Back to the Rhône’s Future

 


The Rhône holds a large piece of my heart for one big, unctuous reason: the Viognier grape. She’s the first white grape I ever loved. Viognier braved near-extinction and now enjoys an effusive existence in so many wine glasses worldwide. From the classic Condrieu varietal bottlings to red blend cameo appearances, Viognier’s oily bits of succulent yellow and pale orange fruits set the palate afire. My experience at this year’s Rhône Valley Wines annual tasting was all the more enriched by the strangely emotional connection that I have to this prized varietal of the Rhône.
 
Rhône Odyssey 2015: A Journey Through Time was an ambitious event executed with grace and style. Multiple groups of thirty to forty guests were taken on a roughly forty minute voyage through the past, present, and future of Rhône wines.  Each leg of the journey was sheltered in a makeshift “capsule” of sorts, on the entirely windowed 64th floor of 1 World Trade Center.  As groups of tasters entered and exited each time-bending capsule with filled glasses in hand, the enormities of both New York City and these wines were abundantly clear.  
 
The first leg of our journey took place in a makeshift black box theatre. Two adept thespians reclaimed the legacy of French Baroque theatre and performed three Rhône–centric scenes. Each wine-paired scene related historical facts about the Rhône’s early history. The second leg was hosted by professional wild foods forager Matt Parker. Together we embraced modernity by pairing classic wines with the latest culinary vogues. Rhône wines were matched with uncommon selections such as everlasting peas, miners lettuce, sorrel, maitake mushrooms, spruce tips and ramps. The third and final leg provided a glimpse into the future. With the exception of the red wines, everything inside of this futuristic capsule was colored white. Seated stations lined the capsule’s perimeter. Three small plates, three pours, and one headset were placed at each station.  Headsets connected one taster to another taster somewhere in the room. Partnered pairs tasted through the selected wines together and took a stab at naming their origins. Thankfully, it was a multiple choice examination.  Admittedly, I failed miserably, but I had a great time trying. Perhaps more blind tasting lessons with Christy Canterbury are in order?
Indeed, a delightful experience was had by all. But when the journey came to a close one key question remained: How were the wines?  Although the first paragraph of this essay contains a billet doux to Viognier, I will dare not say that the Rhône’s best comes from white grapes. Eighty percent of Rhône wines are produced from red grapes with a heavy focus on Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre -- and with good reason.  If not for the Northern Rhône, we never would have met Syrah.  These grapes and the Rhône’s climate and terroir are a heavenly match. But my personal truth be told, the winning wines for this tasting fall in the rosé category. Others in the tasting area (where all the groups corralled before and after time-traveling together) echoed this sentiment. It’s possible that we’ve all been bitten by the summer bug, but it’s time to acknowledge that the Rhône is so much more than red wine. What’s more, there are fantastic values to be found in this category. So when you reach for the rosé this summer, spend some time in the Rhône Valley. Tavel should always be your first stop. By law the region cannot produce anything other than rosé, and thus they are incredibly skilled at doing just that. But fear not, for there are choices beyond Tavel at your disposal. See below for our list of top Rhône Valley rosé. The moral of this time-twisting tale: This summer, don’t you dare fast forward or rewind through the rosé from the Rhône. 

Top Rhône Valley Rosé 2015

1.
Chateau de Campuget Costieres de Nimes Rose (2014)
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2.
Guigal Cotes du Rhone Rose (2014)
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3.
Marrenon Luberon Petula Rose (2013)
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4.
Chateau d'Aqueria Tavel Rose (2013)
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5.
Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhône Rose (2014)
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6.
Costieres de Nimes Expression Rose Chateau Beaubois (2014)
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7.
Domaine de la Bastide Cotes du Rhone Rose 'Les Figues' (2014)
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