I had the good fortune to visit the various Rhone valley wine regions for seven days. The areas within are visually beautiful. The wines of the North can best be described as elegant and delicate. In contrast, the wines of the South are rustic and full of personality. Probably my favourite wines of Planet Earth.
This has been one of the great experiences of my life. Share it with me.
The Rhône valley produces a host of exciting wines under various Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) designations. The major appellation in production volume is Côtes du Rhône AOC.
The Rhône is usually divided into two sub-regions, each with its own vinicultural traditions. The Northern Rhône (Rhône septentrional) and the Southern Rhône (in French Rhône méridional). The northern region makes red wines from the Syrah variety, sometimes blended with white wine grapes, and white wines from Marsanne, Roussane and Viognier grapes. The southern sub-region produces a large range of red, white and rosé wines, often blends of several grapes. The most famous appellation is Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Here are the links to the wonderful experiences of all seven days. Enjoy!
I don’t know about you, but personally, I’m not impressed often enough with the red wines people bring to the house when I’m entertaining.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful for the gift, and even more thankful that they’ve come so I can enjoy their company. That means a lot to me. But let’s face it, there are a lot of just so-so wines out there, especially reds. Part of the reason is that it costs more for the winery to make a decent wine than many of us are willing to pay. We should up our budget a bit.
We should up our wine budget.
This is the single most effective way to acquire better wines. Buy less often if you have to, at least your purchase will be enjoyable.
That said, I don’t want to necessarily place the burden on my guests to buy more expensive wines. Not cool. But maybe I can drop a few hints on great wine regions, eh? Yeah, I think I’m on to something.
Go for Wine Regions that Deliver!
Ok, so now for a little list of lesser-chosen wine regions that generally produce truly great wines (with one or two varietal suggestions from each). Some of these come at a slight premium, but won’t break the bank:
Kremstal, Kamptal, Südsteiermark, Austria (grüner veltliner, riesling, sauvignon blanc)
Abruzzo, Italy (montepulciano d’abruzzo)
Southern Rhône, France (Côtes du Rhône Villages, usually with multiple varietals, including grenache)
Languedoc-Roussillon, France (just about any type, especially grenache based blends, but don’t get the cheapest)
And now here’s an example of a Côtes du Rhône Villages that a dear family member brought over during the holidays. A delightful wine that impressed me immensely.
Domaine Grande Bellane Valreas Cotes du Rhone Villages 2010
A blend of 30% grenache and 70% syrah, this wine speaks volumes to the palate. My first impression is that it has a gorgeous palate, with complexity and balance. Not too much of any particular flavour nuance, not too intense with tannins. Just right. The deep colour and aromatic bouquet lead to wonderful flavours of dark cherry, plum and subtle spice within an elegant, yet slightly rustic overall presentation. It pairs beautifully with red meat, game, and a wide variety of other foods.
I love the wines from the Amyndeon and Florina wine regions of the province of Macedonia. Being in the northwestern part of Greece, the region is cooler than other parts of the country and with the high altitude, and surrounding mountains and lakes, it possesses a microclimate very suitable for grape growing.
Wines of Greece section at LCBO Store #4
Check out the large and luxuriant “Wines of Greece” section at LCBO store #4 at 200 Danforth Avenue, Toronto!
TYPICAL TASTING NOTES OF REDS
Many of their reds are perfect to complement BBQ or Pizza, They are wine-enthusiast’s wines. Typically, you’ll find elegant notes of red and dark berries, along with blueberries, chocolate and a hint of spice. Structured. Perfect balance of ripe tannins. The reds often remind me a little of wines from Southern Rhone, with Grenache-like aromatic seduction. You’ll find the wonderful Xinomavro, often blended with varietals like Merlot, Syrah and others.
The wines are grown at altitudes up to 600 metres in sandy and other soils. The climate is cool in winter and warm in summer. These conditions contribute to rich aromas.
On the slopes of Epanomi, near the city of Thessaloniki, a well-cared vineyard surrounds the modern winery, where the renowned Domaine Gerovassiliou wines are produced. These are wines full of character and luscious flavour.
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What a fine experience it was to have a vertical tasting of Sablet wines all the way back to 1990 here. And great to meet Jean Autran from Domaine de Piaugier. Outstanding wines of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. Rustic yet elegant, rich, yet sometimes delicate. Sensuous flavours in the glass.
Sablet is a commune in the Vaucluse department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in southeastern France. It is a fortified Provençal village founded in the 800’s and rich in history.
Great little drive back to our Bed and Breakfast in Cairrane through misty blackness punctuated by little galaxies of light, each a village nestled in the Alpine foothills here in the Southern Rhone.
are experiencing a significant renaissance. That’s a very good thing. It’s possibly the oldest wine producing region of the world, going back at least 6,500 years. It was the Greeks who introduced wine to Italy. Greek wine had especially high prestige among the Romans. And Greek wines were transported to the ancients all over the Mediterranean from the earliest of times.
Fast forward to the modern age. I set out to find out about the Greek wine renaissance from Steve Kriaris of Kolonaki Group, the premier importer of Greek wines in Ontario. Steve explained that just a couple of years ago, LCBO’s Vintages would buy around 200 cases of a Greek wine for one of their promotions, and for a similar promo now, they buy over 500 cases just to keep up with exploding demand. I will begin to explain some of the likely reasons for the surge in popularity, and invite you to comment below with your own observations.
It’s certainly clear that the LCBO, top restaurants, sommeliers and wine reviewers are discovering that Greek wines have history and culture, and that their affordability belies their high quality. Experts and laymen alike are learning that there are some spectacular new wine varietals to discover.
I spent the weekend tasting a number of Greek wines in order to share my findings here. Following are some highlights. I invite you to take the plunge and try these for yourself. You’ll be very pleased. And you’ll still be one of the early participants in this wine renaissance:
Moschofilero Boutari 2012 White Wine —– $11.95 LCBO # 172387
Region: Mantinia (Southwestern Greece) Varietal: Moschofilero Producer: Boutari. One of Greece’s oldest wine companies, founded in 1879. Alcohol: 12%
Notes: This is a classic Moschofileo with a charming floral bouquet amidst lemon rind, tangerine and peach. These characteristics follow through in flavour with crispness and a whisper of spice. I’m going to make this my Pinot Grigio alternative for quite some time, it’s so delightfully full of personality and character. Pairs very well with Mediterranean home cooked cuisine or try it with spicy Asian or Indian dishes.
Grande Reserve Naoussa 2007 Red Wine —– coming soon to Vintages
Region: Naoussa (North Western Macedonia, Greece) Varietal: Xinomavro Producer: Boutari. Alcohol: 13%
Notes: Deep and dark red blockbuster aged 24 months in barrels. The richness already comes out in the nose, with aromas of olives, spice cabinet, figs and red and black berries. The flavours are complex, robust and full-bodied with firm tannins. Long finish.
Estate Argyros Santorini 2011 White Wine —– coming soon to Vintages
Notes: From that wonderful Greek island of Santorini, this outstanding white wine caressed the senses with aristocratic intensity. Produced from 150 year old+ vines, this blockbuster is made from 100% Assyrtiko grapes in an intense yet fine presentation of complex aromas and flavours that speak of minerality and citrus blossoms. Full body. Crisp and lingering finish.
The Argyros family have operated the winery since 1903. Under the guidance of 4th generation Mattheos Argyros, the winery is moving towards 100% organic farming. “We believe good wine is produced in the vineyard,” he says. “We invest a lot of time and effort in our vines to ensure they produce high quality grapes.”
The team includes an older generation of growers who have years of experience with Santorini’s traditional viticultural techniques. They share their years of experience and expertise with Mattheos, who took over the management of the winery recently following his father’s passing. To compliment the experience of the older growers, they also work with a young new breed of people well educated in viticulture and modern winemaking techniques who also share the family’s vision of producing the purest expression of Santorini’s indigenous varieties, especially Assyrtiko.
Conclusion: Break out of your own little wine rut and try some wines that will take you into the deeply fascinating annals of viticulture. You’ll enjoy terrific new character and personality in the wines of Greece.
I’m at Chateau Jean Faure in St. Emilion. I feel like I’m home. The sunny disposition, soil, and general feeling of this place seem familiar and magical.
The chateau’s historic roots, its reference terroir, and a passionate owner: Olivier Decelle make it very special. Monsieur Decelle explains: “This is a historic terroir. There are two main parts to the terroir of Saint Emilion, limestone and clay. Here we are in the clay and iron dross part, and in fact it is more Pomerol, the plot touches Château l’Evangile in Pomerol, it neighbours Cheval Blanc, and this section over here is close to Petrus and Château Figeac, which is 50 % Cabernet Franc. This gives a lot of tension and structure to the wines. They may be difficult to understand when you first taste them, but they’ve received exceptional care and have a personality that delights me.”
We had a chance to get a tour of the wine cellars, vineyards, and the section of the chateau where you can stay.
Chateau Jean Faure is an 18 hectare estate in St. Emilion. They have old vines that are 40 years old. Vinification is in 80 hectoliter concrete vats that are shaped slightly differently than you find in many St. Emilion cellars. The vats are wider, similar to those in Burgundy.
Stephane Derenoncourt is consulting winemaker. The estate has one of the largest concentrations of Cabernet Franc and Malbec planted in the entire Bordeaux appellation. Production is close to 8,000 cases per year.
Grapes are carefully placed in small temperature-controlled vats without being crushed. Fermentation occurs with indigenous yeasts. The cap is punched four times per day with a minimum of pump overs. Maceration is about 21 days. Maturation is for 18 months in French Oak Barrels. The final blend is a combination of 50% new oak (with malolactic fermentation in barrels) and 50% in concrete vats.
The estate offers a single wine.
2010 Château Jean-Faure St. Émilion Grand Cru
The wine is a blend of 54% Cabernet Franc, 40% Merlot and 6% Malbec. Deep garnet colour and a subtle nose of black raspberries, licorice and dusty earthy scents. The palate is elegant and fresh with a long finish. This is a balanced, complex, sweet, full bodied St. Emilion. And it was a grand year for Cabernet Franc in St. Emilion.
A rustic elegance dominates. The building was gutted and refurbished in 2006, with ample original beams and stone blocks. This is a beautiful place to stay; just a short drive or an easy walk into the historic and ridiculously gorgeous village of St. Emilion.