The Big Wines of Southern France
By Gary Parker, Owner
The WineSellar & Brasserie
Last month we explored the great wines of Northern France. This month we travel south to review the fuller body wines of Rhone Valley, Bordeaux and Languedoc & Roussillon, France’s most celebrated wine regions. The warmer climate and longer days allow the grapes to ripen more fully, bringing wines that are rich in body, character, depth, with the ability to age gracefully in the bottle.
The Rhone Valley
One of the worlds most popular wine regions is the Rhone Valley, with its rocky soils and in some cases steep slopes lending distinctive flavors in their wine.
Southern Rhone uses Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Cinsault grapes for their red wines. Look for labels with the names Chateauneuf-du-Pape, St. Joseph, Cotes du Rhone, Vacqueras and Gigondas. The wines are great values, and are fabulous with cheeses, duck and game.
Northern Rhone wines are powerful and complex, using the Syrah grape to make world-class Côte-Rotie and Hermitage. Some bottles will fetch hundreds of dollars each upon release. Beef, game, simply prepared foods go best with these gems.
White wines from Rhone are made from Marsanne, Rousanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc, along with a host of other white varietals. The Northern Rhone whites emphasize Viognier, one of which has a small appellation called Condrieu. Condrieu wines are exquisitely a rich, dense mouthful of wine nectar which is great with spicy Asian food or foie gras.
The most famous and esteemed wine growing region on the planet produce wines that inspire prose. Great Bordeaux wines, after aging for a dozen, two dozen, three dozen or more years, takes on a silken texture, smooth as no other drink can be.
Famous labels from Bordeaux are commanding upwards of $1,000 a bottle, yet there are also excellent values in the Medoc and Haut Medoc appellations. Try to age your red Bordeaux for at least a few years, and serve with roast beef.
The white wine produced in Bordeaux are typically made with Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon blended with some Muscadelle. The wine range in style from a dry and lean table wine, to rich, massive, oaky and highly-extracted wines for aging, and decadent late harvest dessert wine.
Languedoc & Roussillon
With massive amounts of vineyards, the southwest and coastal regions of France produce fully a third of the wine in the country. It is the single biggest wine-producing region in the world.
These wines are relatively obscure to the American consumer, as many of the wines are inexpensive and meant to be consumed young. This is definitely a wine region to keep an eye on, as the prices and quality of the wines have been exceptional over the past two decades.