Cotes du Rhone has been on the mind lately. This broad French appellation has long been a favorite of mine, covering all of the Rhone Valley, but for our purposes it's really an appellation of the southern Rhone.
It contains the great village of Chateauneuf du Pape. The boisterous Gigondas. The upstart Vacqueyras. Rasteau. Cairanne. Tavel And more. So many terrific subregions with their own AOC designations. Red wines and rose made from grenache, syrah, mourvedre, counoise and several other grapes. Whites from grenache blanc, marsanne and bourboulenc, among others.
But the regional AOC Cotes du Rhone, with the slightly higher level Cotes du Rhone Villages, that's my concern here. Cotes du Rhone is the Bourgogne rouge or Bordeaux rouge of the Rhone. The general wine from the region. Except I think there are better wines for the money at such a basic level than those regions, with exceptions (always). Where Bourgogne rouge overly tart in too many cases and Bordeaux rouge too often weedy and herbal, Cotes du Rhone can deliver serious wine, even if simple and simply delicious, at everyday prices. The best are serious and seriously complex, even ageworthy, even for $20 though sometimes more. Most are significantly cheaper.
I've long loved the wines of the Cotes du Rhone, but last week a friend asked for a wine suggestion for Parisian dinner at home. The main dish - French onion soup. With no sense of what might be available in an Arizona grocery, I knew it had to be French so I suggested Cotes du Rhone. Where else could you get somethings safely good without knowing what was available? Sure enough, they had the 2009 St. Cosme Cotes du Rhone and by all accounts it proved delicious. I'm sure it was softer, richer, riper than most Cotes du Rhone. Perhaps it wouldn't be Eric Asimov's selection (check out his great Valentine's day article on the subject). But it worked well and inspired me.
So tonight, steak on the grill, mashed potatoes (!!!) and roasted Brussels sprouts. What a perfect opportunity to check on the 2006 Charvin Cotes du Rhone "Le Poutet." Charvin is a terrific producer in the norther area of Chateauneuf du Pape, known for grenache-based wines of great power. Their Cotes du Rhone is something of a baby Chateauneuf, a term I hate for usually being used to sell Cotes du Rhone at closer to Chateauneuf pricing. But in this case, it's appropriate.
I love fruity, peppery Cotes du Rhone. That's the most classic profile of the region among the myriad examples you might find. This wine isn't that. Instead, it's structured, minerally, fairly intense wine that's easily more impressive and delicious than much lower end Chateauneuf. It's not the light, carafe-friendly wine I might think of with Cotes du Rhone, but with grilled steak this is perfect.
It has lots of fine, ripe tannin, plenty of rocky, cherry and herb flavors, good length and grip. This is serious wine for around $20, something I've cellared for a few years that could easily last and perhaps improve for several more. There's a bit of alcoholic heat, but nothing objectionable. Just enough to remind you of the sun-drenched, windswept terrain of this region.
The Charvin was delicious with the meal and reminds me, and should remind you, that when in doubt, think Cotes du Rhone. Roast chicken? Check. Onion soup? Check. Grilled meat? Check. Mushrooms, roasted vegetables, or cheese, meats and crusty bread? Check. Sure, nice Pinot noir could be a good match in many cases. Cabernet-based wines with some of the richer, fattier foods. Even white wines in some cases. Never underestimate white wine and cheese, for example.
But the lesson is clear - think Cotes du Rhone.