James Beard wrote—rather succinctly—that Rhône Valley wines have a “rare quality about them which is always pleasant, usually satisfying, and sometimes great.” I agree that Rhône wines are pleasant. There is a comforting warmth to them. They seem to smile up at you as all the solar energy soaked up during the growing season radiates out of the glass. I also agree that they are usually satisfying. They slake my thirst while at the same time are more substantial and filling than any liquid has a right to be. Pleasantly satisfied is a good feeling after a glass or two, but when a wine is great, that’s something different altogether. The experience of a great Rhône wine goes beyond sunniness and refreshment and into a realm inhabited by wine writers a tad more grandiloquent than Mr. Beard. I like Alexis Lichine’s description of the wines as “big, rough, and heady, with a strong, almost pungent perfume, and they are tamed only by long imprisonment in the bottle.” This describes Serge Férigoule’s 2012 Vacqueyras to a T. Its heady aroma evokes ripe fruit and savory herbs. Each chewy, sumptuous sip coats your palate and stains your teeth. Here is a solid wine, rooted in the earth like a gnarled old tree and possessing its own rough-hewn beauty. The 2012 vintage has already been imprisoned in bottle for a while. I’d suggest buying several bottles, releasing a couple, and leaving the others to serve out their sentences in your cellar for a few more years.
The southern Rhône valley is Grenache country. It’s also known for its stones. With a viticulture history dating back well before the Popes arrived in the 12th century and one of France’s oldest appellations d'origine contrôlée, Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe, the southern Rhône is unquestionably one of France’s best known and premier winegrowing regions. The wines have the pedigree and age-worthiness of Burgundy and Bordeaux, but with a rustic, Mediterranean character. Like most wines from southern France, the reds, whites, and rosés are blends. Filling out the Grenache for the reds and rosés, you’ll often find Syrah, Carignan, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault. The common white grape varieties are Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Viognier, Roussane, and Marsanne among others. From the alluvial riverbed stones found in Lirac, Tavel, and Châteauneuf to the limestone cliffs of the Dentelles de Montmirail that influence Beaumes-de-Venise (where you’ll find excellent Muscat), Vacqueyras, and Gigondas, great terroir abounds.
Kermit’s entrance in the region came in the mid 1970s on his first trip with Richard Olney, an American ex-pat and friend of Alice Waters. On that trip, Richard introduced Kermit to the Brunier family of Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe. Soon after, Kermit began importing the Brunier’s wines—their Châteauneuf-du-Pape “La Crau” bottling remains a staple of our portfolio today. In the late 1990s Kermit teamed up with the Brunier family to purchase the famed Gigondas estate, Domaine Les Pallières. More than 40 years later, we now import wines from fifteen southern Rhône domaines spanning the entire area of the region.
When buying red Burgundy, I think we should remember:
1. Big wines do not age better than light wine. 2. A so-called great vintage at the outset does not guarantee a great vintage for the duration. 3. A so-called off vintage at the outset does not mean the wines do not have a brilliant future ahead of them. 4. Red Burgundy should not taste like Guigal Côte-Rôtie, even if most wine writers wish it would. 5. Don’t follow leaders; watch yer parking meters.
Inspiring Thirst, page 174
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