By Celia Strong
This week we’re getting a language lesson along with our wine lesson. Multi-tasking at its best.
Many wine regions and areas in France are called Côte or Côtes of this or that, Côteaux from wherever, and similar names. It’s the “côte” word we need to look at. The word “cote” with no accent means “side,” like the side of something. The word “côte,” with the accent means “coast.” Linguists say the accent stands for the lost “s” in the pronunciation. Coteau, plural Coteaux, means “hillside, slope or hill.” Relating this all to wine, Côtes du Rhône, the name of our region this week, means the “coasts of the Rhône River,” which translates to mean the vineyards are on the banks of this river.
The Côtes du Rhône is an AC region located in southeastern France. The basic wine from the region comes in red, white and rosé. The reds and rosés are usually based on Grenache, and the whites on Grenache Blanc. By far, the majority of Côte du Rhône wines are red. The Rhône vineyards are some of the oldest in the world, having been used for grapes since the Greeks, the Romans and Medieval Popes, and the appellation is one of the first established by French wine laws. The basic regional wines are almost all blends. Winemakers (about 5,000 producers) are allowed to use 21 different varieties. Specific parts of the region’s wine laws allow small quantities of white varieties to be included within the red wines. The climate in the region is more consistent than most others in France, so vintage variations are less noticeable in the wines and price ranges are certainly affordable.
Vidal-Fleury is one of the Rhône’s oldest continuing producers, founded in 1781. Its reputation goes back to a visit by Thomas Jefferson in 1787. He called the wine “justly celebrated.” In their production, Vidal-Fleury has four separate operations — the vineyards, winemaking, aging and bottling.
For the Côtes du Rhône red, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Carignan grapes are grown in shallow soils. Clay, pebbles and stone, and sand make up most of the soils. The vines are planted on hillsides, about 500 to 800 feet above sea level. The grapes are hand and machine harvested and fermented with indigenous yeasts. Temperature controlled tanks are used for fermentation and maceration, which lasts two weeks. Aged on its lees — 70 percent in tanks, 30 percent in barrels — the wine develops complexities before it is bottled. Light filtering and fining, followed by aging in its bottles for three months, finishes its production. The wine is 65 percent Grenache, 20 percent Syrah, 10 percent Mourvedre and 5 percent Carignan. It is a ruby red color with dark cherry, blackberry, black raspberry, roasted nuts, coffee, cocoa and spice aromas and flavors. It has a bold texture, smooth tannins and a lush, juicy finish. About 40,000 cases are made every year. For $12.99.
The Côtes du Rhône white is based on Viognier and Grenache Blanc. The vineyards for these grapes have the same soils and elevations as the red wine. They are hand and machine harvested and transported to the winery in small grates. Indigenous yeasts are used for fermentation in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. No malolactic fermentation is allowed. The wine is aged on its lees, in its tank for six months. Light filtering and fining, and three months aging in its bottles are all done before release. This wine is 75 percent Viognier, 15 percent Grenache Blanc and 10 percent other varieties (Clairette and Roussanne). It is a light gold color with the classic Viognier aromas and flavors of peaches, nectarines, jasmine flowers, subtle baking spices, pears, citrus and raw almonds and hazelnuts. It is a medium-bodied wine with a silky texture. For $12.99.
From a coastal region to a coastal town. Perfect. Enjoy.
Celia Strong works at Bill’s Liquor & Fine Wines on Lady’s Island.