Côtes du Rhône reds partner well with summer staples
dave desimone Mid-July's prime grilling season creates the ideal opportunity to check in on Côtes du Rhône reds.
Ounce for ounce, these modest, yet tasty and robust, wines deliver some of the best values as perfect partners for grilled steaks, burgers and chops of all strips.
Good old, red-blooded American zinfandels — especially field blends with petite sirah — make a great choice, too. But, regrettably, average zinfandel prices have spiked to more than $20 a bottle and often top $30. Dependable, tasty Côtes du Rhône reds routinely sell for less than $15 a bottle, an amazing feat when you think about it.
Consider this: The Côtes du Rhône wines come from grapes grown half a world away in France. Add the costs of bottling, a strong Euro exchange rate, ocean shipping, domestic freight and retail mark ups, and the wines still come in at prices considerably less than typical zinfandels.
Part of the explanation rests with oak-barrel aging, or lack thereof. Typically, domestic zinfandels age in small, costly oak barrels. American producers must factor barrel recovery costs into the final prices for the wines.
Conversely, classic red Côtes du Rhône producers do not incur recurring costs for small oak barrels. Rather, they finish the wines either in neutral concrete vats or old foudres , large wooden casks that impart neither harsh tannins nor toasted vanilla characteristics to the wines.
The best Côtes du Rhône reds emerge in tact with ripe, natural dark fruit balanced with intriguing earthy notes and lovely floral and herbals accents. They embody what the French call vin de terroir , that is, wines reflecting the distinct traits of the place where they were produced.
The quantity of wine produced also plays an important factor. The Côtes du Rhône region begins in the northern Rhône River Valley near the old Roman settlement of Vienne and runs over 100 miles southward to Avignon. It covers over 200,000 planted acres with diverse soils and microclimates, so millions of bottles hit international markets annually. Laws of supply and demand keep prices competitive.
Naturally, not all Côtes du Rhône reds deliver quality and value. So purchasing reliable producers' wines makes the difference as with the following easy drinking wines:
The 2010 Famille Perrin Côtes du Rhône — Villages, France (6794; $12.99) blends primarily grenache — the classic foundation of Côtes du Rhône reds from the south — with syrah. In this case, the grapes grow near the town of Orange and on limestone-based soils in Saint-Gervais, a key to creating the wine's fresh acidity according to Pierre Perrin.
To ensure quality, t he Perrin family uses vineyard practices and wine-making techniques followed at their famous Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Only about 5 percent of the wine ages in small oak barrels with the remainder finishing in foudres and stainless steel.
The dark-purple color unfolds ripe blackberry and rosemary aromas. Round, ripe-fruit flavors balance with smooth tannins through the fruity, dry finish. Recommended.
The 2011 Terres d'Avignon Vignerons Réunis Côtes du Rhône, “ Selected by Kermit Lynch,” France (Luxury 48001; $12.99) springs from a collaboration between American wine importer Kermit Lynch and a southern Rhône cooperative. In more than 40 years working France's wine routes, Lynch has made connections allowing him to ferret out bargains second to none.
The grapes come from growers with vineyards in nearby Avignon, an area not traditionally famed for its wines. Yet, this tasty, little wine delivers in spades.
The dark-purple color offers raspberry and black-plum aromas with earthy notes. Ripe, round dark-fruit flavors balance with stony, mineral notes and chewy, yet smooth tannins. Highly recommended.
The 2010 Domaine de Verquière Rasteau, France (Luxury 32737; $15.99) comes from Rasteau, a Côtes du Rhône village better known for its fortified vin doux natural rather than red wines. Nevertheless, this delightful mouthful makes the most of grenache and syrah grapes grown on chalky soils covered with large, smooth round stones.
The domaine picks all grapes by hand before a long, temperature-controlled fermentation frames the fruit's ripeness and complex aromas. Aging occurs in large foudres .
Raspberry and blackberry aromas mingle with pleasing black-licorice notes. Round, ripe dark-fruit flavors balance with fresh acidity and smooth tannins. Recommended.
Dave DeSimone writes about wine for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.