Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Rhone Blend

Originating in France’s Rhone Valley, the Rhone blend generally refers to a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, and Grenache, the top three grapes of the area. These grapes, along with Cinsault, Muscardin, Cournoise, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Picpoul, Roussanne, Terret Noir, Picardan, and Vaccarese are the allowable varieties for the famous Châteauneuf du Pape, “the Pope’s new castle” in recognition of Avignon as the home of the papal court in the 14th century. Cotes du Rhone wines are similarly blended, as are many wines in the nearby Languedoc-Roussillon appellation.

While certainly capable of producing single varietal wines, the thought process behind blending these various grapes together was to take advantage, as was the case in the rest of Europe, of the different ripening times, allowing for plenty of “bankers”, early ripeners in case of foul weather at harvest. Blending also allows for the winemaker to act as a chef, adding a dash of this and a soupcon of that until the final product is just right.

Coming at this from a new world, varietal-centric approach, many winemakers were at a loss as to what to call their wines. In California, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Carignan and Grenache have been growing in the Central Valley since the mid 1870’s, often grown, picked, and fermented in field blends for sturdy table wines. In the late 1970’s a group of Northern California winemakers began to experiment with these and, more significantly, Syrah, creating the USA’s first Rhone blends and became known as the Rhone Rangers.

Syrah is a single varietal star, especially in Sonoma and Monterey, but it is still considered the most noble of the Rhone blend grapes. Today there are over 500 wineries in all regions of California making Rhone blend wines.

White Rhone blends are made with Marsanne, Roussanne, or Viognier. In all, including white grapes, the French government recognizes 21 or 22 (depending on what source you reference) different grape varieties in the Rhone Valley. The Rhone Rangers have adopted these varieties (even though some are not grown in the United States, as well as a French originated cross, Durif (Petite Sirah) and Zinfandel. For a wine to be considered a “Rhone Ranger” wine, it must contain at least 75% of the accepted varieties.

Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône Valley (France)
Clos du Caillou Chateauneuf du Pape, Rhône Valley (France)
Feraud Brunel, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône Valley (France)
Pégaü, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône Valley (France)
Vieux Telegraphe, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône Valley (France)
Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant, California (USA)
Ca’ del Solo Big House Red, California (USA)
Edmunds St. John Rocks & Gravel, California (USA)
Qupé Los Olivos Cuvée, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara, California (USA)

Best Value
Guigal Cotes du Rhône, Rhône Valley (France)
Domaine de l’Hortus, Coteaux du Languedoc (Pic St-Loup), Languedoc Roussillon (France)
Rosemount GSM Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre, Southeast Australia (Australia)

© Copyright 2014 Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis, Planet Grape LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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