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Côtes-du-Rhône perfect choice with grilled food

Dave DeSimone
| Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017, 8:30 p.m.
Cotes-du-Rhone red (left) and white wines deliver quality and value and pair well with grilled foods.
Dave DeSimone
Cotes-du-Rhone red (left) and white wines deliver quality and value and pair well with grilled foods.

Ounce for ounce, Côtes-du-Rhône wines — both white and red — deliver an unsurpassed rapport between quality and value. The best examples balance complex aromas, full flavors and freshness that pair particularly well with grilled foods popular at mid-August barbeques.

The wines come from a large vineyard swath beginning just below France's “second city” of Lyon and stretching south along the Rhône River to Avignon, the old seat of the French Popes. The region is a long way from American shores, and yet terrific bottles of well-made generic Côtes-du-Rhône and Côtes-du-Rhône —Villages wines often sell for $15 or less. That's miraculous when you consider the production process.

Rhône winegrowers must tend vines against diseases and pests and then hope neither hail nor extreme temperatures damage the grapes. After harvesting the fruit, independent growers must ferment and age the wines before eventually bottling them. Négociants who buy grapes from various growers also ferment, age and bottle wines.

After bottling, the wines must be put in cases that are placed on shipping pallets of 52-case lots sold to American importers. Importers pay truckers to deliver the pallets to ships in French ports. After the wines cross the Atlantic Ocean, the importers must store the wines in temperature-controlled warehouses. They then distribute the wines to retailers (or restaurants) who ultimately sell the wines to consumers.

Each step involves costs and mark-ups, so it is remarkable that high-quality Côtes-du-Rhône and Côtes-du-Rhône —Villages wines sell at such reasonable prices. But as consumers, we need only enjoy the wines while sharing them with friends over a meal. To that end, try the following wines with grilled foods before summer's fleeting days pass by quickly:

The 2016 Domaine La Lyre, Côtes-du-Rhône, France (Luxury 29377; $11.99) comes from an organically farmed 112-acre estate in the southern village of Pouzilhac. It lies near the famed, 2,000-year-old Roman aqueduct of Pont du Gard. Louis Max, the Burgundy-based négociant, owns the estate which has mainly limestone and clay soils covered by plenty of rocks.

The estate's Mediterranean climate with hot, sunny days fully ripens the grapes. Yet thanks to strong winds from nearby mountains, the estate also enjoys relatively cool nighttime temperatures that help preserve the fruit's vital, freshness.

This delicious white comes from Gren­ache Blanc, Ugni Blanc and Viognier grapes that receive gentle pressing upon arrival in the cellar. Immediate fermentation in temperature-controlled vats again helps capture freshness.

The wine's light golden color offers fresh citrus and floral honeysuckle aromas. Flavors of crisp grapefruit, pear and hints of pleasantly bitter quince follow. Refreshing acidity balances a touch of creaminess that lingers through the dry finish. Pair the wine with grilled grouper served with a mango salsa with a hint of spiciness. Recommended.

The 2015 Pic & Chapoutier, Côtes-du-Rhône, France (Luxury 78618; Chairman's Selection On Sale: $9.99) arises from a collaboration between Ann-Sophie Pic, owner of the highly regarded Restaurant Pic in Valence, and Michel Chapoutier, a high-profile winegrower and négociant operating throughout the Rhône. The pair strives to create food-friendly wines faithfully reflecting the terroirs producing the grapes.

The Syrah and Grenache grapes for this tasty, little wine come from vineyards along the entire length of the Rhône. The blend gives forward aromas of ripe red fruits with hints of black pepper. Juicy, fruity flavors balance with pronounced acidity and silky tannins. Pair it with grilled flat iron steak with a marinade of soy sauce, garlic and shallots. Recommended.

The 2016 Domaine La Montagnette, Signargues Côtes-du-Rhône —Villages (Luxury 34985; $13.99) delivers one of purest and most pleasing southern Rhône red wines on the market. Les Vignerons D'Estézargues, a quality-oriented cooperative, bottled the wine separately for an estate member of the association. This Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre blend comes from grapes grown with relatively low yields to enhance concentration. To preserve natural fruitiness, fermentation unfolds with native yeasts. Bottling occurs with neither fining nor filtering and only minimal doses of sulfites.

The resulting wine offers frank, delightfully pure red fruit aromas with subtle lavender notes. Pure, fresh red fruit flavors balance with zesty acidity, mouthwatering mineral notes and firm but fine tannins. Pair it with grilled lamb chops with rosemary and garlic. Highly Recommended.

Dave DeSimone writes about wine for the Tribune-Review. Reach him at tribliving@tribweb.com .

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