Blended wines offer great character and affordability
If President Thomas Jefferson was alive today, he would be pleased to see Americans enjoying wines from southeastern France for their regular evening meals. When some of our favorite wines — Burgundies and Bordeauxes in particular — became too expensive, Jefferson turned to what he called "country wines", Côtes du Rhône (CDR) from the Rhône Valley of southeastern France. These wines, in addition to being a bargain, are generally light, fruity and not offensive.
They are not single varietal grape wines, but a blend of primarily Grenache and syrah grapes along with other varietals of outstanding grapes that add character and some complexity to the finished product. These wines are very food friendly for regular evening meals. Les Dauphins offers a couple of outstanding blends to enjoy this spring and into summer.
One is the CDR Reserve Rouge 2016 vintage blend of 70 percent Grenache, 25 percent syrah and 5 percent mourvedre (more — ved) grapes. With the addition of mourvedre grapes, the wine takes on a robust, but not overpowering taste due to the significant tannin factor of the grape.
The deep red color yields a powerfully earthy wine, with a density that is nicely enforced by the addition of the syrah grape to this blend. This is the most universally food friendly of the two wines, because it goes well with assorted salads, cooked meats, roast dishes and, of course, a selection of cheeses. It was awarded the 2017 "Winery of the Year" in the NY State International wine competition. It's best enjoyed if consumed within a year of purchase. ABV is 13 percent, and SRP is $11.
The next one, Les Dauphins CDR Reserve Blanc 2016 is a grenache blanc dominated blend at 65 percent, with 15 percent marsanne (mar-san), 10 percent clairette and 10 percent viognier. This wine has a lively and fresh taste with one of my favorite mouth impacts being a lemony flavor.
The dominant grenache contributes to the mineral and herbal impact on the palate. The grapes are both hand and mechanically picked, as all varietals ripen within a convenient time frame for timely harvest. With high daytime heat, the grapes are either harvested at night, or very early in the morning to capture the freshness. (ABV: 12.5 percent; SRP $13.)
Grenache is the seventh most-planted red grape varietal in the world, with the leading acreage in France's Rhone region, followed by Spain and Italy. It is also grown in California and Washington; with each region bringing its own distinct flavor profile.
Côtes du Rhône and the Côtes du Rhône Village is the largest appellation of the Rhone, making up 4/5 of the region.
While they make a number of great wines — mainly in dry form because this area is not a single place, but instead is very spread out, you'll get an array of terroirs and qualities, all of which make for some interesting wines.
Ron Smith, a retired NDSU Extension horticulturist, writes weekly about his love of wine and its history. Readers can reach him at email@example.com.