A return to the Rhône Valley this weekend with a focus on the wines of the Southern Rhône, surely the most reliable of France's wine regions at entry level.
The Languedoc is bigger and more productive but you need to be a lot more circumspect picking up random Pays d'Oc wines from a French (or Irish) supermarket, while you can nearly always take a punt on a Côtes du Rhone. The Northern Rhône is quite different in character, a little like the river at this point. Having risen in the Alps it is joined at Lyon by the Saône (Burgundy's river) and then rushes headlong south cutting steep hills such as Hermitage and Condrieu - Syrah and Viognier country.
The river softens its cough a little as it flows and eventually breaks in two before it hits the Mediterranean south of Arles. The Mistral is the other crucial element in the climate here, that brisk fierce wind that follows the river and blows away fungus and moisture from the vines. In years when it fails to appear such as in 2017 the vines can suffer with mildew and other problems.
If the Northern Rhône is mono-varietal, uptight and intense the Southern Rhône is fatter and more relaxed with 14 or more grapes sometimes in a blend with Grenache as the star and Syrah and Mourvèdre supporting but don’t dismiss old vine Carignan, Cinsault and others. It feels more like Provence with wild thyme and rosemary, mountains, garrigue and walled villages. The South produces 25 times as much wine as the North with the bulk of it labelled Côtes-du-Rhône, a smaller amount of Côtes-du-Rhône Villages and then split into Village ‘Cru’, many of which you know - Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Lirac, Tavel etc.
Selections this week include a couple of wines from the Ventoux in the far south and some other wines from the region that I’ve not featured before. Three wines this week are imported by David Whelehan and are available for Nationwide Delivery or collection from his shop in Loughlinstown, not far from Carrickmines Shopping Centre.
I’ve written about David before, one of Ireland’s best palates and he has a strong team with him in Martina (ex Somm in l’Écrivain), Gavin and Sarah - you will likely know David from his decade or so presenting wines on breakfast TV. Around 80% of the wines in Whelehans are imported by themselves and the rest are from quality Irish importers that frequently appear here.
Dunnes Stores (stocked in 50 stores)
This wine is from the large Rhonéa Cooperative which has 236 growers in the Dentilles de Montmarail mountains in the S. Rhône/N. Provence. I’m generally a fan of French Co-Ops which are not unlike our own Co-Op movement and they always offer value. This is solid for the price with good tipicity - dark fruit aromas with touches of violets and spice, fruity and ripe with grip and texture.
Dunnes Stores (stocked in 75 stores)
The red Ventoux at the same €10 price is bright purple, youthful and ripe with lots of juicy blackberry fruits but I thought the Rosé better for the price. A Grenache-Syrah blend as you would hope, pale pink hue, aromas of raspberries and citrus, crisp and fruity on the palate with lemony touches and under-ripe strawberry freshness.
www.whelehanswines.ie, The Corkscrew, JJ O’Driscolls, Independents.Whelehan’s Wines -
If you order with Whelehans this might help fill the case as it’s always been a favourite of mine and is reduced from €13 to €11 for a few weeks. Made with local grapes such as Alicante Bouschet and Aragonez this has fine soft fruit aromas, juicy and supple on the palate with ripe red and dark cherry fruits and a touch of spice.
This estate dates from 1794 and is one of the oldest in the region. They make fine Châteauneuf-du-Pape (on sale for a bargain €28 at the moment), but do not stint on the quality of the fruit used for their Côtes du Rhône labels. Aromas of plum and spice with wild damson notes in the background, supple and concentrated with layered dark and red fruits and solid length.
I don’t mention white Châteauneuf-du-Pape often enough - this is sourced from the estate’s ‘Vignobles de la Serrière’ vineyard in the north of the Appellation, a blend of Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Clairette with luscious acacia flower and honeysuckle aromas, pear and tropical fruits on the palate with a textured honeycomb character on the finish, perfect with lobster or crab, or for a luxurious picnic.
Cashel Wine Cellar, 1601 Kinsale, JJ O’Driscolls, Redmonds, Martins, O’Briens.
I’ve featured Mont-Redon Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the past and it remains excellent value (around €36) - their Lirac from 30 minutes west is almost as good. Big black cherry fruit aromas with spice and generous darker fruits on the palate, ripe and supple, but balanced with intriguing textures and weight, showing length and complexity on the finish.