To get a feel for the world of wine you need to get a feel for geography and do a bit of driving – perhaps from Napa to Sonoma, from Bra to Barbaresco or take a drive up the D2 from Bordeaux through Margaux, St. Julien, Pauillac and St. Estephe.
The best drive of them all begins in Dijon, sought through Gevrey-Chambertin and Nuits-St-George to Beaune and then on to Pommard and Volnay with perhaps a detour to Puligny-Montrachet before heading south to Pouilly Fuissé and Macon.
From there take a further diversion through the Beaujolais villages (Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie etc.) and then to Lyon for a rest.
Up to now you’ve been following the Saône but after Lyon that river joins the Rhône and the landscape changes, the hills rise and the river speeds up and cuts deep — as Andrew Jefford writes in The New France: ‘this is not a river to fall into’!
You need to linger over the hills of Condrieu and Cote Rotie and maybe take a walk up the hill of Hermitage to see the chapel (hence Jaboulet’s Hermitage La Chapelle).
Take a look at the granite, quartz and schist soils and the hardy Syrah vines plus the odd Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne for the underrated whites of the region.
South of Montélimar (nougat!) the river river slows and meanders on towards Avignon and now you are in Grenache country and it feels like the south, like Provence.
It’s warmer but the biting mistral wind blows strong, clearing fungus and drying away rain and keeping everything fresh.
These are not the austere wines of the North, they are fat and rich (at their best) — fleshy, spicy Grenache is tempered just a little with Syrah and Mourvèdre and sometimes up to 10 other grapes (13 are often permitted).
Cotes du Rhône with an unfamiliar label is worth a risk more than most French regions in France but when you start seeing village names or the cru wines of Gigondas, Vacqueyras and of course Chateauneuf-du-Pape you can be even more certain. Rhône Wine Week events continue until the end of the month.
For the diary: O’Briens Christmas Wine Fair, November 10, 6-9pm, Cork Clarion Hotel in aid of Irish Guide Dogs. Dublin: Nov 11 & 12, Print Works, Dublin Castle. www.wine.com
BEST VALUE UNDER €15
Domaine André Brunel Est-Ouest 2014, Côtes du Rhône, France — €14.95
Stockists: Karwigs www.karwigwines.ie
From a blend of 75% Grenache, 15% Cinsault and 10% Syrah with all vines at least forty years old. This has lovely bright purple fruits, cherries and spice tinged blackberries. Perfect for a winter stew or a Tuesday night pizza.
Ortas Côtes du Rhône Reserve, France — €10.95-€13.45
Stockists: O’Briens Stores nationwide www.wine.ie
Made by the co-operative in Rasteau which has some lovely old vineyards and gnarled 120 year old Grenache vines. Rasteau is just a few miles from Chateauneuf-du-Pape but the wines are lighter with a wilder, earthier edge. This has supple black fruits with spice and character.
Domaine Boisson Côtes du Rhône 2015, France — €14.95
Stockists: World Wide Wines, Bradleys, O’Donovans, Ardkeen, No. 21 Midleton, Searsons www.searsons.com
From two communes in the Southern Rhône Vaucluse region where it is warmer with a strong Mediterranean influence. Grenache vines on this estate are often up to 100 years old and this is 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah plus some Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvèdre.
BEST VALUE OVER €15
Les Deux Cols Cuvée Zephyr Roussanne 2015, Côtes du Rhône, France — €22.95
Stockists: World Wide Wines, Bradleys, O’Donovans, Ardkeen, No 21 Midleton, Searsons www.searsons.com
For me Roussanne is the most interesting of the Rhone’s white grapes and its mineral nervy wines are often thrilling.
This is fermented in old barrels and matured on its lees for six months to improve texture — lemon oil and honeyed aromas, stony, bright but with a beautiful texture.
Le Paradou Viognier 2015, Côtes du Rhône, France — €16.95
Stockists: As above
Viognier is the great grape of Condrieu and is used to soften out some austere (syrah-based) Cote Rotie wines with its limpid apricot and honeyed flavours.
This is from Chateau Pesqié and grown at 300 to 400m above sea level to retain minerality and freshness — dramatic floral, peach and fruit aromas and flavours with a lemon drop mineral finish. Delicious.
Domaine Saint Gayan Côtes du Rhône, France — €16.95
Stockists: As above
You should be able to find the full range of this producer fairly easily in independent wine shops.
Their Rasteau, Gigondas and other wines are also recommended.
This has a textured chewy dried cherry character with lingering soft black plums and a spicy kick on the finish. Try with a beef curry.
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