The red wines of the Rhone continue to captivate, writes Clive Platman.
“Think Red, Think Cotes du Rhone” has been the most successful marketing campaign for any French wine.
Supported by an image of a red stiletto heel in the shape of a wine glass, the wine is soft, round and friendly, bursting with Mediterranean sunshine.
It’s a style that speaks directly to the consumer, and a brand that can be trusted.
Always a blend of two or more varieties, the staple grape is grenache. Supremely adapted to the climate, it can cope with extreme heat or drought, yet is resistant to the often violent mistral winds.
Grenache provides weight and warmth, with fruity flavours more at the red end of the spectrum. It’s a low-tannin grape, and thus requires the support of syrah, originating from the smaller northern part of the region. As well as giving structure and colour, syrah yields more black-fruit characters.
There are other players, too. Mourvedre provides depth and structure, allowing a wine to have greater ageing potential. The less well-regarded carignan and cinsault, if handled carefully, can also bring that extra dimension to the party.
The French, as we know, are obsessed by “terroir”, a concept which means that the wines with the best potential come from specific locations. At the bottom of the heap is Cotes du Rhone, with Chateauneuf-du-Pape (the leading Rhone brand) at the pinnacle. In between, there is an order of ascendancy, with Cotes du Rhone-Villages on the next step up, and then the actual name of the village one step higher.
Domaine des Pasquieres, for example, produce two cuvees from Plan de Dieu and Sablet, both Rhone Villages and slightly different in style. Both 2009s are listed by Voddens Vintages of Wednesbury (0121 526 6554).
Striving for cru (top) status is Cairanne, and Nick Thompson, of Domaine L’Ameillaud, has been developing the brand since 1983. At first, his wines were sold in bulk, but after buying out his remaining investors in the 1990s, he has gone on to create a consistent image.
He is firmly of the opinion that the best wines are blends. While wines should have structure, his primary focus is on the fruit and he sees no need for the use of oak. His Cairanne 2010 (listed by Berry Bros – www.bbr.com) has sweet black-cherry fruit character. The 2011 has plenty of warmth and spice.