Six of us wine-loving folk got together last Thursday evening to taste wines from France’s fabled Côtes du Rhône region.
I’ve always enjoyed a bottle of Côtes du Rhône when I’ve had one around, but I had not explored them very deeply. In my experience, they are light and refreshing – often too light for cool evenings, but perfect for warm summer nights.
A bottle of Côtes du Rhône red is most often produced from a combination of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvédre and even Cinsault grapes, with Grenache typically being the greatest component at 60-70% of the blend. I’m happiest when this blend is about 70/30 Grenache to Syrah, without too much Mourvédre-induced tannin. The result is typically fruity with a slight to moderate finish, possibly with a little spice on the palate; it is best when chilled lightly for warm weather tasting, and often meant to be drunk young.
We tasted our wines slightly chilled on a comfortable August evening lightly fanned by cooling and welcome breezes from the San Francisco Bay. We also enjoyed sourdough bread and slices of Emmenthaler and Morbier Au Lait Cru cheeses, as well as a divine fig chutney prepared by one of my guests, Chef Tanya, who also brought a fine truffle paté.
Of the six wines we compared, five were true Côtes Du Rhône reds, having been grown and produced in the great Rhône Valley. While none of us could boast a palate able to parcel out the proportions of Grenache, Syrah, etc., that existed in these wines, I detected tannic notes in some that suggested more than a hint of Mourvédre – something I didn’t expect to overpower the Grenache as much as it did. The result influenced the group toward two clear favorites.
A sixth wine immediately turned out to be a rosé from the Rhône Valley. Sure, one early clue was the clear bottle it was presented in – despite bottle coverings – as opposed to the green tapered shoulders of the other five bottles. While it may have been an oversight on the part of the particular attendee who brought this wine, we all thought it was exceptional, having provided good contrast to the five Côtes du Rhône reds, and a great one to savor after scoring the other five. We did our best to score this one, too; however it didn’t make sense to compare it in the group ranking. While I have never been much of a rosé fan, I found myself exclaiming over the full-bodied strawberry/cherry flavors and consummate finish in this slightly-sweet 2005 Chateau Grande Cassagne Rosé from Costiere de Nimes, Saint-Gilles (13.5%).
The wines listed below are ranked top-down, most favorite to least favorite; each is followed by the wine’s heat, or alcohol content. In the left column is the actual group score for each wine using my handy-dandy Wine Scoring Sheet, which is based on the 20-point Davis scale. My personal ranking of each wine follows.
+4 2004 Domaines du Gour de Chaulé, Gigondas; 14.5%
+3 2003 Le Clos du Caillou, Domaine Vacheron-Pouizin; 14.5%
-2 2003 La Pialade, Châteauneuf du Pape; 13.5%
-2 2004 Domaines des Relagnes, Châteauneuf du Pape; 13%
-3 2003 Louis Bernard, Côtes du Rhône-Villages, Orange; 13.5%
17 pts. 2003 Le Clos du Caillou, Domaine Vacheron-Pouizin
15 pts. 2004 Domaines du Gour de Chaulé, Gigondas
12.5 pts. 2003 Louis Bernard, Côtes du Rhône-Villages, Orange
12 pts. 2004 Domaines des Relagnes, Châteauneuf du Pape
11 pts. 2003 La Pialade, Châteauneuf du Pape
17 pts. 2005 Chateau Grande Cassagne Rosé, Costiere de Nimes, Saint-Gilles
My picks were nominally consistent with the group’s. I like my Côtes du Rhônes fruity, non-tannic, and simple. Considering that my favorite, the Clos du Caillou, is rated elsewhere at 88 points on a 100-point scale – typical of the Wine Spectator scale and others, and translating to 17.5 on the Davis scale – well heck, I guess my interpretation ain’t so far off. I tried each of these wines the following day, too, right out of the icebox without benefit of warming to room temperature, and I still ranked them the same.