Arriving back to earth from the peaks of the Alps, the Tour takes a couple of stages around the Northern Rhone Valley beginning on Thursday in Sisteron and up to Bourg-les-Valence, with a start Friday in Bourg-de-Peage just north of Valence and south to finish in Mende. The Northern Rhone wine region is comprised of steep, vertiginous slopes along the river and rolling hillsides and side valleys spreading out from there. It is a much more compact region than the sprawling southern Rhone, and its location on the border between the cooler continental north and the sunny and warm Mediterranean south leads to a different mix of grape varieties and wine style.
The Northern Rhone (or Septentrional meaning of the north) is home to Syrah for the reds, and Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne for the tiny amount of white wine made here. The Northern Rhone wines, while they can and often do have solid power and strength, still have something of finesse, perfume, elegance about them, both in the reds and whites. It is an area that I don't typically consider when looking for bargain basement wines - winemaking in the steep vineyards is difficult, and all in all there are relatively small amounts of wines made in the top appellations so the best can be quite pricey. However there is exceptional value here if you explore the regions of Cornas, Saint Joseph and Crozes Hermitage with classic peppery, cassis, olive tapenade and violet scented syrah from these villages. The top whites are found in Hermitage and Condrieu, and are exceptional wines and worth seeking out if you have deep pockets. Here are a few suggestions of wine from the region available at the shop - enjoy the race! For all of our Rhone wines click to visit us at 56 Degree Wine and search on Rhone.
2007 JL Chave St. Joseph Blanc "Celeste" $35 - In what is one of the greatest values we've come across in quite a while, this offering from the legendary Jean Louis Chave hails from a vineyard in St. Joseph that he purchased which had some barrels languishing in the cellar when he took possession. He took a taste and was unsure about what to do with them but continued to care for the wine and make subtle adjustments in its vinification. Finally, he tried the wine and was blown away with what he tasted. And after trying the end result a week ago in bottle, I was equally astounded with it! This wine is an anomaly, a one-off that will eventually go into a St. Joseph Blanc bottling that will sell for far more. 100% Marsanne from old vine material, this is polished, plush white that is like drinking "Baby-Hermitage" from Chave himself. Juicy guava, creme brulee, orange marmalade, baking spices have roundness, lovely weight and searing acidity keeping the wine lively. A wine that if tasted blind, one would be hard pressed to not think it's Hermitage from an excellent vintage.
Region: Rhone (St Joseph,) France
Drink: Now - 2012
2006 Francois Villard Cote Rotie "Le Gallet Blanc" $72 - Despite the moniker, this is far from a white wine. Made by one of the great Rhone producers Francois Villard, "Les Gallet Blanc" refers to the "white stones" that dot this single vineyard site in Cote Rotie. Solid, dark almost smoky coffee/espresso richness underpinned by earth, ripe but solid tannins. Long, warm, lingering finish.
Region: Cote Rotie (N. Rhone), France
Drink: 2020 - 2025
Cuisine: Leg of lamb, game cuts of beef, & venison.