Louis Bernard Cotes du Rhone 2008
The varietal that dominates the southern Cotes-du-Rhône is Grenache. Although all wines from this region are blends, it is this particular grape that distinguishes them from wines of other parts of the world. Because of its sensitivity to cooler climates, it is rarely found further north than here. Grenache is a grape with a high level of sugar, and therefore the wine never has trouble attaining a sufficient level of alcohol. It can sometimes be difficult to grow, as it needs eight straight days of nice weather when it is in flower to be properly pollinated. Wines made with the Grenache grape increase in quality when lighter and more aromatic wines from other grapes like Syrah, Cinsault or Mourvèdre are blended with it. Yields are limited to 3.5 tons per acre.
The spectrum of wines created in the Côtes-du-Rhône is broad due to the variation in soils and microclimates within the appelation. Light, fragrant and fruity wines in the Beaujolais style are made here. So are more traditional, powerful wines that are meant to be aged several years before the true harmony of their elements is revealed.
La Chartreuse de Bonpas is a medieval fortified convent located near Avignon in the Provence region of France, on the Durance River. According to legend, the area was originally called "Maupas" (bad passage) because it was dominated by dangerous bandits. In the 12th century, a holy man named Sibertius arrived with soldiers, built a convent, and chased away the evil bandits. Thus, the name was changed from "Maupas" to "Bonpas" (good passage) and became known as a safe haven allowing travelers a secure crossing of the Durance River .
Today, this historic monument is surrounded by 45 acres of A.O.C. Cotes du Rhone vineyards and is home to Louis Bernard. Visitors can tour the chapel, stroll in the beautiful French-style gardens, and enjoy wine tasting in the ancient cellar.
Typically thought of as a baby Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the term Côtes du Rhone actually doesn’t merely apply to the flatter outskirts of the major southern Rhône appellations, it also includes the fringes of well-respected northern Rhône appellations. White can be produced under the appellation name, but very little is actually made.
The region offers some of the best values in France and even some first-rate and age-worthy reds. Red varieties include most of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape varieties like Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, and Counoise, as well as Carignan. White grapes grown include Grenache blanc, Roussanne and Viognier, among others.
With bold fruit flavors and accents of sweet spice, red Rhône blends originated from France’s southern Rhône Valley. Grenache, supported by Syrah and Mourvèdre typically form the base of the blend, while Carignan, Cinsault and Counoise often come in to play. With some creative interpretation, Rhône blends have also become popular in Priorat, Washington, Australia and California.
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 is the lightest in color but contributes plenty of ripe red fruit and a plush texture. Syrah supplies dark fruit flavors, along with savory, spicy and earthy notes. Mourvèdre is responsible for a floral perfume and earthy flavor as well as structure and a healthy dose of color. New World examples tend to be fruit-forward in style, while those from the Old World will often have more earth, structure and herbal components on top of ripe red and blue fruit.
Rhône red blends typically make for very food-friendly wines. These can work with a wide variety of meat-based dishes, playing equally well with beef, pork, lamb or game. Braised beef cheeks, grilled steak or sausages, roasted pork and squab are all fine pairings.
Some regions like to put their own local spin on the red Rhône 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 make an appearance.