The wines of the Rhône hooked me into the world of wine when I was a university student in Sydney. Powerful, plush wines with great complexity and savoury spice really appealed to me. This combination of power and richness is an element commonly seen in Australian wines, but they’re not alone. Indeed, it was the fact that Rhône wines could offer those same qualities and more that initially caught my attention. The more I learn about the region, the more I am continually amazed by the diversity it delivers.
The wine regions in the Rhône Valley are split into two distinct halves: the Northern Rhône, where the reds are almost exclusively made from Syrah (Shiraz), and the Southern Rhône, where Grenache is King, but usually blended with lots of other things.
In the south, the towns are very historic with lots of old castles and monasteries. For a long time, the Rhône itself was the border between the Roman Empire and France. The climate is Mediterranean, with mild winters and very hot summers. The rugged rocky outcrops offer some protection from the strong Mistral winds, with the pebbly ground and low bush vines sculpting the landscape.
The most famous and also largest wine village in the south is that of Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe. Located about 10 minutes southwest of Orange, Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe produces strong, full-bodied wines from Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault and up to nine other varieties.
On the side of the valley near a small mountain range called Dentelles-de-Montmirail, the villages of Gigondas and Sablet produce more complex wines than in Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe, while the regions of Lirac and Tavel produce some of France’s most celebrated Rosé.
In the Northern Rhône, Syrah is the only red grape variety allowed. From the town of Ampuis south to Saint Péray there are a number of different wine styles.
The steep slopes of Côtie Rôtie produce luscious wines, in which the Syrah is blended with Viognier. Hermitage produces wines with great elegance and purity, while Cornas produces powerfully tannic wines with great density.
White wines are also successfully grown throughout the Rhône but in much smaller quantities than the reds. Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne are the most commonly used grapes with the most famous coming from the village of Coindreau in the north. This wine, made from 100 per cent Viognier, is densely-opulent, whilst the wines from the southern regions – most notably Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe – take the form of textural powerful whites that coat the mouth and have incredible length.
But the main thing to remember with the wines of the Rhône is that they are made to go with food. The French rarely drink wine without food and if you wish to really appreciate the most from these wines, it is important to have them with suitable food.
Luckily, the diversity of the wine styles allows almost any food style to be successfully paired with a Rhône wine.
The dinner that we are planning with Circa takes some of my favourite wine producers and styles from the Rhône and matches them with a fantastic menu from Paul Wilson. This autumnal feast will certainly allow us to explore the diversity of the Rhône in a great informal setting at the re-vamped Circa in St Kilda.
Paul has prepared a five-course meal that includes warm truffled farm egg with cheek bacon and soft polenta; rare breed lamb baked in hay, and served with wild herbs, quinces and spiced wine; and vine roasted partridge and game pie, with a side chestnuts and foie gras, to name a few.
Matching these intriguing flavours with a selection of rich, character-driven Rhône Valley wines, we’re excited to let you know that our selection for the dinner will incorporate a deceptively bold Guigal Condrieu (2010) to match the truffled egg; a musky, earthy, elegant and blood plum Francois Gerard Cote Rotie (2009) to match the rare breed lamb; and an exuberant, lively and fantastically fruity Syrah, the Yann Chave Hermitage (2010), to match the vine roasted partridge.
A considered, creative and largely celebrative affair, this dinner is for wine and food lovers alike.
The Prince Wine Store Wine Dinner at Circa will be taking place on Tuesday, May 7. Tickets are available via phone booking. For more information, simply click here.