In the South, Grenache takes over from Syrah as the grape of choice, ripening quickly with high sugar and lower tannin. That said, blends with Syrah and Mourvedre – the GSMs, for short – are very common. The climate shifts to Mediterranean here, with heated summers and milder winters. The terroir is known for bringing a spicy/herbal note to the region’s wines. Vines are pruned low to the ground, for protection against the wind and to benefit from any reflected ground heat. The appellations here are:
Côtes du Rhône: 80% of the area’s production comes from this “generalist” appellation. A range of styles are found, from light, fruity products – some even using Beaujolais’s carbonic maceration method – to richer, oaked offerings.
Côtes du Rhône-Villages: Some of the villages in the southern Rhône have the right to use this more specific appellation if they are willing to meet stricter criteria regarding alcohol levels and yields. The jump in quality is significant. There are 16 villages which can add their specific name on the labels as well, if all the wine came only from that village. Two of these villages, Beaumes de Venise and Rasteau, also have specific appellations for the production of Vins Doux Naturels, one of my favorite ways to end a good meal.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape: This region was home to Pope Clement the Fifth, in the belle ville of Avignon. He and his French successors were great lovers of wine and did much to promote viticultural growth in this area before the papacy left for Rome once again. Wine-wise, the area is known for its rough terrain, where in some areas,productive and robust vines grow vigorously in soil made up of large pudding stones, or galets (see the cover photo). The 13 allowable grapes were listed in my earlier post, here. The Beaucastel house remains the only one to persist with all 13 grapes in its blend. Only a small number of whites are made in this area (about 3% of production), and like the reds, these tend to be heavier and richer in style. C-d-P has a minimum alcohol requirement of 12.5% – the highest in France – which often surpasses 15% in practice. Robert Parker Jr enjoyed the robust reds from this area and his “stamp of approval” contributed much to the growth of their popularity in North America.
Gigondas and Vacqueyras – These small appellations are known for creating heavy-duty reds, the best of which – from Gigondas – can rival the best of C-d-P, most of which demand years of aging before they reach their peak.
Lirac and Tavel – Ah, the lure of a quality rosé in the summertime! Dry and potent, the Tavel rosés are complex and refreshing and one of my favorites. See my tirade on the lure of rosés here.