A Rhône Revelation

As I have shouted about before, I don’t like to be prejudiced when it comes to wine. That said there are some styles, regions and grapes that I either just don’t “get” or that don’t suit my palate, or both, so I cannot help but avoid certain wines as a general rule simply because past experience has lead me in that direction.

Unfortunately Southern Rhône wines fall into this category, and I say ‘unfortunately’ as this rather large area encompasses quite a number of prestigious regions and producers beloved by wine aficionados the world over. I have often read of that Châteauneuf-du-Pape or this Gigondas that carry with them exalted superlatives, amongst others. More often than not I hear of yet another boutique little ‘generic’ Côtes du Rhône that defies the general appellation it’s lumped in with and produces something well beyond its price point and which is simply a ‘must have’.

But, alas, I have always been on the outside looking in, since I find most Southern Rhônes to be too, well, hot and spicy for my liking. Maybe it’s the predominance of Grenache in Southern Rhône blends which throws me off, as I tend to find this grape a little hard to handle when it’s from hotter climates unless it’s aged or from old vines due to the reasons given earlier.

[singlepic id=28 w=320 h=240 float=right]That is until I came across Clos Bellane Côtes du Rhône 2010, recently picked up at the lovely On the Grapevine wine shop in Dalkey. Everything I feared from usual Côtes du Rhône – the hot spiciness, the one-dimensionality – was absent from this bottle, which also floated my boat with its minimalist labelling. A quick peek at the blend strongly suggests, however, a likely reason for my liking it: the 50% Grenache is balanced out by 50% Syrah, the other Rhône stalwart. Some further reading gives even more away: the vineyard is located on a plateau 400m above sea level (the cooler temperatures lead to more restrained wines) and the vines are 85 years old on average (older vines normally mean more complex wines).

Black pepper and blackberry predominate, with a lovely depth and concentration that has you coming back repeatedly to the glass. Some nice supportive tannin make this – to use a cliché flung at so many French wines – a good ‘food wine’ too. It’s deep and intriguing, constantly evolving subtly, but also approachable and easy-going. It’s a steal at €14.99 from one of the nicest independents in Dublin’s south side, and finally it’s a Côtes du Rhône that I can stand over. Many talk about ‘the bottle’ that changed them, and for me and ‘CdR’, this is it.

Imagine my surprise, then, when another Côtes du Rhône threw my preconceptions out the window once again only a couple of weeks later; and not only that but it’s currently only €9.99 on sale in O’Brien’s, with its ‘full retail price’ of €12.99 (see my last post for an explanation of these inverted commas).

The Ortas Reserve Côtes du Rhône 2011 had an amazingly fragrant nose, floral and enticing, and not what I expect from a CdR at all. The palate, however, was lacking: a bit rough and harsh, and a disappointment after the wonderful fragrances it opened with. But, all said, for under a tenner it’s a decent drop which would be perfect in bulk for a barbecue – simply sniff away at it for the evening and soften out the palate with some chunky BBQ meats. At €12.99 though you’re miles better off with the Clos Bellane.

So, Côtes du Rhône, where have you been all my life?!

Clos Bellane Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2010
€14.99 from On the Grapevine, Dalkey, and also direct from Cabot & Co. who import it
50% Grenache and 50% Syrah from Côtes du Rhône

Ortas Reserve Côtes du Rhône 2011
Ortas (Caves de Rasteau) page on www.rasteau.com or their Facebook
Normally €12.99 but on sale currently at €9.99 from O’Brien’s
70% Grenache, 20% Cinsault and 10% Carignan from Côtes du Rhône


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