During the 2017 Wine Bloggers Conference, we were introduced to the wines of Cariñena, Spain. Predominantly Garnahca based wines, we were instantly in love. As we enjoyed the flavors of these wines, we began to yearn to explore other regions noted for their Garnacha wines. Perhaps the most famous of these regions is the Rhône Valley in France. There, as in most of the wine world, this fantastic and versatile red grape is known as Grenache.
The Rhône Valley is in the southeast of France. It is one of the oldest grape growing regions in the world, with viticulture documented as early as the 4th century B.C. The valley runs some 150 miles in a north-south direction, and as such, encompassess a wide variety of soil and growing conditions. The Rhône Valley can generally be divided into the Northern and the Southern. In the Northern Rhône, Syrah is king, with the wines generally dominated by this grape. Village (and wine) names such as Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu, Crozes-Hermitage, and Hermitage may be familiar to you, as these are some of the more famous Syrah regions in France.
In the Southern Rhône Valley, the wines are most often blends, with Grenache playing the lead role, usually supported by such cast of characters as Syrah and Mourvèdre. These wines are commonly known as GSM. In addition to reds, the Rhone Valley also produces some stunning white wines, from Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne grapes. While we’ve had Grenache and Viognier wines before, including GSM and Viognier from the Rhône Valley, we wanted to deliberately dive into some fine Southern Rhône Valley wines to explore and get to know the region as well as the wine.
The more well-known villages in the Southern Rhône are Côtes du Rhône, a rather generic term for wines from this area, Côtes du Rhône Villages – denoting a more specific identity of place and quality, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, and what is arguably the most famous and best quality Southern Rhône region, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. There are many other villages worth exploring, but we wanted to focus on the most famous and prolific for now.
The Southern Rhône is a Mediterranean climate, as one might expect in the South of France. Long, warm summers and mild winters provide ideal growing conditions for Grenache. In addition, the Mistral winds, blowing up to 60 miles per hour, some 150 days per year, provide cooling and drying to the tight, fungus-prone Grenache grape clusters. Hold on to your hat, to be sure, but appreciate those high winds for the effect they have on this cherished wine!
Before we dive into the wines, allow us to share another little tidbit from history. The famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape is roughly translated to “New Castle of the Pope.” In 14th century, the papacy moved from Rome to Avignon, a village along the Rhône River near the southern end of the valley. Apparently the Popes enjoyed the tranquility of French countryside! In 1317, Pope John XXII had a summer residence built at what is now Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Although construction was not completed until 1333, a year before Pope John XXII’s death, the name remains and the wines from this region remain coveted for their quality.
With our interest in Southern Rhône wines, we were pleased to receive the following bottles as media samples. Tasting through these wines, we were transported to the South of France in each glass. Though we have not yet been in person, the Rhône Valley is definitely high on our list of places to visit.
Now, on to the wines!
The wines below are media samples. All thoughts, opinions, and notes are our own. No other compensation was received.
Ogier Côtes du Rhône Artesis Blanc 2016
Golden color in the glass. Aromas of white flower, light straw, and tropical fruit. In the palate, there are flavors of lemon and grapefruit, with hints of mango, and soft floral and herbal notes rounding out the mouth. Soft, full mouthfeel with vibrant acidity. The finish is medium with pleasing notes of citrus, tropical fruit, and floral. Excellent pairing with grilled sea bass and rosemary quinoa.
Ogier Côtes du Rhône Artesis 2016
Deep, rich purple color. We decanted for about an hour before serving. On the nose, luscious aromas of blueberry, raspberry, and plum with spicy notes. On the palate, blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, and plum, with black pepper, baking spice, and vanilla. Notes of milk chocolate as the finish develops, ending with spicy black fruit. The mouthfeel and tannins are incredibly soft, round, and smooth, with medium acidity. We paired this with, of all things, carne asada tacos with a radish-cilantro salsa, and it was sublime. A truly amazing Côtes du Rhône.
Ogier Gigondas Dentellis 2014
Deep ruby color. Decanted for about an hour and pleasing aromas of raspberry, bramble, and black pepper. On the palate, there are flavors of cherry, red currant, cranberry, raspberry, and spice. At mid palate mineral and crushed granite notes emerge, along with hints of milk chocolate and black pepper. Medium body with mild tannins and acidity. We paired this with grilled Ahi tuna steaks, and the combination was amazing! The spice in the wine really enhanced the flavor of the tuna. This is a truly amazing wine!
Ogier Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reine Jeanne 2014
They call this the wine of kings, king of wines for a very good reason. Rich, complex, and delicious. Cherry red color with brick rim. Aromas of chocolate covered cherry, licorice, and smoke. On the palate there are flavors of black cherry, ripe raspberry, tobacco, licorice, cloves and other baking spice, and smoky notes. Tannins are firm but smooth, and ample acidity perfect for food pairing. We had this with grilled rib eye cooked medium rare, and it was heavenly perfection. Long, spicy finish with abundant red fruit and milk chocolate. Please may I have another?
As you can tell, we were very impressed with the wines of the Southern Rhône Valley. If you’d like to travel to the Rhône in a wine glass, head to your local wine shop and get yourself some of these amazing wines today!
- By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
- Photo Credits, unless otherwise noted: Kent Reynolds