Tasting Notes with Jim Beauregard: Exploring the fine wines of the Rhone valley

By JIM BEAUREGARD May 01. 2018 8:59PM

Domaine de la Charbonniere Vacqueyras 

It occurs to me that over the years, I have not written much about Rhone wines, and this is a gap I should take measures to correct. So, let me start making amends today.

The Rhone is a world class wine region, and it more than repays all the attention it is given.

The Rhone is the river, and it flows through multiple wine regions. It includes the justly famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but there are many other regions of note as well.

It’s a long river, rising in the Swiss Alps and running through southeastern France, and so, not surprisingly, the climate varies from one end to the other. The northern end of the Rhone flows between Vienne and Valence, and then to the south there is a gap with little in the way of wine production, which then picks up again at the village of Donzère. The Rhone eventually flows out into the Mediterranean Sea near Marseille.

It’s the southern Rhone valley we’re concerned with today, where the climate changes from continental (four seasons) to Mediterranean. The main red grapes of this region are Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault. The region has a range of soil types, and a range of wine-making styles as well.

This is an ancient wine-making region, with evidence taking us all the way back to the first century BCE. An early author — and by early, I mean around the year 7 — by the name of Strabo documented the wine trade in the region. Kind of amazing isn’t it, to think that you’re drinking something that has a history going back to the year 7?

Time marches forward, and in the early 1300s Pope Clement V moved the papal court from Rome to Avignon, just south of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. While there, they thought it economically important to patronize local businesses, so Rhone wines appeared frequently at the papal table.

Vacqueyras was one of the first Rhone regions to be given its own official name, back in 1990. Reds, whites and rosés are made there, though reds tend to dominate. So:

Domaine de la Charbonnière 2013 Vacqueyras; 14 percent alcohol by volume; $24.99, N.H. State Liquor Stores. Medium intensity red, medium core out to a pink rim. The color is bright. The nose is black fruit with a hint of earthiness. For the palate, there is red fruit, leaning toward red plum, as well as black fruit in the blackberry ballpark. The earth is there too, with a hint of pepper, but just a hint, giving it a little kick toward the end of a medium-length finish.

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Contact wine and beer writer Jim Beauregard at tastingnotesnh@aol.com


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