“Do not search in a wine for the reflection of an exact science. The formulas of scientific oenology are only a thin competition which does not know how to respect the mysteries of eternal creation.”
~The late Jacques Perrin, Château Beaucastel, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Eternal creation. The mysteries of eternal creation… is there anything more beautiful?
The first time my husband and I drove the route south from Lyon to St. Rémy de-Provence it was raining. Serious rain. Enough rain that, during our time in Provence, conversation was often about the rotten drive down. My Anglophone husband will probably admit that one of the first French words he used fluently was la pluie.
We covered our heads with our issue of La Monde and ran into the Aire de Repos, thrilled to snack on baguettes with ham and a warming café. We laughed at the windshield wipers on our little Renault, fast then faster to keep the view clear. When we finally got to Château des Alpilles in St. Rémy, the rain had stopped. But everything was soggy. Bits of leaves and mud stuck to the wheels of our suitcase, but the bed was soft and warm and we welcomed ourselves with dinner at Le Marilyn in town (where we tried our first bottle from a winemaker we’ve come to adore: Château Romanin).
The next day the sun was perfect and luscious. Our first-ever day in Provence was gorgeous. Over a rather large breakfast we review our thoughts about the drive down. The only other people that we knew who had traveled from Paris to Provence (we roadtripped with other stops, a story I’ll tell in another piece) had taken the train. But we had definitely wanted to drive so that we could stop anywhere we wanted. There’s never public transit to vineyards and wine estates.
Would we do it again, we asked ourselves? Would we drive the Rhône Valley?
Of course we would. Very happily. In fact we’d end up doing the drive on our very next trip to France only a short time later (again, other stories to tell in other pieces). And on the way back to Paris a week later, we proudly said hello to old friends, friends with whom we’d weathered the storm: the vineyards of the Rhône Valley.
I’m the lucky host of this month’s #winePW and in the month of April (my favorite time to be in the area) I’ve chosen to highlight the vineyards, winemakers and estates of the Southern Rhône Valley.
Southern Rhône: Diverse and Delicious
Moving southward in France from Paris, via Bourgogne, the air heats and scents of fruit on the tree, scrub brush and herbs float through the window. This part of the region is méridionale, or simply Southern Rhône, and here the rules of wine engagement are more relaxed; bottles still contain Syrah but are primarily built on Grenache, Mourvèdre and others. Grenache is a heavy player for blends in Southern Rhône and you won’t find many bottles that aren’t propped up by this medium body, spicy-candy grape. Most Southen Rhône wines are red, but white and rosé can be found and in fact, as rosé grows in favor it’s easy to find a tasty Côte du Rhône rosé these days.
Southern Rhône geographically fans out from the river on either side, and with the lack of tension comes variety. Grapes of many sorts are used in vineyards of many textures. You’ll hear wine drinkers say they are having a CDR or a GMS, just throw-it-out-there, common knowledge blends (Côte du Rhône or Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah), though that is not always the way it works.
Because there is something else…
Châteauneuf-du-Pape and it’s nearby environs. This particular region in Southern Rhône was one of the first to be regulated with an AOC. The winemakers there knew they had something distinct and they put a stamp on it in early days. Here you’ll find deep red wines, again with a heart of Grenache that is allowed to blend with a relatively large scope of other regional grapes. Many of the vineyards here have a special geographic feature called a galet, a big stone that soaks up the sun and impacts the soil temperature. Winemakers here often use an embossed, Burgundy-style bottle: don’t forget you are drinking a Châteauneuf–du-Pape, Mac. There are other memory makers in the area; nearby appellations such as Gigondas and Vaqueyras make good cellar mates if you love heady wines that will spice and experiment.
La Ferme Du Mont
We chose a bottle from Rhone winemaker Stephane Vedeau at La Ferme Du Mont: 2012 La Ferme du Mont Première Côte Côtes du Rhone. The wine is 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre (aged in concrete). The vineyard is on the eastern-facing slopes around the village of Courthezon (located on the eastern edge of Châteauneuf du Pape). RP gave it 90 points. I purchased the bottle at my local shop, The Corkscrew, where the bottle can be purchased online for $17.99. Imported by SeaView Imports.
Maybe it is a matter of taste, or perhaps it’s because I have a significant affinity with the wines of Provence and Southern Rhône, but I’ve had enjoyed a bounty of wines that are produced by “bio” winemakers. (I’ve covered this concept in other articles, but in short: winemakers that don’t rely on science/additives/chemicals to make great wine; they rely on old-ways, nature, balance, know-how and synchronicity with nature.) La Ferme du Mont has a dedication to biodynamique winemaking; the integrity shows in the quality of the wine and sincere expression of terrior. This was not a wine that felt “fiddled-with”.
The wines of the region happen to be some of my personal favorites in the wine world and this bottle was a delightful pair for our spring meal. In fact, we drank the whole bottle while watching Netflix later in the evening. A bottle that can be enjoyed with dinner then sucked dry after bedtime (a couple hours later) is a distinct example of a wine I want to drink and serve…in other words: versatile and tasty. Lots of dry-dry fruit, happy peppers and smooth-smooth-smooth. Comfortable tannins, just the way we like our Grenache-based wines. Wholly tasteful. A bottle I’d happily bring to a spring dinner party, a summer pool party or a night by the fire with friends.
The Spring Meal: Stuffed Tomatoes
My husband, our constant and talented house chef, sent me to the market with a delicious list: beefsteak tomatoes, spinach, garlic, shallots, forest mushrooms, lemons, basil, parsley, chicken… The meal was gorgeous stuffed tomatoes, filled with long-soaked forest mushrooms, spinach, chicken with herbs de Provence, Parmesan cheese. It was a light spring meal that will transition quite well into summer as tomatoes become more plentiful. He loves using yellow tomatoes and we’ll recreate this dish with a new color in late summer. It’s possible to use ground turkey or Italian sausage instead of the chicken.
I’d love to have you over for dinner, instead I offer you this invitation to a Spring Meal paired with 2012 La Ferme du Mont Première Côte Côtes du Rhone:
For more on the this topic visit:
#WinePW: Wine Pairing Weekend
The Rhône Valley of France is a diverse and fascinating wine region; for this #winePW, we’ll focus on the wines and winemakers of the Southern Rhône. As many parts of the world welcome the new spring season, we’ll choose fresh, seasonal spring foods to pair with regional wines. During the April #winePW, you’ll find new meal ideas to brighten your table and “sample” wines to make the meal a welcoming ritual. You’ll also learn about the region, the wines, the winemakers and the traditions of France’s Southern Rhône Valley from the following bloggers, writers and experts:
Jeff from Food Wine Click: Rabbit and Rhône
Michelle from Rockin Red Blog: Springtime in the Southern Rhône with #winePW
Nancy from Pull That Cork: Scallops, Spring Veggies + a White CDP for #winePW
Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla: Braised Boar Shanks With Bitter Herb Salad + Vacqueyras Beaumirail
David from Cooking Chat: Kale Pesto Tilapia with Wine from Southern Rhône
Martin from Enofylz Wine Blog: A Tavel Paired with Spring BBQ #WinePW
Meaghan from Un Assaggio: Grilled Rack of Lamb + Arnoux & Fils Vieux Clocher #winePW
Cindy from Grape Experiences : Wine and Dine: Rosé from Costières de Nîmes and Rack of Lamb with Rosemary
Sarah and Tim from Curious Cuisiniere: Escalivada (Spanish Roasted Vegetables) paired with South Rhône Rosé
Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm: Wine Pairing Weekend Celebrates Spring
Jill from L’occasion (me, with my husband Jason as the chef): Welcome Spring with Fresh Food & Le Ferme Du Mont Côtes du Rhône
David of Cooking Chat started this event in June of 2014, and every month since then this group of wine and food lovers have had a great time! For more background, check out the original post announcing Wine Pairing Weekend.
On the second Saturday of each month, a group of bloggers who are passionate about the way good wine enhances a meal come together to blog about a wine pairing they have done. Each month has a different Wine Pairing Weekend theme to focus the pairings. I’m the host of this month’s #winePW, a celebration of the theme: Spring Meal Pairings for Southern Rhône Wines.
Join us as we share blog posts and experience live Twitter chat at 11 a.m. Eastern Time (10 a.m. Central) on Saturday, April 9, 2016.
Anyone interested is encouraged to join in the chat: food-lovers, travel-nuts, winemakers, Rhône residents, wine-lovers…please join us with the hashtag #winePW.
For a list of past and upcoming #winePW event, visit the Wine Pairing Weekend calendar here. We’d love to have you online with us!