What Are Your 99 Wines? (Part 7)

Date:

“I pray you, do not fall in love with me, for I am falser than vows made in wine.”
― William Shakespeare, As You Like It

“I am only at 51 wines, regions, and events. It has been a pleasure recalling the wines and the people involved, but I do not know which I have enjoyed more, the wines or the people I shared them with. They will forever be intertwined.

24. Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien

Château Ducru Beaucaillou trio

Aide and I worked in the same building on the same floor. We would smile and say a perfunctory greeting to each other in the lift but had never had a meaningful conversation. One day, we rode down in the lift together and walked to the parking lot. I guess she could no longer wait for me to say anything profound, so she took it upon herself. That broke the ice, and I asked her out for drinks.

Aide was delightful. She was originally from Iran and lived in France. I grew up in Iraq, had been to Iran, and I enjoy France. That was the start of a good conversation; and at least we had geography in common. Aide did not drink wine, but she took interest that I did. Little did I realize how much interest she took.

The next day, my receptionist called and said a package had been delivered. I opened the package, and it contained a bottle of Château Ducru-Beaucaillou Saint-Julien 2004. I had read about this wine, but I had never had it. I immediately called Aide to thank her. How did someone who did not drink wine come up with a gem like a Château Ducru-Beaucaillou? Believe it or not, it was a recommendation from a clerk at Total Wine. Someone knew their wines! I only wished I knew who they were so I could thank them.

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou is a Second-Growth, brilliant Bordeaux-style red blend from the Médoc on the Left Bank of the Gironde estuary. It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot grapes. Recent scores have been from 94-100 points. I thought the wine needed to age more, so I purchased an older vintage that I could open immediately. The wine is magnificent, and it has become my go-to wine. I was with a group in Bordeaux recently, and we each selected a bottle to share. I selected Château Ducru-Beaucaillou.

The wine is magnificent, and it has become my go-to wine.

Some relationships run a natural course, as did mine with Aide. Thankfully, my relationship with Château Ducru-Beaucaillou will never end. I will never forget Aide’s gift to me, which I finally opened a few months ago. I paired it with a grilled Japanese Wagyu beef and baby bok choy. This wine was deeply garnet in color with a brick-colored rim variation. It was perfumed and had all the dark fruits, cigar box, licorice root, and cedar elements I had come to expect. It also had a hint of white truffle. The tannins had softened considerably. I was right to let it age, but it could have easily aged for another 10 – 15 years. This wine paired flawlessly with the stunning marbled beef.

I will always have Château Ducru-Beaucaillou in my cellar and think fondly of Aide each time I enjoy it.

25. The Northern Rhône – Côte-Rôtie or roasted slopes.

Côte Rôtie 1993 and-2007

I first went to the Rhône as a wine drinker around 1997. I had been before as a child. I remember asking my father for a taste of his wine, as I saw French children sampling wine with their families. My father, who enjoyed an occasional glass of wine, would not think of it. My mother, who never drank, certainly would not have allowed it. Thus, returning to the Rhône as an adult wine drinker was an indulgence.

I was drinking red wine almost exclusively at that time, save for sparkling wine. My wines of choice were mostly California Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. I was looking to try something different. I could not have found anything more different in the wines of the Rhône.

The Rhône Valley, located in southwestern France, is divided into the Northern and Southern regions. The Northern Rhône is, in a single word, beautiful. The region is south of Beaujolais. Côte-Rôtie, meaning “roasted slopes” in French, lies in the upper part of the Northern Rhône. The Rhône River flows from the Alps, and the mountain slopes create picturesque valleys. The strong, cooling Mistral winds sweep at wind speed that can top 50 mph (80 kph). The Mistral comes in from Central France and is strong enough to do serious damage to the vines.

The village of Condrieu is where I began. This is a village of steep, terraced slopes that would make excellent black diamond ski runs if they were covered with enough snow, yet they are covered with vineyards. The view of the Rhône River and the scenic village is so very French. Condrieu, known for its Viognier white wines, is exceptional due to the moderate warmth, proximity to the Rhône River, and the cooling Mistral winds.

Condrieu

Vineyards were first planted in the area more than 2,000 years ago. The foremost difference between Côte-Rôtie and Cornas wines is that up to 20.00% white grapes are permitted in Côte-Rôtie, unlike the requisite 100.00% Syrah grapes that are mandated in Cornas. The quantity of Viognier grapes blended with Syrah is often far less than the permitted 20.00%, and it is typically added to increase aromatics. Marsanne and Roussanne varietals can also be used to a lesser degree to stabilize the color extraction. Even a red wine drinker must try the white wines whilst in the Northern Rhône, especially if it is paired with the local cheese and charcuterie.

I remember Mr. Henry, my first wine Obi Wan, shared Viognier from Condrieu with me when I was in law school. The wines Mr. Henry shared with me were always exceptional, as they had common traits I loved at that time. The wines had aromatics with a palette of white fruits, such as apricots, nectarines, peaches, and pears. That was my wheelhouse, then. Fortunately, I now have superb Syrahs to savor.

26. Cornas

Cornas is a small Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (A.O.C.) located in the Northern Rhône. It produces red wines exclusively and must use 100.00% Syrah grapes if designated as Cornas. This means no fillers or another varietal to round out the wine. This is what makes Cornas interesting. I must have had Syrah wines prior to that trip, but I do not recall them.

Auguste Clape Cornas

Cornas, the AOC, is located in the southernmost part of the Northern Rhône south of Lyon, near the town of Valence. Cornas, the wine, has been described as powerful, robust, and masculine. Côte-Rôtie, in contrast, are elegant and more feminine wines. The wines of Cornas are renowned due to its granite-filled soil. These are dense, darkly colored wines known for their spices, such as black and white pepper, with leather and dark fruits, such as dark cherries and plums. Syrahs have aromas, such as jammy blackberries, licorice, and floral notes on the nose. Cornas are powerful and full-bodied, tannic, dry wines that are aged for longer than most wines, with meatiness on the palate that will only develop over time. They are as smooth as silk, yet they can stand up to aging in the cellar. Typically, these wines have less alcohol. Cornas is definitely not California. Cornas is balanced, flavorful, and fruity without being a fruit bomb. I remember enjoying so many savory beef dishes whilst in Cornas.

I discovered in the Rhône new varietals, a new terroir, and new wines that expanded my palate.

27. The Southern Rhône – There are wines other than Châteauneuf du Pape.

The Southern Rhône is a different world than the Northern Rhône. Perhaps, the single biggest influence is its Mediterranean climate. This part of the region suffers and benefits from the strong Mistral winds that are especially cold in the winter as in the Northern Rhône. The soil is also very different. The Southern Rhône has large round stones called galets roulés (rounded stones), which help retain the daytime heat.

Grenache Noir is to the Southern Rhône as Cabernet Sauvignon is to Napa Valley: It is the king varietal. There are as many as 13 varietals allowed by law to be used in the Southern Rhône, as opposed to the single varietal used in Cornas in Northern Rhône. The Southern Rhône is known for its blends. Cinsault and Carignan varietals are also used in the red wines to a lesser degree. Both red and white wines are found in the Southern Rhône, but the red wines make this part of the region remarkable.

Eighty percent of all Rhône wines are from Côte du Rhône, and the grapes can come from anywhere in the Rhône. The holy trinity of Southern Rhône is Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvédre, commonly referred to as “GSM.” Châteauneuf du Pape (or CNP) is the best-known wine in the Southern Rhône.

Let me digress (for the Vegas Wineaux’s benefit). I was taught that the abridged form of Châteauneuf du Pape is “CNP.” However, some refer to it as “CDP.” I did some research following a vigorous debate with my wine group. My research found that both are acceptable, although I believe that CNP is the better choice. Would you use the acronym “A.D.C.,” to refer to Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, or A.D.P. to refer to Appellation d’Origine Protégée? Then why elevate the adjective “du,” meaning “of” to the status of a significant word when it is meant to modify a noun? Hence, I will persist in using CNP. (What is your explanation Vegas Wineaux?) (Note from Vegas Wineaux – my answer’s at the end of the article!)

I did not try either red or white CNP whilst I was in Southern Rhône for reasons I will not elaborate on here, as I previously fully explained in a prior article on CNP. However, there were glorious wines that I did enjoy. Gigondas is one of the best. Sometimes referred to as the “Baby CNP” or even the “poor man’s CNP,” it was the first of the Côtes du Rhône Villages appellations to be elevated to cru status in 1971. Gigondas uses GSM as its primary varietals like CNP. I have had many fine Gigondas over the years. Trust me, the “poor man’s” moniker is now a reference to the price, as opposed to the quality of the wine.

Top Southern Rhône Wines (Decanter Magazine)

Vacqueyras is to Gigondas as Gigondas is to CNP. Vacqueyras is located at the base of the sloping Dentelles de Montmirail. It earned its right to be an independent AOC in 1990. Prior to that it was simply one of the Côtes du Rhône Villages appellations. Vacqueyras is required by law to have a minimum of 50.00% Grenache. Syrah and Mourvédre, combined, cannot be more than 20.00%. Any of the other Côtes du Rhône varietals may make up the remaining 10.00%. Vacqueyras is blessed to be only 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the Mediterranean, so it has a long, hot growing season.

These are some of the wines I tried whilst in the Southern Rhône. Just a note: Ninety percent of the wines from the Rhône are from Southern Rhône. So, do not think you have tried them all if you just go to the Northern Rhône. That is like going to the Southern Rhône and not trying CNP. I did that. It just means you will have to go back.

Santé!

The following is Vegas Wineaux’s answer to Andras’s challenge. (insert smiling emoji here):

A couple of observations. One, it’s usually referred to as CdP, acknowledging that “du” (of) is lowercase. So Chateauneuf du Pape makes sense. Another problem with the CNP is that it breaks up the single word, Chateauneuf. Chateau Neuf du Pape? To go back to the AOC acronym, the “du” isn’t considered and only the initial capital words are used. In French, the “du” (or “de”) before a vowel is always shortened to “d’”. Which, when it comes to shortening acronyms, makes the (of) essentially invisible.

We will forever be at war over one of our favorite wines!

Andras B.
Andras B.
Andras is a retired attorney, a passionate wine aficionado, and sommelier. He is an experienced and seasoned world traveler with a gourmet palate.

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