Once again, Geoff Kelly hosted another evening at Regional Wines and Spirits looking at a range of affordable Rhône reds. Three years back I had attended a similar event, which hooked me on wines from the Rhône valley, so I was very keen to come and have another review of these wines in Geoff’s erudite company.
His invitation set the scene: “Time to run another ‘Worth Cellaring’ tasting of the warm red grenache-based wines of the Southern Rhone Valley. At best these can be the most food-friendly and best-value red wines on Earth. They can have all the soft charm and appeal of pinot noir, yet just be that little bit more substantial. In general, one has to pay quite a lot to achieve substantial pinot noirs. This is where the Southern Rhone wines come into their own.
Selection is the key. Because many of them are matured more in large vats, even concrete, than smaller barrels, we have to be on the lookout for heavy dull wines showing some reduction. Most winewriters will never tell you about that aspect of wines, hence the appeal of having our own evaluation tasting, to decide for ourselves which are in truth worth buying.
Good Cotes du Rhone will cellar for years, ageing very gracefully. The layout for the tasting will therefore be: to taste the Guigal wine first as a yardstick – any wine better than this will be worth buying; then a 10-year-old wine to demonstrate that the good ones cellar well; then a sampling of both Cotes du Rhone, and some of the named villages formerly in the Cotes du Rhone-Villages appellation. They cost a little more. This approach should give us a good feel for the wines of the district, and what price level to buy.
By and large Cotes du Rhone is based on Grenache, with varying amounts of Syrah. Cheaper ones have Carignan and Cinsault in them, and don’t keep so well, whereas the best cellar wines have more Mourvedre. Many are raised in concrete, some in stainless, some better ones in big old wood, and a few modern ones have a touch of new oak. We have 12 wines, ranging from the simplest Cotes du Rhone around $20, to representatives of the elite villages formerly in Cotes du Rhone-Villages, but some now with their own AOC, such as Vacqueyras and Rasteau, now in the $40s. The whole idea is to find more affordable Cotes du Rhone-related wines with some of the quality, flavour and weight of Gigondas or Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but at maybe half the price.
The wines will be tasted blind, on this occasion 25 ml samples were used, then a vote on which is best (still blind), before discussion of each sample, to sort out why it is good, bad or indifferent.”
The wines for tasting:
2015 Domaine Alary Cotes du Rhone La Gerbaude
2015 Domaine Les Aphillanthes Rasteau 1921
2015 Domaine de la Charbonniere Vacqueyras
2016 Delas Freres Cotes du Rhône Saint-Esprit
2014 Domaine des Espiers Gigondas
2016 Domaine Les Grands Bois Cotes du Rhone Les 3 Soeurs
2014 Domaine Les Grands Bois Cotes du Rhone-Villages Cairanne Cuvée Maximilien
2013 Maison Guigal Cotes du Rhône
2014 Jerome Quiot Vacqueyras
2016 Domaine Ogier Cotes du Rhône Heritages
2016 Famille Perrin La Vieille Ferme Ventoux
2008 Chateau de Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone Les Deux Albion
The wines were, by and large, all enjoyable. As Geoff also wrote, “As the Australians used to say, before they became more aware of of the wines of the world beyond their shores, in a warmer climate, vintage does not matter so much” so these wines were all drinkable and appreciated in their own way. The lighter, simpler offerings, like the 2014 Jerome Quiot Vacqueyras and the 2015 Domaine Alary Cotes du Rhone La Gerbaude I wasn’t that thrilled with myself, perhaps due to price point and related density of fruit, so I won’t be writing up the whole flight. I’ll concentrate on the wines I enjoyed most:
2013 Maison Guigal Cotes du Rhône – a reference Rhône rouge and a great ‘sighter’ for the flight. Very good flavour and fresh finish. I have scored this at 90 points previously, and wouldn’t revisit that assessment.
2016 Domaine Ogier Cotes du Rhône Heritages Rhône – Good fruit weight and flavours, structure and body. Savoury ‘garruige’ quality. Should hold well.
2016 Domaine Les Grands Bois Cotes du Rhone Les 3 Soeurs – another good wine at great value which I liked enough to buy following the tasting to review in more detail. It showed boldness and character and length, with lovely pepper and shrubby herb notes.
2014 Domaine des Espiers Gigondas Soeurs – from a famous appellation, showing a reductive complex character, fragrant, with the fruit aromas fading slightly in the glass as it sits. On the palate there is great fruit intensity and freshness. This was one to buy for the cellar.
2014 Domaine Les Grands Bois Cotes du Rhone-Villages Cairanne Cuvée Maximilien – from a new sub-regional appellation, with slight reduction, slight unripeness, but complex fruit flavours, fine grained tannins, herby finish with a celery note. Another one to buy for the cellar, and like three years ago, the importer had left none to sell!
2015 Domaine Les Aphillanthes Rasteau 1921 – fine aromatic quality, aromas of dark fruits. Lovely richness and body to this wine. Showed density and power and grace. Soft, long with a fresh finish. Delicious. Another one for the Pool Room!