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Saturday, 5 June 2021

The CWB Southern-Rhône-Off


Two very different Southern Rhônes - Fontbonau and Tesco *Finest

If you like wines with the spice and fruit of a warm climate, yet also the classic substance and structure of the Old World while avoiding the heavy-hitting price tag of a Big Name Region, then the Southern Rhône pretty much ticks all boxes.

The Southern Rhône is a large and diverse wine-producing area, producing wines of all colours; wine-making here dates back 2,000 years and there are over 5,000 winemakers and merchants.

The valley has had a turbulent geological past, as is typical for riverscapes, creating steep slopes, rolling hillsides and a huge variety of different soil types. It is theses different soils, aspects and slopes that bring variety and interest to the wines of the region. The southerly climate with high levels of sunshine brings ripeness, body and darker fruit flavours.

In quality terms, Côtes-du-Rhône Villages is a step up the classification  ladder from the catch-all Côtes-du-Rhône, but sits below more-specific appellations such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Vacqueyras.

Southern Rhône reds are usually a blend of Grenache for vibrancy with Syrah for colour / tannins and dark fruit / spice as well as Mourvèdre which likes the heat and provides flavours of wild game, earthiness and red fruits.

Tesco Finest Cotes Du Rhone Villages, 2020 (Tesco, £7) 

From the Côtes-du-Rhône village of Signargues, a blend of mainly Syrah and Grenache.

Baked red and dark berry fruits with sweet vanilla spice and some leathery gaminess; hefty and warming, but with enough freshness and very fine, gentle tannins.

Drinks nicely on first opening, then continues to improve with aeration.

Well-made and thoroughly enjoyable.

A crowd-pleasing Big Red, this would be a great summer barbecue wine; in autumn, with bangers and mash or beef stew.

Domaine de Fontbonau Cotes-du-Rhone 2012 (£12.99, Cambridge Wine Merchants) 

Despite its more lowly classification, this is a very different wine; the price also belies its quality somewhat. Around £20 would be a fairer reflection of its quality and age, but it was a fire-sale lot picked up by CWM's buyers for well below market price.

Mature southern Rhônes are somewhat unusual; they tend to drink well in their youth so do not require the same level of aging as, say, Bordeaux to become approachable.

Leather, mushrooms and sous bois with ripe berries, cool mint and complex, well-integrated, oaky vanilla spice; ripe yet savoury, intense and supple with very fine tannins.

Very Good.

Match with darker game or roast lamb.

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