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Visiting the Northern Rhone Valley

Syrah is my favorite varietal, so I was very excited to visit its “homeland”, the Northern Rhone Valley in France.  Syrah is the only red varietal used in all five of the appellations located in the Northern Rhone:  Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Saint Joseph, Cornas and Côte-Rôtie.

My husband and I stayed in Tain l’Hermitage, a beautiful town set right on the Rhone River.  Hotel Les 2 Coteaux was the perfect spot to call home while we were there.  The view from our window had vineyards, the river, and an adorable pedestrian bridge that connects Tain l’Hermitage to its twin city Touron-sur-Rhone.  The proprietor was very kind and made us feel at home immediately.

Our first tasting was at the famous Rhone Valley producer Maison M. Chapoutier, often referred to simply as Chapoutier.  They have a beautiful tasting room right in Tain l’Hermitage where we tasted many of their wines from the Northern and Southern Rhone.  My favorites included the 2010 Côte-Rôtie Les Bécasses, which has violets, spicy earth and bacon, the 2011 Les Granilites St Joseph Blanc, big on the palate with honey, apricots and nice minerality, and the expensive but unbelievably impressive 2010 Le Pavillon Emitage, with a deep purple color, dark fruit flavors, superb concentration and a long finish.  This wine needs to spend many years in the cellar before cracking open.  Another fun fact about Chapoutier is that their labels are also in braille!

Our next visit was Cave de Tain, also right in Tain l’Hermitage.  While waiting for them to open after lunch, we witnessed some vineyard workers across the street.  It was fascinating to see the use of horse and plow in the fields.  This is not an uncommon practice in the Northern Rhone, because of the steep hillsides and the popularity of biodynamic and organic farming practices.

At Cave de Tain we tasted a large range of Rhone wines, from everyday bottlings for as little as 5 euro, a nice Cornas at 23 euro, all the way up to a nice Hermitage in the 70 euro range.

Next on our list was Domaine des Remizieres located in Mercurol.  This is a family winery with some wonderful wines.  The 2011 Cuvee Christophe Crozes-Hermitage is 100% Syrah and is quite aromatic with plenty of dark fruits and some licorice and earthiness on the nose.  The palate is lush with fruit and some pleasant toastiness.  The 2011 Saint Joseph is lush with fruitiness and vanilla.  It can be drunk young (I’ve already consumed the bottle I bought and wish I had more!), but will get even better with a couple of more years in the bottle.

Our final tasting in the area was at Domaine des Entrefaux, which is located in the village of Chanos-Curson.  This winery is set in a beautiful location, up on a mountain overlooking vineyards.  The tasting room was perfect, complete with a table and chairs in which to sit and an adorable wine dog.  The gal pouring for us was delightful, and I had the opportunity to use my much practiced, although somewhat limited, French.  We communicated fine, though, and had a wonderful tasting.  Known as one of the most reputable producers of Crozes-Hermitage, it wasn’t surprising that we were thrilled with the quality of the wines we tasted.  Father and son team Charles and Francois Tardy have 21 hectares of Syrah and 5 hectares of Marsanne.  They began using organic practices in 2000 and received official organic certification in 2012.  It was difficult to pick a favorite.  I bought a bottle of each of the 2011 Crozes-Hermitage Les Pends Rouge and Blanc.  I couldn’t wait to open the red, so I’m drinking it tonight. There is blackberry, cassis and some white pepper on the palate.  At only about $20 a bottle, this wine rocks!

If you’re a fellow lover of Syrah, the Northern Rhone Valley is a must visit.  The people are lovely, the views are incredible, and the wines are very special.


2007 Domaine Catherine Le Goeuil Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne

My husband is out of town, so I spent some time rifling through our cellar last night to find a wine for just me.  In celebration of my upcoming trip to the Rhone Valley, I decided on a half bottle of the 2007 Domaine Catherine Le Goeuil Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne.

Cairanne, located in the French departement of Vaucluse, is a small village located between the Rhone River and the famous Dentelles de Montmirail mountain chain.  Along with its neighbors Beaumes-de-Venise, Rasteau, Sablet, and Seguret, Cairanne is considered one of the five best areas allowed to use the Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC distinction.  The red wines of this region require a minimum of 50% Grenache and at least 20% Syrah and/or Mourvèdre; other permitted varieties (Counoise, Cinsault and Carignan among others) must not exceed 20%.

Catherine Le Goeuil is a bit of a trailblazer.  She was born in the Congo to French parents, but had always wanted to “return to her roots”.  In 1993 she and her family bought this six-hectare domaine.  After their first chemical treatment to the vineyards she became very ill, and she realized that if these chemicals made HER ill, they would also make the vines ill.  She began the conversion to organic farming and today her winery is now certified organic.

And now for the wine!  On the nose are bright berry aromas with a hint of fresh flowers and some damp earth.  The palate of this medium bodied wine is very pleasing with spicy red currant, thyme and good acidity.  This is a very pleasant wine possessing a substantial finish with black pepper and hints of the terroir.

I saved a glass for tonight and had it with a fresh salad drenched in a very garlicky dressing, along with a chunk of Beemster XO Gouda from Holland.  It was a great pairing with both.

There are many lovely Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Villages wines on the market here in North America.  A lot of these wines are of great value and don’t break the bank.  This wine is one of them!

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