Just imagine! 250 km from north to south, 250 communes (local authority areas, often villages)… The vineyards of the Rhône Valley are a world apart, a shifting landscape which winds and unwinds around a fluid axis: the Rhône, king of rivers, carrying silt and a sense of history. The Rhône is the linking factor, holding together these contrasting landscapes. From Vienne to Nîmes and Avignon, and on to the borders of the Luberon, on both banks of the river, there is a wealth of places to explore”. Christophe Tassan, “Flânerie dans le Vignoble de la Vallée du Rhône”.
Rhône Valley Wines presented their annual tasting, “A Land of Wine and Festivals,” last week at the Majestic Metro, Downtown. If you’ve never visited the Majestic Metro, it’s absolutely beautiful. The red uplifting, wood bars and theater style format was the perfect backdrop for an afternoon of education and wine tasting.
Côtes du Rhône simply means ‘ hillsides of the Rhône.” Wines can be made anywhere in the Rhône Valley, as long as it meets the appellation standards. The Rhône Valley is France’s second largest quality wine producing region, with the bulk of the production occurring in the Southern region. As an avid red wine drinker, I was super excited to receive this invitation specifically because I know that the bulk (80%) of Côtes du Rhône and Rhône villages is red. The Rhône whites and rosé were new to me and I was excited about the opportunity to learn more about them.
Upon arrival guests were checked in, issued name badges and gifted cool Rhone Valley Wine goodie bags prior to being escorted into the main theater. Our bags contained a passport of sorts, highlighting the various Rhône wine varietals, appellation and tasting notes. A branded wine key and an over the shoulder bag, but the most awesome gift was the map of Rhône Valley’s 17 “Crus” (grouped vineyards of recognized quality).
Once escorted in to Majestic’ s main theater we enjoyed a wine themed photo booth spitting out old school Polaroids, a lavish assortment of finger food fit for a queen and 20 wines at various tasting stations that appeared to glisten in the light.
As the United States is the No. 1 export market for Rhône Valley Wines and the fact that 80% of those wines are red, I would assume that the goal of this tasting was to bring knowledge and awareness to Rhône Valley’s white and rosé wines. Hence their “up front and center” placement inside the theater.
Each tasting station had a different name, not 100% sure of the correlation but we started with the White wines from the “Jazz Pavilion.” They weren’t my favorite, mainly because white wines have never done it for me. Even in the middle of Houston’s scorching summer I choose red wine over white. The Chateau de Campuget, made with 60% Roussanne grapes, was the favorite of all those who visited this tasting station, and by far the only white I enjoyed.
It was light, floral and smooth. Very reminiscent of drinking a glass of ice cold water…and I love water. The soft notes of honeysuckle on the palate was a bit nostalgic and reminded me of my childhood in Arkansas. My cousins and I would eat from the honeysuckle bushes that lined the fences along our route home from school.
The next stop was the “Opera Pavilion” where we enjoyed some deliciously crisp Rosé. This wine is a bit unfamiliar for me too, though I’ve heard more about it than anything. At first glance I can comfortably say these are the most beautiful of the varietals. Their rosey-pink color comes from the actual grape skin via the “skin contact” method. Black-skinned grapes are crushed and the skins are allowed to remain in contact with the juice for a short period. The longer the grape skins remain in contact with the juice the more intense the color of the final product.
Not quite red wine, but delicious none the less. The Côtes du Rhône, Les Dauphins Reserve 2015 was by far my favorite and will be added to my “summer sips” rotation without a doubt. The notes of fresh red fruits makes it an easy standalone wine or a perfect pair up with these beef and bacon chipotle meatballs.
Next was my favorite stop on the tasting train; the “Dance Pavilion”was the home of some Côtes du Rhóne red wines. I was finally on my way to soaking my tongue in bold notes of chocolate, black cherry and licorice. I’ve found that the wines I prefer are reminiscent of the beers I drink. Deep. Dark. Robust.
The reds were pleasant with the exception of the Costiéres de Nîmes, Tradition 2013. Out of all the wines this one fell flat and was a bit too light on the palate. The description listed notes of “spice” and “pepper” but I got none of that. The winner from this group was the Crozes-Hermitage 2010 of which is 100% Syrah.
We noshed on cheese and these cute little antipasti skewers, while savoring the Crozes-Hermitage’s notes of prune and black currant.
There were a ton of red wine tasting stations and that goes back to the 80% I previously mentioned. The “Central bar” was the home for the remaining six red wines. At this point I noticed the wines going to the head of some of the guests, so in addition to enjoying the wines, I “people watched” a little too. That’s always fun.
Most of the Côtes du Rhóne red wines taste similar in profile. I am curious if that is because the bulk of them contain and very high percentage of Grenache, one of the most widely planted grapes in the region? The Barton Guester Passeport and Clos De Taman were nearly identical on the palate. Possibly the only thing that made the remaining two wines stand out was the incorporation of the Spanish grape, “carignan.”
The flavors of black and red fruit, chocolate and violet led to an innate craving for meat. Not too much, but just enough to fight its bold flavors. I went with the Prosciutto Wrapped Focaccia with a balsamic drizzle and feta.
Our final wine for the afternoon was the Costiéres De Nîmes, Galets Rouges 2012. My friend and I joked that it provided a peppery coating to our throat. We referred to it as a “throat hug.” For whatever reason we laughed so hard about that. We were informed that this wine goes well with Italian or Mediterranean cuisine. So, to close out with the last wine we grabbed a few hummus bites and mini fresca shrimp tacos.
I met so many wonderful wine enthusiasts from France during the Rhône Valley Wine annual tasting. I’ m totally optimistic about seeing them again, on their turf, in the near future. Special thanks to all those who put this amazing event together. I had a fabulous time sipping, savoring and smiling at the 2016 Rhone Valley Wines Annual Tasting!