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Foods of the world: Flavours of the Rhône

Paul Firman, Manager of Majestic Wine Barnstaple, takes a tour through his favourite region and picks out a few bottles to go with some exciting international gastronomy.

Vines are believed to have first been planted in this historically and culturally rich corner of southeast France in 600BC. However, wine production in the Rhône didn’t become widespread until 1300AD, when the Pope made Avignon his home.

Geography

You can split the region into two by following the course of the mighty river that bears its name. From Lyon, the north is gateway to the warmer climates of southern France and includes the classic winemaking areas Côte-Rotie, Condrieu and Hermitage. The south hosts famous villages like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Cairanne, Gigondas and Vacqueyras on the way to the towns of Orange and Avignon.

Viticulture

Each winemaking area has its own terroir, which blend with the individual skills of producers who have learnt their craft across the generations. At the same time, the strong Mistral wind gusts through the whole valley, tempering the heat and the garrigue (the wild herbs that grow abundantly in the region). All of these elements combine to make Rhône wines adaptable to a wide range of cuisines from across the globe.

Pizza

Côtes du Rhône Belleruche 2009, M.Chapoutier
£8.99 £8.74 or £6.99 when you buy 2 bottles

A Majestic favourite from one of the region’s stars. The myriad of flavours found in pizza – acidic tomatoes, fruity olives, herbs and spices – are best matched by the lighter, fruitier style of Côtes du Rhône. Morello cherry fruit balances the acidity of the tomatoes and the fruit also works nicely with the herbs.

Homemade hamburgers

Côtes du Rhône ‘Les Vignes Rousses’ 2009, Jean-Luc Colombo New!
£7.49 or £5.99 when you buy 2 bottles

This well-balanced Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre blend has those characteristic garrigue and herby notes. The palate is full of fresh raspberries and plums, matched by acidity and an earthy grip on the finish. It has just enough heartiness and body to stand up to the burgers, with plenty of fruit to balance the dish.

Turkey curry with cashew nuts & saffron rice

Rasteau 2009, Domaine Notre Dame des Pallières
£12.49 or £9.99 when you buy 2 bottles

Matching curry spices to red wine can be hard but this has the personality for the task. It’s a powerful Grenache blend from low-yielding old vines planted at altitude, giving a fresh wildness to complex flavours like smoky gun flint and earth. The spices and garrigue in the wine work well with the saffron in this dish.

Barbecue spare ribs

Gaillard Syrah 2009/10, PGI des Collines Rhodaniennes
£9.99 or £7.99 when you buy 2 bottles

Sweet and spicy dishes can be tricky to partner – but it’s a task the Rhône is made for. Fight fire with fire and try this fantastic 100% Syrah from trailblazing winemaker Jeanne Gaillard. Blackcurrants and cherries provide the fruit to match the sweetness; black pepper and subtle savoury tannins combat the spice perfectly. A real find!

Chicken, leek & ginger pie

Crozes Hermitage 2009, Domaine Les Hauts de Mercurol New!
£14.99 or £11.99 when you buy 2 bottles

A classic British dish with a twist that requires a wine of character and structure. This wine has fresh, expressive violet and liquorice notes to provide the character, plus a good structure to stand up to the ginger, without being too heavy for the chicken.

Spicy beef tortillas with green beans

Plan de Dieu 2009, Domaine Durieu
£10.99 or £8.79 when you buy 2 bottles

A wine with all the robustness and jammy red fruit to stand up to the strong herbs and spices in this recipe. From the vineyard lying just a few miles north-east of Orange, it’s 95% Grenache and 5% Syrah, aged for 14 months in new oak barriques. None of the grapes are de-stemmed, giving a firm tannic structure for the dish.

Pork loin with apples & diced bacon

Gigondas 2009, Domaine de Notre Dames des Pallières
£13.99 £13.74 or £10.99 when you buy 2 bottles

The sweet flavours in this dish require Gigondas’ meaty and muscular style, full of kirsch, blackcurrants and black pepper to partner the dominant sage in the dish. Sunday lunch with an appley twist.

Stoemp & boudin

Lirac Vignobles Abeille 2009, Mont Redon
£14.99 or £11.99 when you buy 2 bottles

This fantastic Flemish dish needs something big and bold, like a Grenache blend that leaves the lush red fruit to do the talking. A superbly well made wine that fulfils Mont Redon’s statement: “Our aim, giving pleasure to gastronomes”!

Roast venison with pears & bacon

Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2005, Clos de L’Oratoire des Papes
£25.00 or £22.00 when you buy 2 bottles

Here’s a combination for that special occasion. Flavours from sweet dried cherry and liquorice to savoury smoke, tobacco and leather match the strong components of the dish – bacon, pear, honey, mustard, chilli and juniper. The ‘grip’ is also lower so as not to overpower the subtle gamy meat. WOW!

Tagine of lamb with peas & mint

Vacqueyras 2009/10, Domaine de la Garrigue
£13.99 £13.74 or £10.99 when you buy 2 bottles

Ripe plums, black cherries, liquorice and those fantastic, dare I say “sexy”, garrigue notes are essential to complement this taste of Morocco, but also with the softness and elegant grainy tannins to accompany the lamb. Quite a surprising and exciting pairing – this could become a firm favourite in my house!