majesty” Exclusive Preview Party Wednesday March 30 6-8pm.     If you haven’t already heard – there is an exclusive preview party for Squonk’s new show “Mayhem and Majesty” at the New Hazlett Theatre – – only a limited number of tickets will be sold to experience “Behind the Mayhem” including discussion with the musicians ON STAGE to see how everything happens then have a reception with the Squonk crew – VERY cool opportunity AND Kate and I donated wine for the event too (whole party is only $20 per person) – details and tickets available http://www.squonkopera.org/

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