Robust, dense, and delectable, the traditional grapes of the Rhone Valley, including Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Carignan, are an ideal pairings with the wintry stews, braised meat, and hearty dishes of the season. Here are a few from all over the world, some sent to me for editorial consideration.
Rhone Valley red wines bring each of the principal grapes, often along with a touch of white Viognier. They meld smoke and spice with black fruit, crushed stone, floral notes, and dried herbs. Bold, yet also fresh with balanced tannin, acidity, and great finesse. From everyday Cotes du Rhone wines to more expressive blends from Vacqueyras, Gigondas, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley wines are exceptional. Key producers to look for include Perrin, Chateau La Nerthe, M. Chapoutier and Chateau De Beaucastel.
Head west from the Rhone to Languedoc-Roussillon and you will find many of the same grape varieties of the Rhone, like old vine Grenache and Carignan (some vineyards upwards of 100 years old). The vines are heavily influenced by the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, along with the herbal garrigue, like woody rosemary, wild thyme, fresh lavender, and lilac. And the wines of Languedoc-Roussillon are often available at more affordable prices. Domaine Leon Barral, Ermitage du Pic St-Loup, and Maxime Magnon are favorites of Languedoc with a focus on sustainable farming, along with Gerard Bertrand and Paul Mas.
Wines of Provence, though lighter than the traditional Rhone reds, also allow these varieties to shine, often adding Cinsaut into their Rose blends. Some think Rose is only for summer enjoyment, however, the citrus, wildflower, and herb filled wines are perfect to pair with your turkey or ham, hearty fish stew or slow roasted ratatouille. Key producers include Domaines Ott, Château Coussin, Chateau d’Esclans, and Minuty.
Shiraz of Australia has gone through many phases of popularity, with some overproduction by large capacity wineries diluting the premium producers in the country. However, stellar wines of the region always shine for their uncompromising quality. There is a reason why Penfold’s Grange continuously receives some of the highest ratings year after year. If you are looking for something a touch more affordable, Luke Lambert Syrah from Yarra Valley highlights the savory notes of the variety, enhanced by spice and earth, rather than fruit, for an elegant expression of the grape.
In Spain, Grenache is Garnacha, and vineyards from the Pyrenees to Priorat celebrate the variety. In some regions, the flavors can be rather soft and fruity, but in Spain, Garnacha wines are powerful and expressive. One of the best from Priorat, a part of Grandes Pagos de Espana wines, Mas Doix, blends Garnacha with Carignane, from 100-plus-year-old vines for a dense, brooding wine, with licorice, blackberry, and tarry minerality. Another Grandes Pagos wine from Spain, Finca Sandoval blends Syrah with inky Monastrell and dense Bobal for a bold wine perfect with grilled or braised lamb.
We know Napa Valley is Cab country, so for a winery to produce Syrah instead of the region’s favorite grape means it has to be something special. And the Relentless Syrah from Shafer Vineyards is. Intense, rustic, and robust, melding spice and fruit, with the earthiness the Stags Leap District brings all wines. Nicolas Jones, a somewhat new Napa winery with up and coming winemaker Julien Fayard, shows great promise with their Sugarloaf Mountain Syrah highlighting the cool vineyards between Coombsville and Carneros for a dried herb, black fruit, and mineral filled wine.
A little bit like the Languedoc, California’s Central Coast grows dozens of varieties quite well, including these Rhone reds. Their sunshine filled vineyards, softened by cool coastal winds keep wines fresh, aromatic and delicious. From Paso Robles, particularly the sub-AVA of Adelaida and Paso Robles Willow Creek in the Santa Lucia mountains with high elevations and an average of 30 inches of rain a year, wineries such as Halter Ranch, Adelaida and Austin Hope showcase the Rhone varieties with texture and balance.
When almost no one else in America was focusing on Syrah, growers in Washington State were busy. The mineral intense, highly diverse, loamy soils of Eastern Washington create intense, aromatic wines with depth, flavor, and focused acidity. Red Mountain and Horse Heaven Hills produce some of the best. I am a huge fan. Key producers to look for include Sleight of Hand, Cayuse, Amavi, Gorman, and Delille Cellars.