Northern Rhône Wine Soirée

Blog, Wine

Here’s the “Pepsi Challenge” my friend Sara posed to me – You’re in the middle of nowhere and want to enjoy the wines of the Northern Rhône. What can you buy for $12-40?

The objective of the previous feature articles was to showcase a range of the quality wines I truly enjoyed from the Northern Rhône. Producers ranged from massive (Guigal), to medium sized (Cuilleron), to smaller wineries (Vernay and Faury). They each represent something different. Vernay and Faury are smaller production, artisanal wines, with a few restaurants snatching up the limited quantity available. Historically, their wines have been classic Northern Rhônes. Although, based on my interview with Lionel Faury, their Domaine might start to include a modern approach in some wines going forward. Cuilleron is a little larger in production than Vernay and Faury, but with his cult-like following, his wines can be difficult to come by. Cuilleron is known for a more of a modern approach in his wine-making. Guigal has the largest quantity and a wide range. His “LaLas” represent what is unobtainable by most (demand and price), but Guigal also makes quite a bit of everyday drinking wines. In these three focus articles, I listed my favorites, along with the price and suggested food pairings.

I, along with many others, am fortunate to have a plethora of specialty wine shops or restaurants which I could probably find many of the wines I featured in these articles. But without much effort, what can you get for under $40 if you wanted to dabble with the Northern Rhône Valley?

To level the playing field of randomness, a few of my friends canvassed their local wine shop with the same price parameters. Specialty stores were prohibited. They purchased the wine as recommended by the owner and brought it over in a paper bag for a bind tasting. To review, the terroirs of the Northern Rhône are Condrieu, Côte Rôtie, Saint-Joseph, Hermitage, Cornas, Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas and VDP.

Everyone had the same experiences at their wine store –

1. Wine stores had a multitude of Burgundy and Bordeaux, but the selection on the Northern Rhône was marginal. This is unfortunate because these wines are so gorgeous.

2. Guigal is everywhere. There is no doubt that if you are in search of a Northern Rhône at your local wine store, you will see the Guigal label.

3. Blind tastings are more common than you’d think. I told my wine store merchant what we were doing. He smiled and threw in a whole bunch of brown paper bags so we could taste them blind. He said it happens frequently.

Findings –

The judge panel consisted of the following people: a general manager and former sommelier of a high end, celebrity chef restaurant; a professionally trained chef turned paparazzi; a fierce litigator with a special panache for 4 inch heels; a former professional surfer turned CEO; one public relations specialist with a sharp and witty tongue and a smattering of investment bankers.

Degree of wine knowledge – the entire spectrum, but all enjoyed a good glass of wine with friends

Here are the 6 wines we tasted:

Whites –

Reds –

And the winners…. Unilaterally, the top three, in order, were Cornas, Crozes-Ermitage and Condrieu.

  1. Cornas, Domaine de Saint-Pierre, Paul Jaboulet Aîné 2001 (stewed blackberries, smoky, chocolate, spice; coconut and vanilla from the oak; I loved the old world, mushrooms/terroir bit on the palate.) Even though someone cheated with the price parameters, the Cornas was the winner, hands-down.
  2. Crozes-Ermitage, Le Grand Countil, Ferration Pere & Gils 2005 (red cherries, strawberries, stewed fruit, minerality, tobacco) This was  beautiful and a great price point. We felt the finish dropped off a little as we started to get toward the end of the bottle.
  3. Condrieu, Guigal 2007 (minerality, lychee, honey, pear, lemons, almonds, floral, perfume) This is a simple Condrieu, but lovely for everyday drinking. It would be perfect as an aperitif.

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Tags: alain graillot, blind tasting, condrieu, cornas, cotes du rhone, crozes hermitage, cuilleron, faury, ferration pere, guigal, marsanne, northern rhone, paul jaboulet, roussanne, syrah, vernay, viognier