Bill’s Best Bets – January 2017
Rhône it up this January
by Bill Zacharkiw
Feeling the chill of winter? While planting that butt on a sunny beach is a good way to combat the frosty temps, drinking some sunshine can help too. Lately, I have been on a bit of a Rhône kick. From Côte Rôtie, the most northern appellation, to the Costières de Nîmes in the south, there’s a big variation in style to keep one interested. If you want finesse, it’s there. If you want a red that’ll cuddle up nicely to a flavourful and spicy meat dish, well that’s there too.
There’s also everything from excellent, inexpensive bargains to wines that while costly, warrant the price.
So let’s start in the north. If you want to drink Northern Rhône, then be ready to pay. Aside from Crozes, bottle price is rarely under $25. This is syrah country. It’s the grape’s spiritual home and proof that syrah grown in a borderline cool-climate and granite soils can produce a wine that is full of torque yet with great natural acids. The tannins are fine like 220 GAR sandpaper. The florals are intoxicating.
There’s a definite pecking order within the appellations, and this is reflected in the price of the bottles. At the top is Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie. Next in line, and many believe that it should rightly be part of the top tier, is Cornas.
Saint-Joseph follows, the largest and least homogenous in terms of taste. The appellation is a thin band, 50 km long, which starts near Cornas in the south and finishes at Côte-Rôtie in the north. These vineyards are found at the base of these hillsides and the wines mimic, sometimes remarkably so, the appellation nearest to it. If there is a bargain to be found in the northern Rhône, it’s Saint-Joseph.
What to drink? The Domaine Courbis 2014 Saint-Joseph is an exceptional bargain. Very Cornas in style, but at more than half the price. A touch more expensive at $40, but with more of a Côte-Rôtie feel, try Gaillard’s 2014 Clos de Cumaille Saint-Joseph. The tannins are as fine and powerful as silk threads.
The other relatively inexpensive appellation in the north is Crozes-Hermitage. Sometimes the wines can be too “bacony” for my tastes, but when you find a good one, while with more rustic tannins and texture, they can share the same finesse as other more expensive bottles. Near the top of my list of wineries is Laurent Combier. His 2015 Crozes Hermitage is peppery and floral with a typical Crozes texture. A touch chewier and more modern in style, the 2014 Les Vins de Vienne Crozes Hermitage is perfect if you like a richer styled wine.
In the south is where you find the more affordable wines. Grenache is the main grape, and unlike in the northern Rhône, the wines are predominately blends, with syrah and mourvedre being the usual blending partners. There’s an abundance of choice, depending on how much you want to spend.
Basic Côtes-du-Rhône might be one of the most versatile table wines out there. At well under $20, the Jaboulet 2014 Parallèle 45 is a great purchase. Even less expensive, the Bonpas 2015 Grande Réserve des Challières is one of the better under $15 reds at the SAQ.
Moving into the village appellations and others, try Ortas 2015 Rasteau Tradition: Complexity and power for under $17. A touch earthier with a wonderful olive and herbal edge is Dupere-Barrera 2015 Côtes-du-Rhône Villages. If you are willing to spend a touch over $20, the Clos Bellane 2014 Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Valréas is an absolute treat. You get it all here.
One appellation that has intrigued me for years is the Costieres de Nimes. If you want more elegance and finesse, all at a great price, then this is the place. I have yet to visit the appellation but I have tasted enough wines to be able to confidently say that they manage to mix southern ripe fruit with superb freshness like few other appellations in the Côtes-du-Rhône.
Get out and play in the snow folks! When you come back inside, pour yourself a glass of Rhône sunshine.
“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial
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