If you are looking for fine French wine and food, consider the Rhône Valley region of southeastern France. You may find a bargain, and I hope that you’ll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour in which we review a Crozes-Hermitage red wine from the northern Rhône Valley.
Among France’s eleven wine-growing regions the Rhône Valley ranks second in acreage. The region extends 125 miles (200 kilometers) along the Rhône River. This region is actually composed of two parts, the north and the south whose wines tend to be quite different. The northern Rhône Valley is quite narrow. Its major red grape variety is Syrah, while its major white variety is Viognier. The northern Rhône Valley produces some of the best red wines in all France, and according to its fan club, some of the best red wines on earth. The southern Rhône Valley produces about 95% of the Rhône Valley wines. This is the kingdom of grape blending. For example the famous Châteauneuf-Du-Pape AOC wine may be made from up to thirteen different grape varieties.
Vienne, population about thirty thousand, was a major town in Roman Gaul and still retains a lot of its history and its charm. Near the river you’ll find the Romanesque church of St-Pierre already rebuilt in the Ninth Century. The Gothic Cathedral of St-Maurice was built during the Eleventh to Sixteenth Centuries and largely destroyed in a religious war during the mid-Sixteenth Century. Rue des Orfèvres (Goldsmiths’ Street) is filled with Renaissance buildings and the Romanesque church St-André-le-Bas (St. Andrew the Lesser).
Vienne’s Théâtre Romain (Roman Theater) is one of the largest in France; it spans almost 450 feet (140 meters) and once held thirteen thousand spectators. Excavation started only in 1922. This theater hosts a great jazz festival in July. Other Roman ruins include the Temple d’Auguste et de Livie (Temple of Augustus and Livia) erected by the Emperor Claudius and the Plan de l'Aiguille (Needle Tower), a truncated pyramid that was once part of a Roman circus. Some say that this structure encloses the tomb of Pontius Pilate.
Before reviewing the Côtes du Rhône wine and imported cheeses that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with indigenous wines when touring this beautiful region.
Start with Foie Gras avec Gelée de Viognier (Goose Liver Pâté with Viognier Jelly). For your second course savor Chevreau à l’Ail et Herbes Sauvages (Baby Goat with Garlic and Wild Herbs). And as dessert indulge yourself with Granité aux Pommes et Calvados (Apple and Calvados Ice).
OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price.
Wine Reviewed Domaine du Colombier Crozes-Hermitage 2005 13% about $25
Let’s start by quoting the marketing materials. Until 1992, Florent Viale and his father sold all of their grapes to négociants. As Crozes-Hermitage came into its own, the Viales decided to make their own wines. The results have been nothing short of spectacular. Layers of blackberry, tar and black pepper dominate their finely made Syrah-based wines. A very good match for roast leg of lamb.
My first meal was a barbecue including a rib steak marinated in a homemade ketchup-based sauce with chunks of garlic, corn on the cob, and red-skinned potatoes. The wine was powerful and mouth-filling. It was quite long and had no trouble maintaining its flavors. I didn’t used to be a fan of tannins but these Crozes-Hermitage tannins melted in my mouth along with the meal.
My next meal involved a combination of marinated barbecued beef and veal ribs, red-skinned potatoes, and a garlic-based Moroccan salad. First I tried the more subtle veal ribs. The Crozes-Hermitage was very powerful with a lot of tobacco. As powerful as the wine was, it complemented the veal very well. The taste of dark fruit predominated with the beef ribs. There was quite a change in the wine, but with both types of ribs it was simply great. Dessert consisted of blueberry fruit juice candy. I was somewhat surprised but the wine was a good accompaniment. I tasted blackberries in the wine.
I know how much this wine likes beef and veal, so I decided to try it with barbecued chicken marinated in a commercial Mediterranean-style light sauce. The wine was careful not to overwhelm the meat. Once again the meal included barbecued red-skinned potatoes and this time, perhaps because the meat was subtler, the potatoes had more effect bringing out the earthiness of the wine. Interestingly enough the intensive Turkish Salad was the least successful accompaniment to the wine. One might have expected the contrary, namely, that the greatest pairing success would be with the strongest tasting component. The Turkish Salad and Crozes-Hermitage combination was good, it just wasn’t as good as the other pairings in this meal.
The first cheese was a mild-tasting Italian Pecorino Fruilano. This wine is so fine that even though the cheese flattened it somewhat, it remained excellent. But believe me, I won’t subject the wine to such an indignity again. The second cheese was a nutty tasting Dutch Edam. This more powerful cheese had less of a flattening effect on the wine. Go figure.
Final verdict. This wine is a definite winner. I went back to my previous article describing a Rhône Valley wine: I Love French Wine And Food – A Red Côtes du Rhône to refresh my memory. I was very happy with that much more modest wine, priced at about half of this one. Is the Crozes-Hermitage better? Yes. Is it twice as good? That’s a hard question. It really depends on how you view wines. The Crozes-Hermitage is definitely a fine wine for its price range, as was the other. I am definitely tempted to taste a Rhône Valley red wine in the $50 range. But I can’t promise you when. Perhaps what I should do is buy a case of this Crozes-Hermitage and drink one a year and see if the critics are right when they say it can be cellared for many, many years.
Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would
rather just drink fine French or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario
French-language community college. His wine websites include
www.theworldwidewine.com and http://www.theitalianwineconnection.com
Visit his website devoted to Italian travel www.travelitalytravel.com
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