Southern Rhône Reds

Autumn is definitely in full swing now, the trees dispersing of their leaves and pointedly preparing for another naked winter. The seasonal change also brings a shift in the shade and style of wine most of us choose to consume.

Chateauneuf du Pape
Chateauneuf du Pape

We move away from crisper whites and lighter styles of Rosé associated with the summer months.

Over the past few weeks we’ve seen more customers reaching for Southern Rhone reds not to mention the ubiquitous Rioja (indeed a steady year round pick) and wines made from the Pinot Noir grape; plus where white wines are concerned, those with more weight and texture.

All these wines seem to capture the essence of autumn. The reds in particular, stepping-stones to bolder more tannic wines perhaps better suited, at least in mind, to the depths of winter.

So for now let’s look at the Rhone wines, which are usually Grenache and then Syrah dominant. The former provides fleshy red and black fruit, cinnamon infused spices and variable degrees of alcohol – high alcohol if very ripe at harvest.

Syrah adds darker fruit characteristics, signature black pepper notes, as well as structure in the form of tannin and a kick of acidity (providing longevity). They are most commonly blended with quantities of Mourvedre – think gamey notes and leather, as well as with Carignan and Cinsaut.

Rhone Wine
Popular Cote du Rhone

Fruity, accessible Cotes du Rhone wines at sub £10 cover the lighter to medium end of the red Rhone spectrum, while fuller reds are available from other parts of the region.

As an indicator, wines labelled as Cotes du Rhone Villages are theoretically the next notch up on the quality ladder, following wines that are allowed to state their actual village of origin on the bottle after this title.

Then finally there are wines that have their own recognised appellation (or cru) like Gigondas, Rasteau and Vacqueyras.

Good wines from these areas should deliver more weight, greater concentrations of fruit and potentially a good smattering of oak. The most famous proponent of the area is of course Chateauneuf de Pape; plenty of superb producers as well as plenty trading off the name that don’t merit the hype; the name alone does not guarantee quality. Pricewise for a village wine, a very sound purchase at around £7 – £10 can be made.

Upwards to £15 and a bit more for a cru wine? Well with the right advice you could potentially walk away with a real beauty.

Even the fuller versions though, like their lighter counterparts, prove relatively soft and rounded drinking once they’ve come of age. There’s not the mouth puckering tannin you might associate with an Aussie Shiraz or ripe Cabernet Sauvignon.

As a result, there are plenty of great examples and enough diversity to suit different palates and depths of pocket.South Downs Cellars

Useful to know: If you’ve ever seen a bottle with the terms GSM on it then this denotes the varieties of grapes used; Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre.

This combination is made the world over, not just in the Rhone.

Submitted by Matt Ainscough, South Downs Cellars