FOOD AND WINE IN THE RHONE
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- NORTHERN RHONE
- DOMAINE BALTHAZAR, FRANCK BALTHAZAR, Cornas – Organic
- DOMAINE DES MIQUETTES, PAUL ESTEVE CHRYSTELLE VAREILLE, Saint-Joseph– Organic
- DOMAINE LA GRANDE COLLINE, HIROTAKE OOKA, Saint-Joseph– Organic
FOOD AND WINE IN THE RHONE
The Rhône may be home to superb, flavoursome wines but its cuisine is rather less renowned. In the north it echoes the richer Burgundian
style cuisine, whilst in the south the sunny influence of Provence prevails. Despite the plonky-iffy Côtes du Groan that you may
encounter, everyday drinking rouge is arguably more versatile with food than tannic vins des gardes and can be guzzled slightly chilled
with some crusty bread, cheese and excellent ham. Red wine is the iceberg in the Rhône but the “white and pink tips” are increasingly
worth the detour, improving in aroma and freshness year by year as growers seeks to achieve fruitier, zippier wines.
Spring/summer dishes and floral-fruity Viognier are synonymous. A typical light(ish) Rhône lunch might comprise a chicken liver terrine
with Viognier or muscat jelly, followed by fillet of féra, a sweet and delicate fish fresh from a local lake, then quail wrapped in Swiss
chard and garnished with peeled white grapes – all sublimely served by Stephane Montez’s superb Condrieu. Continue the delightful
spring theme with warm lambs’ tongue and spring pea salad, baby goat with asparagus and duck with fresh cherries. A chilled red with
soft tannins would suit all these, as would a robust rosé. A richer red, such a Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages (still easy on the tannin) would
favour julienned truffles in soft-boiled eggs, cod with ratatouille, pigeon with truffles and artichokes. Summer – one thinks pink and aches
for Provence (maybe): tomato tartare, fillet of rouget (red mullet) roasted with olives and saffron-tomato sauce, rabbit with pistou and a
refreshing bowl of strawberries splashed with rosé and splashed down by rosé. Other regional specialities include new potatoes stuffed
with escargots, with omble chevalier (salmon-trout) with fava bean cream and a local speciality, ravioles du Royans, delicate little pasta
packets (unless you put foie gras and cream on them!).
As in many parts of rural France meat is an essential part of the menu. Try daube of lamb spiked with rosemary, sage and garlic, the
Provençale-influenced grillade de marinière (beef flavoured with anchovies) or civet of venison. Lamb is ubiquitous. It can be as saddle
flavoured with herbs or chops grilled with thyme or cooked Provençale-style with tomatoes or braised in gravy. Game is equally
important in season: braised wild boar, partridge with cabbage and saddle of hare with juniper may be found on many menus. In certain
houses you will find strong North African influences, for example, poultry cooked with vegetables or pulses and meat cooked with fruits.
It goes without saying that with these meaty dishes one is looking for wines with a touch of acidity and a fair amount of tannin. The slow
cooked or braised dishes particularly suit the warm Grenache-dominated wines of the southern Rhône such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape,
Gigondas and Vacqueyras. The wines are full of spirit, jammy, spicy, packed with sweet fruit, sunshine, exotic flavour and savouriness
(that herby edge that gives definition to the weightiness) – the gravy to a lot of meat!
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DOMAINE STEPHANE OTHEGUY, Côte-Rôtie – Organic
If you think that Côte-Rôtie’s good – you should taste the Otheguy’s!
Stéphane Otheguy used to work at Domaine Gasse-Lafoy, with Vincent Gasse. Since 2004, when Vincent retired, he
took over the rental of his vineyards.
The domaine has been worked organically since it has been taken over in 1984. The Côte-Rôtie comes from parcels at
Ritolas, Leya, Côte Rozier and Rozier. The vines are a minimum of twenty-five years old and are situated on mica-
schists oriented south and south east.
The vinification takes place in cement betons. There is a preferment maceration for three to four days then an open-
topped fermentation on the indigenous yeasts. Pigeage takes place once a day with regular pumping over. Long
elevage in barrels, but no new oak. The wine is neither filtered nor fined and only has the smallest addition of sulphur.
The nose develops with notes of burnt wood, violets and blackberries and exhibits a kind of cool smokiness. The mouth
embracing theses flavours, is vital and tonic, and displays a dynamic minerality. A very pretty Côte-Rôtie, fresh and
stylish, naturally expressing the terroir. Serve with a piece of grilled beef or roasted aubergines with thyme and spices
and confit shoulder of lamb. Les Massales is the real show-stopper. It is made from 75-year-old vines of Petite Serine.
As one website gushingly describes it:
amateurs, les collectionneurs, les amoureux, les gens heureux… et bien sur pour nous, raisonnables épicuriens.” I’m
Stéphane is fully committed to organic methods, both in the vineyards and the cellar, but is not interested in critical
acclaim. “Why would I want my wines tasted by a wine critic-what’s the point? It’s a waste of a perfectly good bottle
of my wine that could be enjoyed instead. I make my wines for those that care enough to support my ways and enjoy
the wines at home with their family”-
COTE-ROTIE “LES MASSALES”
DOMAINE DU MONTEILLET, STEPHANE MONTEZ, Saint Joseph
Domaine du Monteillet is situated high on the plateau above the village of Chavannay.
Since taking over from his father, Stephane has transformed the standard of wine-making at Domaine du Monteillet. The
Saint-Joseph Blanc, never a commercial wine, is 100% Marsanne with typical mango flavours, almond blossom and beeswax
and his Condrieu, produced in tiny quantities (from 1.5 hectares of vines grown on Chanson and Boissey) is exceptional. (Le
petit Dieu, Robert Parker, awarded this wine ***** in his recent book on the Rhône). To get the best out of it, try serving it
cool cellar temperature and decanting it and see how the aromas develop magically in the glass. The Saint-Joseph Rouge,
aged in old oak and foudre, is pure Syrah: it seems quite light at first, but then puts on flesh after it has been open for half an
hour. A wonderfully aromatic wine breathing black cherries, green and black olives, violets and mixed garrigue herbs. From
the oldest vines (40 years+) comes the late Syrah-harvested Cuvée du Papy which enjoys a new oak elevage of 18-24 months
and throbs with sinew. The Côte-Rôtie is a eumorphous beast – let it rest or decant with prejudice. The wine with its high
percentage of Viognier (15%) is strikingly floral: billowing sweet violets, wild rose and cherryblossom. The palate is equally
perfumed revealing cherries and wild berries with firm yet integrated tannins bringing up the rear.
SAINT JOSEPH BLANC
SAINT JOSEPH ROUGE
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DOMAINE ROMANEAUX-DESTEZET, HERVE & BEATRICE SOUHAUT, Saint Joseph – Organic
The Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet was created in 1993 by Hervé Souhaut. His holdings on the acidic granite soils of the
northern Rhône and the southern Ardèche are a mixture of new and ancient vines—from 50 to100 years old. Hervé
Souhaut’s holdings are minuscule, only five hectares and he employs only organic and biodynamic winemaking
The Syrah grapes for his VDP cuvée come from a tiny parcel of land along the slopes of the Doux River and the vines are
on average 40 years old. At the end of September, the grapes are harvested and then undergo a very long maceration at a
low temperature. The wine is then matured on the lees in second-hand oak casks for six months and then bottled without
being filtered. Cool climate Syrah tends to have very dynamic aromatics and this gem has one of the most explosive noses
I have experienced in quite some time. Violets, bacon fat, freshly roasted coffee beans, black cherry, wet stone and
vanilla bean all interplay nicely as they gradually unfurl off the rim of the glass. The palate employs many of the same
flavours the wine contains on the nose, however, deep black cherry and juicy plum flavours meshed with candied violets
and cool strawberry tones dominate. The tannins that gradually crop up on the finish are in the featherweight division
and highlight the readily accessible fruity components this stellar Syrah possesses. Ideal with pigeon, guinea fowl, roast
chicken or pork.
The Souteronne is made from only old Gamay grapes. The vines are between 60 to 80 years old.
The winemaking involves a long maceration at low temperature, without destemming the grapes and the juice is matured
on the fine lees, in second-hand oak casks. It is then bottled without filtration. The SO2 is less than 25mg/l when bottled.
The depth of colour of this wine is sensational and the nose billows out of the glass to reveal fresh red and dark fruits.
The palate is something else – this is a truly superb Gamay with a lovely mineral edge as if granite had melted
seamlessly into a wine. Of the two red Saint-Josephs (neither of which has destemmed grapes) the Saint-Epine from one-
hundred-year-old Syrah vines matured on the lees in used barrels combines exotic perfumed fruit and spice with glorious
purity. The straight Saint-Jo called Cessieu is delightfully fresh, a reminder that this variety can possess real finesse.
The Blanc is a blend of 70% Viognier and 30% Roussanne, from yields of 20hl/ha, is directly pressed with maturation on
the fine lees and bottling without filtration. It has aromas of apricot and waxy pear with some herbal notes and an
agreeably mouth-filling texture.
VIN DE PAYS DE L’ARDECHE VIOGNIER-ROUSSANNE
VIN DE PAYS DE L’ARDECHE “SOUTERONNE”
VIN DE PAYS DE L’ARDECHE SYRAH
SAINT-JOSEPH ROUGE “CESSIEUX”
SAINT-JOSEPH ROUGE “SAINT-EPINE”
DOMAINE ALBERT BELLE, Crozes-Hermitage
This family estate in the Northern Rhône has forged an enviable reputation for supple, generous wines. Previously a
member of the local co-op, the Belle family have rapidly made a name for themselves as a producer to watch. The
domaine extends to 19 hectares in 4 communes and two appellations, Crozes-Hermitage and Hermitage. Low yields in
the vineyards (30-35 hl/ha) and, of course, the wonderful climate helps produce grapes of exceptional quality. The red
wines are produced traditionally using whole bunches of grapes and extended maceration. They are then matured in
oak for between 12 and 18 months with 20 to 25% new barrels each year.
Fermentation of the Les Pierrelles is in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks and the wine has a twelve-month
elevage in old oak barrels. Aromas of warm tar, marmite and wood-smoke greet you, then a palate which is initially dry
and herby with a mint edge opens out to reveal layers of blackcurrants, peppered plums and prunes. Cuvée Louis Belle
is a selection of 50+ year-old vines with the Syrah partially fermented in oak casks then aged for12 months in 25-30%
new oak barrels. Sumptuous Crozes with copious jammy black cherry and cassis fruit and a silky finish. As the Crozes
flies it doesn’t get any better than this.
CROZES-HERMITAGE ROUGE “LES PIERRELLES”
CROZES-HERMITAGE ROUGE “LES PIERRELLES” – ½ bottle
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Crozes, from red clay soils with gravel and alluvial stones, is almost salty with notes of violets, olives, dill, blackberry and
leather, whilst the Saint-Joseph, from vines on decomposed granitic soils, is round and smoky.
What we like is natural wine
because it’s alive, wine that does not necessarily have to be kept – just drunk and drunk again”. These wines remind me of
Kafka’s advice to start with what is right rather than what is acceptable. The Printemps is a demolishable wine at the generous
fruit end of the spectrum with other bits mixed in. Wild blackberry-purée pits, stems and all, wafting violets, Provençale olive
notes (more like tapenade made with crushed wild thyme), flecks of pepper and granite back notes. In a velvet jacket.
CROZES-HERMITAGE ROUGE “PRINTEMPS”
CROZES-HERMITAGE ROUGE “LES ROUGES DES BATIES”
DOMAINE BALTHAZAR, FRANCK BALTHAZAR, Cornas – Organic
Franck Balthazar took over from his father René in 2003. Located in Cornas, the earliest to ripen of the three great
appellations of the northern Rhône, the estate encompasses just two hectares of extremely low-yielding, 90-year-old Syrah
planted on the sunny slopes of the village’s granitic hillside amphitheatre. Franck works organically and still ploughs with a
horse. Fermenting in cement vats he raises his wine completely in 600-litre old demi-muids for eighteen months and then
bottles without fining or filtration and with very low sulphur. These are attractive, undeniably artisanally-made wines.
Seductive perfume of red and dark berries, kirsch, lavender and violet, with a bright iron-mineral element. Spicy cherry and
blackcurrant flavours combine richness and sinewy-sappy vivacity, picking up exotic floral pastilles on the finish. This has
wonderful freshness and finishing cut.
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DOMAINE DES MIQUETTES, PAUL ESTEVE & CHRYSTELLE VAREILLE, Saint-Joseph– Organic
Domaine des Miquettes was created by Paul Estève and Chrystelle Vareille in 2003 in the village of Cheminas, a small village
located on the high plateau above Tournon and Secheras, two towns located in the southern part of the Saint Joseph
appellation. Paul and Chrystelle took over the farm from Paul’s family and turned one of the small farm buildings into a
cramped and low-tech wine-making facility. In total, the domaine consists of five hectares. At the property in Cheminas, Paul
& Chrytelle have planted one hectare of Syrah and one of Viognier which are classified as Vin de Pays des Coteaux de
l’Ardèche. They also have three hectares in Saint Joseph with 2.6 planted to Syrah and .4h planted to Marsanne. Paul had
been working the Saint Joseph vineyard for the previous owner and when the owner decided to retire, he made arrangements
to take over the three hectares. The Saint Joseph vineyard is located in the high hills above Secheras at an altitude of around
350 metres. It is planted on a steep hillside with soils of granite mixed with micaschist and its exposure is east/southeast. The
vineyards, both in Saint Joseph and the Coteaux de l’Ardèche are certified as organic farms. The vineyard rows are worked
throughout the year with either a tractor or horse-drawn plough which is used on the more difficult terrains. All harvesting is
done by hand and the fermentations occur with natural yeasts and little or no temperature adjustments. Both white and red
wines are matured in large casks, “demi-muids” for a year before bottling. Since 2014 he makes both his red Saint-Josephs in
terracotta clay as well. All the wines are sans soufre.
Paul started to plant the Madloba vineyard 13 years ago and choose an old clone of Syrah, selection massale. This steep
terraced vineyard facing west towards Crozes-Hermotage has a much stronger wind then their other Saint Joseph vineyard on
the top and the wines really ends up differently. The wine is fermented for six months in amphora, pressed and then aged for a
further six months in same.
12 years ago, they also planted 0,5 hectares of Syrah in Ardeche, just above the village of Arlebosc. The first vintage made was
Paul’s another grower who has been bitten the Georgian bug – I have a hazy memory of him being pulled out of a qvevri on a
trip to that country so he has immersed himself in the most literal sense in their wines. Madloba (the name of one of his cuvees)
means thanks in Georgian.
The reds have that almost unrealistic sheen of youthful purple as per Seamus Heaney’s Blackberry Picking:
… its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue
SAINT-JOSEPH ROUGE “MADLOBA”
DOMAINE LA GRANDE COLLINE, HIROTAKE OOKA, Saint-Joseph– Organic
wine and left home for oenology school in Bordeaux. While in school he became enamoured with the wines of the Northern
Rhône and upon graduation approached Theirry Allemand for a position, but none were available. He ended up working with
winemaker Jean-Louis Grippat and when Grippat’s vines were acquired by Guigal, Hirotake worked his way up to Chief of
Vineyard Management for Hermitage and St. Joseph vines for all of the Grippat and Vallouit estates. At this time he was also
spending his weekends working with Allemand, and was becoming more and more convinced that wine should be made without
additives. When a position opened in the early 2000’s with Allemand, Hirotake left Guigal and at the same time he purchased a
few vines and a winery in the town of St. Peray.
not even ones allowed in organic viticulture. Hirotake prefers to let the vines grown on their own, undisturbed.
His winery is equally magical, with his wine cellar-cave carved into the side of a mountain providing a humidity with intensity.
Some barrels even have mushrooms growing on them and Hirotake considers this environment to be an advantage! These
natural elements are all part of the terroir of the cellar and an essential part of his wine.
A few years ago, Hirotake planted a new vineyard of Syrah on the steep hills of Cornas, bringing his estate to 3.8 ha.
Canon is made from Syrah and Grenache from mica-schist and granite soils on a 2.5 ha plot. Yields are 35 hl/ha, harvest is
manual. Winemaking involves whole grapes with a few days of carbonic maceration and punching down each day and 15 to 20
days of maceration in tank. The wine is aged for 24 months in fibreglass tank sans filtration, fining and sulphur. Lots of
blueberry fruit here and a touch of liquorice and thyme. One for the fridge.
The Saint-Joseph, as we have called it, (the label is vin de France with a purple flower on it) is from grapes grown on
decomposed granite soils which are macerated in tank. The juice spends 24 months in old barrels before bottling. This is a
beautiful natural red, so precociously purple, interfusing sweet floral (violet, cherry-blossom) aromas with hedgerow fruits
and herbs. There’s also the characterful Syrah note of marinated purple olives, here a sweet note, there a bitter one. Both the
reds have a hint of latent carbonic gas.
VIN DE FRANCE “LE CANON”
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