The Blessed Rhone
There are several places in this world that just seem to be special. Everyone has their own list of magical places. For me one of those areas is the Rhone River of France, especially the southern region. So many elements of history, culture, geography and, of course, wine intersect with such a depth that it transcends the normal and mundane. The river flows north to south in eastern France and empties into the Mediterranean. Navigated by the Greeks, crossed by Hannibal and Caesar, painted by Van Gogh and witness to American GIs chasing out German forces in WWII—if this river could talk. Here are just a few interesting places and wines.
Saint Cosme is a winery located north of the Village of Gigondas and traces its founding to a former Roman army officer who established an estate in the year 109 AD. The Estate, nestled against steep limestone hills dotted with caves, has vats carved from solid rock during this time and still in perfect condition. Looking at them in person truly made me feel that I was on hallowed ground. This Estate has been in the same family for 14 generations.
In 1308 Pope Clement the Fifth relocated the Papacy from the Vatican to the city of Avignon in southern France. For the next 70 years the Papacy was based here and greatly increased the demand and quality of the local wines. These wines were called Vin du Pape and eventually became the world renowned wines of Chateauneuf Du Pape. One of the most interesting things is that the vineyards in this region resemble fields of river rocks with vines sticking out.
The heart of the southern Rhone is the numerous village level wine producers. Blends of the Villages would be labeled as a Cote du Rhone Villages. While this is a great wine, the true expressions of these villages come out as single village wines. A good wine shop with a deep selection would most likely carry a Gigondas or Vacqueyras; either of these will be incredible to try. Most descriptions of these wines are deep, intense dark berry fruits with exotic tea flavors and powerfully smooth finishes.
There is so much to offer in the Rhone River area that it is infectious in its deep appeal to the point that there is a wide movement in the United States called the Rhone Rangers who promote the wines of this region. The Rhone Rangers have over 200 wineries that produce wines from the grapes found in the Rhone. Normally the focus is with red blends of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. You can learn more about this group and the wines they produce at http://www.rhonerangers.org/ In Arizona, Cellars 433 from Wilcox, with a tasting room in Jerome as well is a part of this group. http://cellar433.com/.
Send your taste buds on a vacation with a wine from the Rhone or one of the American Rhone Ranger wines. Perfect with beef stroganoff to spare ribs and the acidity in the wine would work well with any cheese or cream based dish.