Tasting Notes: ‘Wines of the Southern Rhone’, presented by Heather Dougherty AWE, 24 April 2019

This is the second largest AOC area in France (after Bordeaux), and is characterised by the warm climate and the use of blends of grape, making primarily red wine. Apparently it’s illegal to make a single varietal wine! There are 32 allowed grapes, but the big three seem to be Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. The warm climate makes it easy to ripen the grapes, but they can then lack acidity. The wines are designated as (in ascending quality): Cotes du Rhone; Cotes du Rhone Villages; Cotes du Rhone Villages [name of village]; ‘Cru’ eg Chateauneuf du Pape. There are 17 ‘crus’ and 21 named villages. There are also 2 Vin Doux Naturel classifications.

Due to the prevalence of red, Heather showed 6 reds, a white and a rose.

Vidal-Fleury Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2017 (14%)
Modern white Rhone, much lighter in style than the traditional whites. Fresh nose, lightly floral. Lemony fresh acidity. Not oaked but a bit of time on the lees. Blend of Viognier and Grenache Blanc, maybe a little Clairette. GB gives herbal weight and floral notes if not overripe when picked. (Amps Fine Wines £14.95)

Domaine Maby Tavel, ‘Prima Donna’ 2017 (14%)
Tavel is a rose area, and this is a rich red/pink, though not too deep. The skins are broken and left for48hrs to allow the colour to come through.  This is a Cinsault/Grenache Noir blend. Much less acidity than, say, a Provence or Loire rose, and fuller on the palate – strawberries. The vines are 48 years old. Personally I found this disappointingly thin, but others enjoyed it. (Wine Society £11.50)

Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhone 2017 (13.5%) 
Despite the ‘traditional’-looking label, this is a modern wine, designed for a specific market – everyday decent Rhone drinking. 70% Grenache 25% Syrah and 5% Mourvedre. Syrah here has less peppery notes and there is black fruit and a nice full flavour. It meets its design criteria – very drinkable!! (Tesco, Asda £7.99)

Domaine Dieu-le-Fit Cotes du Rhone Villages Visan ‘Native’ 2016 (14%)
The first wine from a named ‘village’. Visan is elevated, but the soil is stony and is old riverbed, which gives good minerality. The winemaker bought Dom D-le- F in 2012 and first vintage in 2014. No oak in this vintage (2016), but has used a little previously. Grenache (old vines) and Syrah mix. Liquorice-like aromatic nose, black fruit and nice full balanced flavour. (Virgin Wines £14.99)

Saint-Damien Cotes du Rhone Villages Plan de Dieu ‘Vieilles Vignes’ 2014 (14%)
Plan de Dieu is another CdR named village, although not a village but an area. A flat area, which gives all the vines equal exposure to sun. The wines are therefore full and beefy. Unfortunately, one bottle was tainted with ‘brett’ and those of us with that bottle liked it less than those on other side of the room, who had the untainted bottle. 80% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre, fermented together rather than separately which is more usual. (Winebuyers £14.95)

Domaine Maby Lirac ‘La Fermade’ 2016 (14.5%)
The first of this evening’s CdR ‘crus’, but one of the lesser known (and hence cheaper!). 60/20/20 Grenache Syrah Mourvedre, old vines and not oaked. Well made but still a little ‘hard’ on the palate, not a huge character yet, though John thought it had a ‘velvet’ palate! Could go on improving. (Wine Society £11.50)

Domaine des Escaravailles Rasteau ‘La Ponce’ 2016 (15.5%)
Rasteau is another ‘cru’, though quite recent (2010). 80/20 Grenache/ Syrah. Big and powerful but soft sweet flavours (Heather said this is the alcohol content – glycerol – not actual sweetness. SNamed after the monks who used to tend the land and looked like beetles from across the valley – escaravaille meaning scarab beetle! (Ten Acre Wines £18.50)

Domaine Grand Veneur ‘Les Origines’ Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2007 (15%)
Still youthful and developing. Very complex palate, long finish. Beautiful wine! 50/30/20 Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah. Some new oak for the syrah. Ch-du-P is characterised by large stones (called pudding stones) in the fields which warm up during the day and so keep the vineyard warmer at night as they cool down slowly. (John’s collection, cost now approx. £40-£50).


A very interesting evening on an area we probably all think we know, but I for one found my education a bit lacking! Many thanks to Heather for a lovely selection and a fun but very informative session!

Notes by Sally Harris