Our March excursion takes the French Winophiles (#winophiles) to one of the most scenic and historic areas of France: the Rhône Valley. But, as our name implies, we are particularly enamored with the wines produced in this southeastern region. And there truly is a wine to suit everyone’s taste: topography, soils, and climate vary greatly as you travel north to south, which means that the grape varieties are different, too. Whether you’re a fan of intense red wines redolent of blackberry and pepper, exotically perfumed whites, or charming pink rosés, you’ll find what you’re looking for somewhere along the way.
Our host this month is Liz from What’s In That Bottle? and you can bone up on some fun facts about the region by reading her invitation post. And Liz came up with a real treat for our group by securing three sample bottles from M. Chapoutier for each of us to try. All hail Liz!
If you’re not familiar with the Winophiles drill, we meet on Twitter the third Saturday of each month at 11 am ET. We share what we researched for our posts, along with travel tips, food-pairing ideas, and tasting notes on the month’s theme. If you love the Rhône Valley and want to learn more about its wines, please join us. We’d love to hear from you! Just remember to add the hashtag #winophiles to all of your tweets so we’ll see them.
Curious about what each of the bloggers will add to the conversation? Here’s a list of participants and their chosen topics:
Gwendolyn Alley at Wine Predator tells us about “Duck à l’Orange with M. Chapoutier’s Biodynamic, Organic Rhone Wines”
Jill Barth from L’Occasion writes about “Braille on the Label: A Pioneering Chapoutier Moment”
J.R. Boynton from Great Big Reds writes about “The Dark Side of Syrah, with Domaine Fondreche Persia 2012 (Ventoux)”
Jeff Burrows from Food Wine Click shares “Northern Rhone Wines and My Steak Tartare Disaster”
Susannah Gold at Avvinare writes about “Rhône Gems from Chapoutier in Chateauneuf, du Pape, Crozes-Hermitage, and Luberon”
Nicole Ruiz Hudson at Somm’s Table tells her story of “Cooking to the Wine: Les Vins de Vienne Gigondas with Gratinéed Shepherd’s Pie”
Michelle Williams at Rockin Red Blog writes about “Maison M. Chapoutier: Expressing Terroir Through Biodynamics”
Liz Barrett at What’s In That Bottle writes “Get to Know the Rhône Valley with Michel Chapoutier #Winophiles”
Three Regions, Three Distinctly Different Wines
As you can see on the map, the Rhône Valley extends south from the city of Vienne, all the way to the Mediterranean coast near Marseille. We were given the opportunity to taste wines produced in three distinct subregions: Crozes-Hermitage in the Northern Rhône; Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the Southern Rhône vineyards east of Avignon; and one from the far southeast pocket of the Luberon, in the shadow of the Massif. Each one represents a particular style of Rhône Valley wine.
Wine #1: 2016 M. Chapoutier Luberon La Ciboise Blanc (13% abv; $16 SRP)
In the Luberon, the Mediterranean climate that warms most of the Southern Rhône mingles with cooler continental influences from the neighboring Alps, allowing winemakers to make fresh, crisp white wines and rosés. In fact, the Luberon makes more rosé (53% of production) than any other type of wine, something its neighbor, Provence, has in common. White wines comprise another 20%.
La Ciboise takes its name from the family estate of Michel Chapoutier’s grandfather and is meant to evoke memories of family celebrations around the table; the special days defined by an abundance of local food paired with wines made nearby. Picture yourself at the table, soaking up the long hours of sunshine and savoring a glass or two. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?
This blend of Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, Ugni Blanc, and Roussanne won’t disappoint: the grapes were farmed organically and were vinified with an eye toward striking a balance between fresh acidity and roundness on the palate. As such, the wine did not undergo malolactic fermentation (preserving acidity) but was aged on fine lees (promoting a rounder texture.) It all works.
Color: Pale lemon, fading to lemon-green at the edge.
Nose: Lemon peel, chalk, white flowers, and a hint of smoky petrol.
Taste: Lemon and lime, with lime more dominant on the finish. A little white pepper and chalk. Medium+ acidity, medium+ body, very fresh and inviting.
Verdict: A super-sipper on a summer afternoon. Would also make a great partner with grilled vegetables dressed in a lemon and olive-oil vinaigrette.
Wine #2: 2015 M. Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage Les Meysonniers Rouge (13% abv; $44 SRP)
This wine hails from the Northern Rhône, where Syrah is king. It is widely adored in the wines of Hermitage, but those wines will take a healthy bite out of your wine budget. Thank goodness for Crozes-Hermitage!
While Hermitage claims but a small number of plots on the steep slopes of the Rhône River, Crozes-Hermitage has a much bigger footprint, encircling the entire Hermitage hill. But these lower slopes still make outstanding Syrah, albeit at a price that’s much friendlier to your wallet. The Les Meysonniers Rouge has drawn comparisons to the famed Syrah of Hermitage La Sizeranne, thanks to its depth and complexity. For a third of the price, I might add.
Grapes for this 100% Syrah were sourced from 25-year-old vines that were farmed biodynamically. Vinified in concrete, and aged for 12 months in concrete before release, this wine has a beautiful black fruit profile, with enough acidity to counterbalance it. It is classic, cool-climate Syrah, a wine that’s honest about where it comes from: continental climate, with minimal manipulation in the winery.
Color: Deep ruby red, barely any paling at the rim.
Nose: Ripe blackberry, graphite, and pepper, with notes of grilled meat emerging after an hour.
Taste: Black fruit, ripe but not jammy, with savory and herbaceous notes that are quite inviting. Less weighty than its big brother Hermitage, this wine still packs a punch: powerful tannins that are well-integrated, tart acidity, and medium+ body.
Verdict: A pleasure to drink, this wine would make the perfect accompaniment to Bistecca alla Fiorentina, the traditional Tuscan steak grilled over charcoal and herbs. If you have to share the Les Meysonniers, try and be nice about it. Or just buy a second bottle – it goes fast!
Wine #3: 2015 M. Chapoutier Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Bernardine Rouge (14.5% abv; $60 SRP)
Now we’ve moved south, to the celebrated stony soils of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Forget everything we talked about relating to conditions in the Northern Rhône, because everything is different here. The climate is decidedly warmer, thanks to the Mediterranean influence; and the fierce north wind known as the Mistral makes mischief in the vineyards. The granite soils of the north give way to the large round stones known as galets, limestone, and shingle clay. Even the go-to grape varieties are different!
Regulations governing wine production in Châteauneuf-du-Pape allow 13 grape varieties in the recipe for red wines, and most are a healthy mix of several of them. This wine, though, is 90% Grenache and 10% Syrah, making it a bit of an oddball – but in a very good way. Chapoutier believes strongly that minimizing the number of varieties in the mix allows the unique influence of the terroir to show through. And, I don’t know about you, but any wine boasting 90% Grenache has my attention before the cork has even been pulled.
Color: Dark ruby core, fading to deep pink at the edge.
Nose: Cherry, lots of black cherry (Oh, how I love Grenache!) with complementary notes of mocha, rosemary, and dirt. A hint of cinnamon.
Taste: A profusion of red and black fruit – berry, cherry, with a mocha/dark chocolate flavor that melts into a spicy licorice finish. Medium acidity, silky tannins, and medium body. The long finish has an herb/pine note which makes the cherry flavors stand out even more.
Verdict: Really enjoyable wine that would be delicious with grilled anything. I’m thinking about pork loin wrapped in rosemary sprigs and grilled to perfection. I love cherry flavors with pork, and this wine has some lovely rosemary notes as well.
Thanks so much to Liz for hosting this month’s Winophiles event, and to everyone affiliated with M. Chapoutier for generously making these wines available to us. Please note that, while they were provided to me as media samples, all thoughts expressed in this post are my own.
Tune in next month as Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Cam takes the Winophiles to another part of southern France, and the wines made from Picpoul, which loosely translates to “Lip-Stinger.” Curious? We hope you’ll join us!