First snow of the year in London and Instagram is already bursting with snow-filled stories. We all know that it won’t stick in the city but this doesn’t stop us from hoping!
On cold days like these, my ideal setting includes a snuggly blanket, buckets of herbal tea and planning my wine treat for dinner. As much as I love the turned-white view from my window, I hate the cold. I simply can’t stand it. Snow makes me crave rich, generous and expressive wines with lots of sun-kissed flavours: dried herbs, ripe red fruits and used leather along with grilled meaty notes to satisfy my warmth-seeking expedition.
At a recent WSET Diploma class with the amazing Anne McHale MW (one of the best classes we had this year), we explored the Rhône Valley and tried 3 different winter warmes from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Southern Rhône. This well known region is the largest and most significant in the South while being the birthplace of appellation contrôlée in 1932. The wines may be the blend of ripe, juicy grapes coming from 13 (!!!) different varieties, but it’s fair to say that the majority is made by the dominating Grenache with Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault holding supporting roles. It’s not often that the Châteauneuf wines disappoint mainly due to the strict regulations of low yields (26 hl/ha), hand harvesting and sorting. Thanks to Le Mistral, the cooling, dry wind blowing from the Mediterranean, the grapes remain at ideal for ripening temperatures, avoiding getting “cooked” by the intense heat. So, merci le Mistral!
If you google “Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyards”, you will most probably stumble among dozens of pictures like the one below from Wine Folly’s website (source)
The “galets”, the white pudding stones, that reflect the heat back to the vines at night play a significant role in growing ripe and juicy grapes and are the most associated terrain with this Appelation but the region also has gravel soils in the North and clay with sand in the south.
Now, on to the tasting!
Three wines covering the under £15-, under £25- and under £35-mark.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape Tesco Finest 2015
This was the easiest-drinking, most straightforward wine of the three with lovely notes of ripe strawberries, rasberries and red cherries with kisses of liquorice and some medicinal hints. Its full body is primarily supported by the high alcohol, 14% abv, and the tannins are not as smooth as the other two with a coarsy texture. If it’s your first Châteauneuf, this Tesco Finest could be a great value option with good quality and simple, fruity notes. Good concentration of fruit but lacks the complexity and herbal character the wines of the region are renowned for.
Made by the Gonnet family, whose roots are deep in the region since the 1500’s, at Domaine Font de Michelle that got its name from an actual spring on the premises. This is a blend of 70% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre and 10% other grape types like Cinsault, Counoise, Terret or Muscardin. A fantastically typical Châteauneuf with the characteristic garrigue aromas (dried mediterranean herbs: rosemary, lavender, thyme, oregano etc), blended seamlessly with fresh strawberry jam, succulent cherries and bouncy rasberries. Well-grained, mouthcoating tannins. Superb! Fabulous to drink now with great potential for ageing at least 5-8 years.
This is traditional brilliance of “squeeze me, stomp me, make me wine” made and bottled by the historic Le Vieux Donjon estate. 2010 was a year of excellent weaqther conditions producing wines with tremendous character, terroir expression and longetivity. deep ruby and fabulously full-bodied wine with Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre grapes grown on the family’s old vines and the regions. You are going to be charmed by the powerful nose full of prunes, black pepper, first floor and vanilla aromas blended with its grilled meat, bacon, smoke and ferris notes! The wine glides on your tongue leaving you in anticipation for the next sip! Crack it open now but I hope that you have at least another couple of bottles lying around because this will keep on giving for the next 10 years!
Southern Rhone and Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are one of the best matchings to winter recipes like hearty cassoulet, sausages, braised beef and lamb dishes with lots of intense, heartwarming flavours and textures!
What’s your favourite wine from Châteauneuf-du-Pape or the Souther Rhône?
Please let me know in the comments below!