This week’s topic may seem very familiar but instead of focusing on the white blends from a few weeks ago, this time, we will look at the red blends. The red wines of this region are dominated by Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre (GSM). Grenache (which I discussed way back on March 24th) is a lighter red with notes of spice and red fruit. Mourvèdre is a fuller bodied grape that exhibits more earthy red fruit notes than Grenache. Syrah from the Rhône differs from those of Australia (which I covered back on January 20th) because it has more herbal, floral, and savory notes but both have dark fruit, hints of black pepper, and a significant amount of tannin. Winemakers produce blends with varied percentages of each grape each vintage depending on how these characteristics are displayed after fermentation.
The vineyards in the CDR date back to around 600 BC when Greeks founded the city we now know as Marseilles but oddly, wine production goes back even further. Prior to the Greeks migrating to the area, Etruscan merchants, who originated in Italy, settled in the Rhône valley and brought their wines along with. The Greeks then brought vines with them and planted the first vineyards in France when they arrived. The Rhône Valley was a popular stop in olden times because of its location near the Mediterranean and on the Rhône River, making it ideal for a trade route stop. As a result of this, The Pope called the city of Avignon home, which is located in the southern portion of the Rhône Valley on the Rhône River, between the 14th and 15th centuries. During this time, the wines of what would become the CDR in 1729 as a result of a royal edict, were especially revered by the Popes. Once the patency moved back to Rome, they still had the wines of this region shipped to them. Today, the wines of Cotes du Rhône account for around 50% of wine production in the Rhône Valley. Cotes du Rhône AOC is the lowest level classification when it comes to CDR wines. The quality increases to Cotes du Rhône Villages then Côtes du Rhône Villages that are villages who have earned the right to print their name on the labels. The highest quality classification is a Cru, which is approximately 20% of the CDR total production. Examples of these Crus are Châteauneuf du Pape, Condrieu, Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage, and Gigondas, to name a few of the most well known 17 Crus.
I selected a bottle of 2020 Saint Cosme Cotes-du-Rhone. This is a unicorn when it comes to CDR because instead of being a blend, it happened to be a single varietal consisting of 100% Syrah. It was also very young and hadn’t had much time to mature in the bottle. This resulted in rougher tannins that were more astringic and hadn’t had the chance to integrate into the wine, which would have occurred if this bottle had been aged a year or 2 longer. It was a med ruby that was nearly opaque. When I swirled the glass, long, graceful legs trickled down the sides of the goblet. It had strong aromas of ripe juicy blackberry, black currant, butterscotch, red cherries, and pomegranate. I planned on pairing it with a dish called Cassoulet. If you are unfamiliar with this dish, it is a very meat-centric casserole from the french countryside that consists of game or meat from the farm. It is quite time consuming (taking up to 4 days to make) but not overly complicated. The recipe I used called for confit duck leg (duck leg slow cooked in its own fat), pork shoulder, french garlic sausage, more sausage, and pancetta (italian bacon). It was rounded out with the addition of white beans (I used dried cannellini beans). When I finally got to sit and pair the wine with the cassoule, I was a little disappointed because the cassoulet was a little more salty than I anticipated but this was toned down by the significant acid content in the wine so the pairing was perfect. Those aforementioned tannins were greatly minimized because of the fat content in the meal. The fat sticks to tastebuds and allows the tannins to sweep over the palate rather than sticking to the palate and creating the sandpaper feel highly tannic wines tend to cause. The black fruit notes were wonderful with the succulent meats. The overall combination was excellent for a stormy cold fall evening, especially considering the 13.5% alcohol content that helped warm me slightly! The recipe makes plenty of food so it can be saved for leftovers or make a dinner party out of it! When I had it for leftovers, the salinity in the dish had mellowed and was still wonderful!