Rhone Red Blends from Vacqueyras AOC, Rhone Valley, France
Purchased: 12 July 2017 – $19.99
Opened: 29 August 2017
Stephan Tanzer: 93-91
The Wine Advocate: 90
Cellar Tracker: 88
Gilbert and Gaillard: 87
France is the 2nd largest producer of wine in the world, just behind Italy and ahead of Spain, representing about 21% of the global wine market. The country is responsible for creating some of the most recognizable old world wines on the planet, from the bubbly Champagnes in the cool north to world-class Bordeaux along the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers to the GSMs in the warm Mediterranean south. There are 17 major wine-producing regions in the country along with another 28 smaller areas, all growing 96 varieties of predominate grapes with Merlot and Grenache the most common. Reds account for almost 70% of the 2 million plus acres planted in vines, with whites accounting for the remainder. As with the other major European wine producers, France’s vineyard acreage has been shrinking over the last couple of decades due to less demand from their home population and increased market pressures from new world producers.
The Rhone Valley wine region of southern France, extending 155 miles along both sides of the north-south river, situated between the Massif Central to the west and the Alps to the east, produces some of the truly great red blends in the world. The wineries in this valley have practiced and perfected their craft since the Greeks came to Massilia (modern Marseille) and planted their vines in the 4th century BC. The Romans, knowing a good thing when they see it, defended Massilia from the Gaul’s in the second century BC, protecting and expanding the Rhone wine trade throughout the Mediterranean. The wines, especially from the right bank of the Rhone, have been the favorites of kings and popes since the Latin and Greek Churches parted company in 1054. In the 14th century the Latin Popes set up residency on the right bank of the Rhone at Avignon and controlled the area until the 18th century, all the while extending and perfecting the local vineyards. In the 20th century, Rhone wineries were instrumental in codifying French laws, AOCs, to regulate the type and quality of wines produced.
Today the Rhone Valley is France’s second largest wine-producing region of over 5300 growers and producers spread over 250 communes, containing 28 appellations, and growing 27 varieties of grapes. Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre red grapes are the most common by acreage planted. In 2016 the region produced 80 million gallons and sold 372 million bottles of wine, produced from 175,000 acres of vines. More than 80% of the wine produced is red. A little less than a third of that wine is exported, mainly to the UK, Belgium, and the US.
Vacqueyras AOC, located at the foot of Dentelles de Montmirail, is 14 miles east of the Rhone, 8-9 miles east of Orange, and 60 miles north-northwest of Marseille. The AOC sits along the left-bank of the Ouveze River, a tributary of the Rhone. Vacqueyras’ history goes back to the Romans in the 2nd century BC with first written proof of wine making recorded in the 15th century AD tax rolls. In 1937, Vacqueyras was added to the Cotes du Rhone area. In 1955, it became a Cotes du Rhone Village. In 1967, it became a named Cotes du Rhone village. Finally, in 1990, it obtained its AOC status. The area has 3500 acres of planted vines with red grapes comprising 97% of all grapes grown. Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre account for 90% of all vines planted. The area produced 12,000 gallons of wine in 2016. The soils are generally alluvial and glacial, sandy-clay with pebbles. The area enjoys a Mediterranean climate with growing season temperatures ranging from 50-80°F and rainfall ranging from 2.0-2.75″ per month.
Grenache grapes likely originated in Aragon in north central Spain. It is the 7th most commonly grown grape in the world, planted on about 455,000 acres and producing about 4% of all harvested grapes. France is the largest grower of this grape followed by Spain and is the most common grape grown in the Rhone valley. The grape is used to produce single varietals and blends. A dark-blueish, large, thick-skinned grape that produces medium to full-bodied wines high in alcohol but with medium acidity and tannins. It is high in dark fruit and spice flavors that mellow with age.
Syrah grapes were originally thought to have originated in Persia or Syria but recent DNA analyses has shown its roots to be in Savoy, a region at the junction of France, Switzerland, and Italy, and the Ardeche region on the eastern edge of the Rhone Valley. The grape is the 6th most grown grape in the world, planted on about 460,000 acres and producing a little more than 4% of all harvested grapes. France is the largest producer of this grape and is used to produce single varietals and blends. A small to medium-sized grape, deep purple in color, producing full-bodied wines high in alcohol and acidity with medium tannins. The wines have flavors of red and black fruits, and spice. The wine ages well, developing aromas of leather and licorice over time.
In 1717, the Count Francois de Castellanne, de Lauris, de Vassadel, de Gerard, Chevalier marquis of Ampuis, de Lagneroux, Vacqueyras, gave Pierre Bovis, an ancestor of the Arnoux family a vineyard. Fortunately he didn’t make Pierre name the vineyard after him. Today the estate is run by Marc and Jean-Francois. Arnoux et Fils’ winery, on the right bank of the Rhone River produces it blends from low yield vineyards as prescribed by AOC rules.
The family has 100 acres of vineyards at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail, loosely translated as lacy, adorable mountains. These mountains formed from late Mesozoic to present day tectonic uplift, causing the nearly vertical placement of the originally horizontal, Late Jurassic-Oxfordian fine-grained basinal carbonates. The carbonates are the source of the poor argillaceous, limestone soil mixed with round stones of the winery’s vineyards. The vines are more than 50 years-old. As stated above the vineyards enjoy a Mediterranean climate with growing season temperatures ranging from 50-80°F and rainfall ranging from 2.0-2.75″ per month, with the vines and soil being kept cool and dry by the strong mistral winds coming out of the northwest.
The grapes were hand-picked, partially de-stemmed, and spent 15 days fermenting in vats. The wine is then aged 18 to 24 months in oak barrels, 2/3 new and 1/3 used. The wine is partially aged in the winery’s underground cellar for 12 to 18 months.
This wine has beautiful clear garnet hues which just beg you to enjoy outside on a Willie Nelson “Uncloudy Day“. Powerful aromas meet your nose with hints of raspberry, currant, black cherry, and prunes. Whispers of mushrooms and cloves add to this delightful fragrance of liquid comfort. The tannins are smooth and easy, providing a nice balanced finish now and for years to come.
Enjoy while nibbling on some small chunks of pungent goat cheese or make a meal of it and grill up a rib-eye. Smother your steak with a red wine, peppercorn sauce. Start with a tablespoon of butter, the real stuff, 2-3 tablespoons of finely chopped onions, a tablespoon of crushed peppercorns, a sloppy tablespoon of cognac (optional), a half cup of red wine, a cup of beef stock, and a quarter cup of heavy cream. Cook the butter, onions, and peppercorns over medium heat until the onions are soft, less than 10 minutes. Add in the cognac and reduce to nothing. Add the wine and the beef stock, bringing to a boil, reducing everything by 2/3. Add in the cream and allow to thicken. Salt to taste and serve over a hot, juicy steak.
An outstanding wine at an ok price. Drink this year but likely good until 2022-2027. Decant and aerate for one hour, or more, before drinking.