I've been a fan of wines from France's Rhone Valley for a long time; at least since before the phrase "Rhone Ranger," came onto the scene. My first memory of it is in a wine story by an English writer, and I was delighted at the linguistics involved, and that I had met a movement with which I could identify.
Since then, I've had the opportunity to follow the Rhone River in both directions and to experience its blessings. I remember sitting on the rocky area that shares space with the remains of the Chateauneuf-de-Pape castle. Pope Clement V moved from Rome to Avignon in 1308; his successor, Pope John XXII, built the castle. Only a couple of walls remain, but the space was just right for a picnic lunch and a bottle from a nearby winery.
Avignon is at the southern end of the Rhone, not far from Marseilles, where the river empties into the Mediterranean Sea. The northern end is around Lyons, where the Saone joins the Rhone. Hermitage, Cote Rotie and St. Joseph are among the finest from the Northern Rhone, all at the tasting, while Gigondas, a personal favorite, is from the Southern Rhone. The Cotes-du-Rhone label covers the entire Rhone Valley.
Anyway, I recently reveled in some glorious Rhones from E. Guigal, based in the northern Rhone's Condrieu area and serving as both a winemaker and a negociant, or exporter/distributor. The Wine Merchant played host to the tasting, and more than a dozen beautiful wines were on display. Most were reds, primarily blends of Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache and Carignane, but often with lesser-known grapes from the area.
The Guigal Gigondas, from 2007, was a great bargain at $29.99, and more time in the bottle will see it improve. Then wine is rich and plummy, with an elegant finish.
Older wines showed more style, with Cote Rotie from the Chateau d'Ampuis a taste of summer in vintages from 2000, 2002 and 2004. All simply rolled around the tongue, leaving a trail of beauty. Cote Rotie "Brune et Blonde" from 2004 and 2007 was a step or so behind, with the '04 showing a little fade of color. A 2007 Ermitage (a variation on the spelling of Hermitage) left me smiling at the thought of how much it will improve over the next decade.
Hermitage Blanc from 2000 and 2005 were a fascinating contrast as the older wine, as fine whites will, showed depth and richness, and an indication of how the youngster will grow and mature.
Great pleasure in all respects. . . .
* * * *
OTHER RECENT TASTINGS were led by a recently released '09 Cabernet Sauvignon from Sequoia Grove, a lovely Napa Valley winery that sits behind a couple of glorious trees just off Highway 29 in Rutherford. The wine is of very deep color, with an aroma of sweet cherries, their color a red so dark they're almost black. It's rich, with superb balance, and another 12 months of age will polish it. The flavor displays more cherries, soft tannins and a long finish (about $40).
PRIMUS: A pair of lovely Chilean reds from the Colchagua Valley, a 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2008 proprietary blend labeled The Blend. Both are fine values at about $20; the Cab adds 8 per cent Syrah for a little more body. The Blend includes Cab (44 percent), Syrah (21), Carmenere (19) and Merlot (18), and is a lush wine with big body, good berry flavor and hints of spice. A hint of blueberries in an aroma that also shows some spice.
JUSLYN VINEYARDS: A Napa producer from the Spring Mountain District has recent releases of a pair of superior 2007 red wines. The 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon ($90) has spent three years in French oak, 18 months in bottle. It shows a little purple to augment a deep ruby color, and an aroma of cedar and cassis. The palate feels elegance, rich smoothness and layers of flavor, plus the knowledge that the wine will grow for two decades. The blend (about $60) is Cabernet Sauvignon (42), Merlot (33), Cabernet Franc (20) and Petit Verdot (5), and it was aged similarly to its all-Cab cousin. Dark berries in the aroma, a hint of plum in the rich, bold flavor, a long and classy finish.