The Rhone Valley is the second largest wine producing region in France, with 80,000 hectares producing some 3.4 million hectolitres of wine each year. While the vast majority of this production is for Cotes du Rhone and Cotes du Rhone Villages, the region is most famous for its Cote-Rotie and Hermitage wines from the North, and Chateauneuf du Pape (CDP) from the south.
In the northern part of the Rhone, Syrah is the dominant red grape, while the southern Rhone permits a variety of grapes, but the wines are typically dominated by Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Not wishing to break the bank this evening, I steered away from Hermitage and CDP, choosing a Crozes-Hermitage to represent the north and a Gigondas to substitute in for CDP.
I love pairing Rhone-styled wines with lamb, and our marinated lamb kebabs paired very well with tonight's wines.
Carrying the flag for the north was the 2003 Guigal Crozes-Hermitage. Red wines from Crozes-Hermitage must be 85% Syrah, and while not as famous as Hermitage wines, the prices are much lower and the wines tend to be more accessible at a younger age. Cherry red and very aromatic, this was a wild animal on the nose - very musky, leathery and oaky with some dark cherry fruit. Surprisingly acidic at first, this medium bodied syrah softened up over the evening, recovering its balance. This is NOT a new world Syrah - this interesting wine was meant for food, and ably dealt with tonight's grilled lamb. I would definitely recommend a one-hour decant for this wine today, but it is probably best to put this one away for two or three years.
Price: C$26 (LCBO)
The south was represented by a 2000 Domaine Santa Duc Gigondas "Les Garancieres". Gigondas wines are typically dominated by Grenache, with the appelation allowing up to 80% of this grape, but the wines must also contain a minimum of 15% Syrah and Mourvedre. This ruby red wine was aging gracefully, with a spectacular bouquet - big, bright blackberry fruit with rose and lavender, coffee grounds, pepper, vanilla, and a beautiful earthiness. Medium to full-bodied, on the palate "Les Garancieres" had beautiful fruit, and was soft, smooth, rich, and extremely well balanced. This powerful and elegant wine is hitting its stride, and while it may improve with some more cellaring it will be hard to wait.
Price: C$28 (SAQ)
In the end, the northern wine was probably a better match for these spiced kebabs, but I would choose the Gigondas for a more traditionally prepared lamb chop. Note that One year ago I was not impressed with this Gigondas, but at that time I drank it without a decant, and it was not paired with a meal. Let that be a warning...