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Monday, October 1, 2012

The Rhone’s Illustrious Grape Varieties

Northern Rhone  

While I love wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy, a Rhone just might be my first choice to accompany a special occasion meal.  One of my all time favorite wines to ever pass these lips was a La Turque by Guigal (I had it 12 years ago but can still recall that the earth moved under my feet.).   For the last few days, my husband and I have been in the Rhone finalizing details for the 2013 harvest tour for Wine-Knows Travel.

The Rhone Valley is France’s 3rd largest wine district (only the Languedoc-Rousillon and Bordeaux produce more wine).  The district is so large and diverse that it is divided into two separate regions.  The Northern Rhone is home to the world-class Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie wines (of which La Turque is one).  The Southern part includes the equally renown Chateauneuf-du-Pape vineyards. 

There are many grape varietals allowed by law in the Rhone, but three stand-out as the “holy trinity” of the Rhone’s reds:  Syrah, Greanache & Mouvedre.  Syrah is the grape with the greatest potential for quality in the Northern Rhone…most of its pinnacle wines (are crafted from Syrah as a single varietal wine, or from a blend in which a considerable percentage is Syrah (La Turque is >90% Syrah).  Grenache, more popular in the Southern Rhone due to its need for warm weather, is often blended with other grapes.  Mouvedre (frequently referred to as Mataro in the US), likewise, is often used for blending.  The grape, however, becomes perfection as a single varietal in the wines of Bandol (located in the southern-most Rhone on the Mediterranean Sea).  Other important reds grown in the Rhone include Cinsault and Carignan.  Both of these grapes are typically used in blends rather than single varietals

The Rhone isn’t just about reds…one of my favorite white varietals is Viognier.  This wine is luscious with seductive aromatics of white flowers, stone fruits and honey.  Roussane, an indigenous grape, is another personal fave.  In the Northern Rhone, Roussane reaches rock-star status.  Marsanne, which also originated in the Rhone, is often combined with Roussane for more complexity.  Clairette, a sun loving grape that is grown in the southern part, is also made into sparkling wine.  Muscat, which is similarly added to sparkling blends, is additionally vinified into a well known dessert wine, Beaume de Venise.

Provence, our home base on this trip as well as next year’s harvest tour, is located in the Southern Rhone.   This area of the wine district is a jewel-box filled with colorful outdoor markets and some of France’s best olive oil, hence, Provence is an added bonus for the gourmet traveler.   On the other hand, the region’s wines are so spectacular that one doesn’t hardly needs any additional reasons to visit the Rhone.

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