Cotes Du Rhone – Two more stars of the southern Rhone

2013 Domaine Chateaumar Cuvee Bastien
2014 Domaine Chateaumar Cuvee Vincent

Pipe and Pint Grape Notes – Vol.1/Ch.5

For this week’s review, we are literally going to cross the road from where we were last week. That little walk across the road takes us just outside of the Chateauneuf Du Pape area in the southern Rhone. The emphasis here is on the “just outside” because the way the traditional quality classification system is set up in France – and most of the Old World regions, in fact – allows you to be standing in a row of vines in one region such as Chateauneuf Du Pape in our case, only to take a few steps back and find ourselves standing in a different region. In today’s example, we’ll be taking that step thus moving into the Cote Du Rhone. But, before we get into today’s wines let’s begin with a little theory that will hopefully shed some light on this (sometimes a little confusing) regional classification system. If that sounds boring, I’ll promise to keep it brief. Let me also add a little side note: This classification system also explains why there can be significant price differences between wines that are literally grown a few feet apart from each other.

The French AOC (Appelations D’Origine Contrôlée, which translates to “Controlled designation of origin) system currently encompasses over 300 geographic wine regions. Primarily, the system focuses on geographic origin but as if that wasn’t complicated enough, there are various hierarchical quality levels embedded into that system which varies depending on where you are in France. For example, Bordeaux has a different way of differentiating quality levels than the Burgundy region which again varies from the Rhone region. Despite being different, there is a general rule of thumb when it comes to the quality levels. As you move up the quality ladder the geographic regions tend to get smaller and more narrowly specified, hence guaranteeing a more indicative representation of the specific geographic and microclimatic qualities (referred to as “terroir”) of that region. But since we are focusing on the Rhone region, let’s get back to that.

 

Southern_Rhone

Courtesy of Wine Folly

 

There are four distinctive quality levels in the Rhone region. It starts with the general classification of Cote Du Rhone. Next up the ladder are the Cote Du Rhone Villages wines, followed by the more distinct Cote Du Rhone (named) Villages of which there are 18 in total. At the peak you will find the 18 so-called “Crus” regions. The wines from Chateauneuf Du Pape we covered last week fall into that category – the highest if you will. Today’s wines from the Domaine Chateaumar are both Cote Du Rhone wines (lowest in the classification system) even though the vineyards of that particular producer are, as I pointed out earlier, almost directly adjacent to the Chateauneuf Du Pape area. In fact, Domaine Chateaumar also produces a Chateauneuf Du Pape classified wine. This begs the question of how today’s two wines from Cote Du Rhone hold up against their significantly higher priced next door neighbors from Chateauneuf Du Pape. Without jumping too far ahead, I can already say that they do in fact hold up quite well indeed.

Both the 2014 Cuvee Vincent and the 2013 Cuvee Bastien from Domaine Chateaumar are single varietal wines. Cuvee Vincent is 100% Syrah and Cuvee Bastien consists exclusively of Grenache grapes. We actually tasted these two wines right after the two Chateauneufs that were featured in last week’s review and which are both blends of primarily Grenache and Syrah. Being able to compare the two single varietal Cote Du Rhones with the Chateauneuf Du Pape blends back-to-back was interesting because it refined the qualities of each variety even more, both when blended together and consequently individually. And it also revealed an advantage that we enjoy as wine consumers today…almost infinite choices!

domaine-de-chateaumar

While both the Cuvee Bastien and the Cuvee Vincent are distinctly Rhone style wines, they really highlight the individual characteristics of the Grenache and Syrah grapes. The Grenache-based Cuvee Bastien starts off on the lighter side. Don’t get me wrong though, by light I don’t mean flimsy or lacking body. It’s got plenty of delicious raspberry and blueberry aroma notes with lots of fruity sweetness, reminding me of a freshly opened jar of raspberry or blueberry jam. But it’s not all fruit either and you do get treated to some of the Grenache typical light smokiness with hints of tobacco and full-bodied English Breakfast Tea. All of it in moderation though and in a very well balanced manner. On the palate you get a nice silky texture, yet enough structure and body to prevent it from being one dimensional.

Cuvee Vincent steps it up a notch in terms of aromas. Not better, just a little bolder. The fruits are a little darker, with black cherries and ripe plums leading the way. There is a Syrah typical gamey note that is enhanced by some pepper and a distinct herbal character which also continues on the palate, giving it a bigger and more complex mouthfeel than its Grenache counterpart. I also encountered a nice level of minerality and just enough tannins to complement the full-bodiedness.

Time for a short conclusion of our southern Rhone adventure. Let’s recap. Last week we looked at two examples of wines from the highest quality classification within the Rhone region. Two Chateauneuf Du Pape wines that both fall into the $40+ category (which is still in the lower end of what you can find in Chateauneuf Du Pape, by the way). If you read my review last week, you will recall that I truly enjoyed both of these wines since they were both blends that really demonstrated the finesse, complexity and broad aroma spectrum of what this region can offer. The wines in today’s review both retail for less than $20 and part of that price difference can be attributed to the fact that they are Cotes Du Rhone wines, not Chateauneuf Du Pape and are hence in the “lowest” classification. But does that reflect in the drinking quality? Absolutely not. They may not be as complex and certainly won’t age as well as the Chateauneuf but they are both great wines that allow you to experience the qualities and distinct style of the southern Rhone at a truly great value. Now, does that mean I would recommend them over the two Chateauneufs? Again, absolutely not! But what I am recommending is that you don’t limit yourself to the restraints of the traditional classification systems and try for yourself. All four wines will reward you for doing that.

Cheers,

Christian

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