The Southern Rhône region begins some 45 miles south of the Northern Rhône, and its soils are less severe, producing more expansive wines. Here the stars are Chàteauneuf-du-Pape (CDP), Côtes du Rhône, and Gigondas. Don’t skip the inexpensive Côtes du Rhône offerings of your retailer. Particularly for the 2005, 2007, and 2009-2010 vintages, they must be counted among the best wine bargains that France offers. Try the selections from Perrin ($9-10), the Château du Trignon ($17), or Chapoutier Belleruche ($12). In a step up the quality level 18 Côtes du Rhône wines are also authorized to include the name of the village where they are produced on their label – your favorite, whether Sablét or Roaix, may be your own wine discovery!
We all have enjoyed CDP in the winter, and as with the Côtes-du-Rhône offerings, a succession of fine vintages has occurred. But as it happened, a wine tasting at the French Embassy in Washington a few years ago took place on the very day that Pope Benedict XVI visited Washington. Since a number of CDP wines were being tasted, that struck me as an interesting coincidence. That area of the Southern Rhône was, after all, named for the period when the papacy was in Avignon, France, and CDP itself is located a few miles from Avignon (where the famous bridge still exists).
My wine discovery was “Les Sinards Blanc,” a white CDP produced by the renowned Perrin Brothers, owners of Château Beaucastel, which is regarded as one of the finest red CDP wines, often costing $90 or more per bottle, with the limited production “Hommage à Jacques Perrin” costing even more. We have visited the property, and were intrigued by their white wines as well. The Beaucastel Blanc ages very well, they said, and for a considerable length of time. Our sample was smooth and very satisfying. The white wine is made from a 1,000 acre vineyard from vines that are 75 years old. (The 2009 retails for $77, and is made from 80% Roussanne and 20% Grenache Blanc grapes.)
However, the “Les Sinards Blanc” comes from a 2.5 acre plot called the Clos du Château located within the enclosure of the historical Papal Palace itself. It is made from 70% Grenache Blanc and 30% Clairette. This limited production wine (some 250 cases) was first produced for the 2005 vintage. Our case became our favorite wine for hearty fish dishes, such as lobster, bouillabaisse or rock fish. Surprisingly, the excellent 2009 vintage is also listed for $35, and it is a great value.
Beaucastel does make a second wine, called Coudoulet de Beaucastel Rouge (2009 $33), and it is flavorful, but unlike the practice in Bordeaux, it is not from the same terroir as Château Beaucastel, and is more properly considered a Côtes-du-Rhône than a CDP. At less than a third of the price of Beaucastel, though, Coudoulet is still a bargain. There is also a Coudoulet Blanc, which I enjoyed at the same tasting ($45 for the 2005), but I found it lighter than the Les Sinards Blanc.
In this land of sunshine, visit with an open mind and a curious palate. You’re sure to make your own wine discoveries. Then you’ll know how uncorking a fine bottle of wine can bring back pleasant memories – and create some new ones!
Do you have a favorite wine from the Southern Rhone? Please comment below!