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Chateaux in RhoneIt always surprises me that two areas as different as the Northern and Southern Rhône are paired up under the same regional heading. After all, the climate, geography and all-important terroir diverge so wildly that if these areas are indeed twins, they can only be Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito. Lawrence Bowden, Manager of Majestic Wine Leith Walk, Edinburgh gives us an insight into Majestic’s Rhône selection this season…

The Rhône: A region of two halves

The Syrah grape dominates the cooler climate and sheer hillside vineyards of the north, sometimes blended with small amounts of white Roussane or Marsanne. This results in wines filled with blackcurrants and peppered spice in their youth, but which can develop fantastic meaty, savoury notes and wild-mushroom aromas with a little bottle age.

Rhone Valley VineyardsTraverse a 50km stretch devoid of noteworthy viticulture and you reach the flat, sprawling, Mediterranean vineyards of the south, where single varietals are rare. Rustic, sweet-raspberry Grenache gains a spicy Syrah streak, while complex, multi-layered blends with grapes like Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvedre are common. In fact, a single bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape may contain as many as 13 different varieties.

Such are the differences between the north and south that it can seem like the Rhône river and the Gauloises-wielding vignerons are the only similarities between the two. But all this variety has an undeniable upside: a fantastic diversity of wine styles.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape and beyond

The big guns of the Southern Rhône are arguably among the world’s most recognisable wines: weighty, concentrated offerings laden with Grenache dark cherries and Syrah stewed fruits, fully ripened in the Mediterranean sun. The power and depth of fruit demands higher alcohol levels for balance, making for the ultimate ‘weekend wine’.

While Châteauneuf-du-Pape may be one of the biggest names in the wine world, it’s the lesser-known nearby villages of Gigondas and Vacqueyras that tend to tempt the wine-savvy. Both produce a similar style of wine to their superstar neighbour, although Vacqueyras has slightly more perfumed wild-herb and olive aromas, while Gigondas is a touch more robust.

‘Les Galets’ Côtes du Rhône 2009
£6.24 or £4.99* when you buy 2 bottles
Named after the large round pebbles littering the vineyards across much of the Southern Rhône, which reflect the day’s heat back towards the grapes at night to aid ripening. A wine full of the ripe, juicy raspberry notes that typify a good Côtes du Rhône.

Côtes du Rhône Villages 2009, Cuvée Cécile Desvignes
£7.49 or £5.99* when you buy 2 bottles
A delicious bottle to open when friends drop by, with black pepper and sweet raspberry combining perfectly on the palate.

Côteaux-du-Tricastin 2009, Delas-Frères
£8.49 or £6.79* when you buy 2 bottles
Grapes grown at a slightly raised altitude make for more refined, delicate characters, with sweet red cherry and redcurrant fruit held together by earthy tones and a crisp mouthfeel. I’m assured that this is a perfect match for the local wild truffles that grow in the woods between the vineyards.

Réserve Rouge 2009,Côtes du Rhône, Perrin et Fils
£8.99 £8.74 or £6.99* when you buy 2 bottles
A powerful, full-bodied yet rounded wine with sweet spice and crushed black pepper sitting seamlessly between layers of concentrated blackcherry and bramble fruits.

Beaumes-de-Venise 2007/09, Cave de Saint Desirat
£9.99 or £7.99* when you buy 2 bottles
The high quality of wines from Beaumes-de-Venise is now enshrined in the village’s very own appellation contrôlée, meaning their status is protected by French law. This is packed full of cherries, plums, lush blackberries and sweet spice.

Crozes Hermitage 2007, Cave de Tain L’Hermitage
£9.99 or £7.99* when you buy 2 bottles
2007 was a great year for Syrah in the Northern Rhône. This wonderfully affordable example from a highly regarded cooperative on the banks of the river brings together crushed black pepper, blackcurrant and hints of bitter cocoa.

Crozes Hermitage ‘Les Jalets’ 2006, P.Jaboulet
£13.99 £12.49 or £9.99* when you buy 2 bottles
This does a good job of emulating its big brother, Hermitage, which is one of France’s most sought-after and pricey wines. All the classic opulent black-fruit and white-pepper hallmarks of a fine, full-bodied Syrah are on display here, along with liquorice notes and hints of wild mushroom.

Gigondas 2007/09, Domaine de Notre Dames des Pallières
£12.49 or £9.99* when you buy 2 bottles
Close in style to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, this remarkable wine is a potent mix of dark forest fruits, liquorice and pepper, with a hint of wild garrigue herbs.

Vacqueyras 2007/09, Domaine de la Garrigue
£12.49 or £9.99* when you buy 2 bottles
Close your eyes, put your nose into the glass and get a waft of the warm Mediterranean climate of the Southern Rhône. This has more fragrant lavender and wild herbs than neighbouring Gigondas, with a warm palate of ripe cherry and redcurrant fruits.

Gigondas 2006/07, E.Guigal
£16.99 or £13.59* when you buy 2 bottles
A powerful red with a smooth chocolate texture, aromas of scorched earth and bucketloads of peppery raspberry fruit.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape ‘Cuvée des Antiques’ 2008/09
£16.99 £16.24 or £12.99* when you buy 2 bottles
Rustic, earthy notes mingle with red cherry fruit, violets and a peppery twang. Best enjoyed with a plate of Cumberland sausage and mustard mash.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2004, Clos du Mont Olivet Cuvée Bois
£19.99 or £15.99* when you buy 2 bottles
2004 saw favourable growing conditions that produced some truly great wines that are only now starting to open fully to reveal perfumed notes of lavender, olive and wild herbs.

Think Red Think Côtes du Rhône Wines

*Prices are valid from 02 November 2010 to 31 January 2011.

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