Let's Lift Your Spirits!Thursday, September 23, 2021
With roughly three months to go it's time to start tasting your way toward the end of the year! Why not start tomorrow, International Grenache Day, another red wine-loving holiday celebrated the third Friday of September every year?
The Grenache grape is to France what the Garnacha grape is to Spain...with a striking resemblance! This grape variety is thought to have originated in Spain, where it is called Garnacha. From there it spread through the south of France and into the Rhône Valley (south-eastern France). Once in France its name changed to Grenache, and this is the name that is most used in the rest of the world.
Grenache is a black grape variety that needs a warm climate to ripen successfully. The Rhône Valley is known to have a hot climate and sunny conditions. The extra sun allows the grapes to develop more sugar, and more sugar will boost the level of alcohol. It's thin-skinned, has low to medium tannin, low acidity, and has high sugar levels (not sweet). High sugar means high alcohol. Other characteristics include red fruit (strawberry, red plum, and red cherry) and spice (white pepper, and liquorice). This grape is often blended, can be oaked or unoaked and is made into red and rosé wines. Of all the wines made in the Rhône Valley, 91% are red, 6% are rosé, and 3% are white.
Southern Rhône: It is an important grape in this region of France. Grenache ripens successfully here due to the warmer climate. Red wines from this area are typically blends of Grenache with multiple local grape varieties including Syrah (Shiraz). More than 90% of all Côtes-du-Rhône wines come from the southern region.
The most affordable, or should I say least expensive, wines of the lot are typically simple, medium-bodied wines with red fruit and spice flavours labelled Côtes-du-Rhône AOC. This is the broadest regional appellation. Though this appellation covers the entire Rhône Valley, these wines are produced almost exclusively from grapes grown in Southern Rhône. They are usually simple, medium-bodied wines intended for immediate consumption. Wines labelled Côtes-du-Rhône Villages AOC typically offer more flavour intensity and complexity than generic Côtes-du-Rhône.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC is known for full-bodied wines with high alcohol levels. Many of the vineyards here are covered with large, round stones that absorb heat during the day and radiate it back into the vines at night helping Grenache to achieve full ripeness. Very good and outstanding examples can develop complex flavours of dried fruit and caramel with bottle age … like fine wine does! Only a small number of the most prestigious vineyard areas in the Rhône Valley have been granted appellations. These are known as 'crus'. The Rhône crus are in both the Northern Rhône (eg Crozes-Hermitage AOC, Hermitage AOC, Côte Rôtie AOC, Condrieu AOC) and the Southern Rhône (eg Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC.)
The Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, and Côte Rôtie from the north are made primarily from the Syrah grape – the other major grape variety grown in the Rhône Valley. These are the biggest and fullest wines from that region.
For Châteauneuf-du-Pape, as many as 13 different grape varieties may be included in the blend. But the best producers use a greater percentage of Grenache and Syrah in the blend. The winemaker who uses the best grapes (like cooking with the finest ingredients) will produce the best-tasting and the most expensive wine. Higher percentages of the top-quality grapes (90%+ of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, and Cinsault) will attract higher prices.
If you are in the market to buy and try a red Rhône wine you should first decide if you prefer a light Côtes-du-Rhône wine or a bigger, more flavourful one, such as a Hermitage. Next you should consider the vintage and the producer. The two oldest and best known are M Chapoutier and Paul Jaboulet Aîné. Also look for producers E Giugal.
When to drink?
Côtes-du-Rhône should be had within three years, Crozes-Hermitage within five years, Châteauneuf-du-Pape after five years, but the higher quality Châteauneuf-du-Pape is better after 10 years, and Hermitage seven to eight years, but best after 15, in a great year.
Foodie pairings include lighter wines with lighter meats like poultry with mushrooms and truffles for an exquisite possibility! Older wines are best when combined with game and other meats with a strong flavour eg rabbit or wild boar, and riper more full-flavoured cheeses. FYI, beef ribs go well with a Côtes-du-Rhône!
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