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La Vieille Ferme Rouge 2004
Initially, Jean Pierre made only Côtes du Rhône, but steeply rising grape prices in 1976 caused him to switch to Côtes du Ventoux and eventually to produce a white wine from the mountainous Côtes du Luberon. La Vieille Ferme was introduced to the United States in 1970. The response was an immediate, overwhelming acceptance and an outpouring of critical acclaim from eminently knowledgeable critics who recognized La Vieille Ferme for its consistently fine quality and value.
A small category representing the wines that either fall outside of appellation lines or don’t subscribe to the law and traditions set forth by the French government within certain classified appellations, “Vin de France” is a catch-all that includes some of the most basic French wines as well as those of superior quality. The category includes large production, value-driven wines. It also includes some that were made with a great deal of creativity, diligence and talent by those who desire to make wine outside of governmental restrictions. These used to be called Vin de Table (table wine) but were renamed to compete with other European countries' wines of similar quality.
With bold fruit flavors and accents of spice, Rhône red blends originated in France’s Southern Rhône valley and have become popular in Priorat, Washington, South Australia, and California’s Central Coast. In the Rhône itself, 19 grape varieties are permitted for use, but many of these blends, are based on Grenache and supported by Syrah and Mourvèdre, earning the nickname “GSM blends.” Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape are perhaps the best-known outposts for these wines. Other varieties that may be found in Rhône blends include Carignan, Cinsault, and Counoise.
In the Glass
The taste profile of a Rhône blend will vary according to its individual components, as each variety brings something different to the glass. Grenache, which often forms the base of these blends, is the lightest in color but contributes plenty of ripe red fruit, a plush texture, and often high levels of alcohol. Syrah supplies darker fruit flavors, along with savory, spicy, and meaty notes. Mourvèdre is responsible for a floral perfume as well as body, tannin, and a healthy dose of color. New World examples will lie further along the fruit-forward end of the spectrum, while those from the Old World taste and smell much earthier, often with a “barnyard” character that is attractive to many fans of these wines.
Rhône red blends typically make for very food-friendly wines. Depending on the weight and alcohol level, these can work with a wide variety of meat-based dishes—they play equally well with beef, pork, duck, lamb, or game. With their high acidity, these wines are best-matched with salty or fatty foods, and can handle the acidity of tomato sauce in pizza or pasta. Braised beef cheeks, grilled lamb sausages, or roasted squab are all fine pairings.
Some regions like to put their own local spin on the Rhône red blend—for example, in Australia’s Barossa Valley, Shiraz is commonly blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to add structure, tannin, and a long finish. Grenache-based blends from Priorat often include Carignan (known locally as Cariñena) and Syrah, but also international varieties like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. In California, anything goes, and it is not uncommon to see Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, or even Tempranillo make an appearance.