The Rhone Rangers, a group of California winemakers keen on making Rhone style wines in the United State, have been attempting to popularize the likes of California Syrah and blends of classic Rhone varietals which include Grenache, Mourvedre, Viognier and a host of other less well-known varietals.
While many consumers enjoy the richer, sweeter fruit flavours of American versions (although thankfully overtime California versions are veering away from the jammy Australian style), my palate enjoys the wild Mediterranean herb (sometimes noted as garrigue) and cracked black pepper tones of French versions. It shouldn't be said there aren't many great American Rhone style wines as the likes of Edmunds St. John, Eberle and Tablas Creek and many more can be fantastic but for the Rhone experience head to the other side of the Atlantic.
With the increasing quality and more consistent nature of Southern French wines, I recommend giving them a second look. Here are a couple on the shelves of wine stores in Nova Scotia.
Everyday: Lavau Cotes du Rhone Villages (Bishops Cellar, $12.87+tax)
Tasted: November 15th, 2012
An almost equal blend of Grenache and Syrah. This is exactly what you want from a little Cotes du Rhone as it delivers peppery spice, red fruit flavours, a little herbal and mineral edge and just enough structure to keep it interesting but not enough to sway it from being the unpretentious little drop of wine that it is undoubtedly intended to be.
Serving Suggestion: Nothing complicated. Try is with a thin crust pizza topped with sausage.
Gourmet: Michel Gassier Nostre Pais Costieres de Nimes Rouge (Select NSLC*, $24.49)
Tasted Blind: Jan 25th, 2013
Although the large Costieres de Nimes appellation is now included as part of the Rhone Valley network of appellations it is at this point that we see the rise of Carignan, an oft maligned grape that left to its own devices will yield heavy volumes of undistinguished grapes. However, when its yield is kept under control it adds a wonderful floral perfume which is evident in this wine. This wine which is a blend of Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvedre and a touch of Syrah has a remarkable floral, lavender, wild herb scent that separates it from its Cotes du Rhone counterparts. It is impressively silky, generous in fruit and well-balanced. I love its combination of fragrance and supple texture. It is immediately enjoyable but can take some short term cellaring and is a great find for those that like to try wines that come from off the beaten track. Also recommended from the same producer is the Chateau de Nages Costieres de Nimes (NSLC, $23.49).
Serving Suggestion: Roast duck breast served with paprika and rosemary roasted potatoes and roast tomato.
*Available at select NSLC stores. Go to mynslc.com and search Gassier to find the wine and the stores carrying it.
Mark DeWolf is the Food & Drinks Editor of Occasions Magazine, a sommelier instructor and owner of By the Glass.