Get to Know the Rhône Valley with Michel Chapoutier #Winophiles

Greetings, Wineaux! When I started learning about wine six years ago, the second wine I fell in love with (after Pinot Noir) was Syrah. I loved its deep, inky purple color. I loved it’s spicy, peppery aroma. I loved its alluring flavors of black currant, ripe plum and baking spices. I loved it from Sonoma, Napa Valley and the Central Coast of California. I loved it from Washington State (I’m lookin’ at you, Airfield Estates). And Lapostolle had me crushing on Chilean Syrah.

And then I tasted the wines of Michel Chapoutier, often referred to as “King of the Rhône” based on his massive vineyard acreage in the best areas and mad skills in winemaking – not to mention his personality (the man drinks Bollinger for breakfast – enough said). This month, Chapoutier provided some delicious samples to The French Winophiles, so we could “roam the Rhône” together. Below are links to 14 great posts about Rhône wines. And here are three cool things to know about the wines of Michel Chapoutier.

  1. Many Chapoutier wines are biodynamic and organic. Biodynamic farming is a freaky thing, dictated by a slew of planetary factors, including the cycles of the sun and moon and tides, and use of all-natural fertilizers. You can definitely taste the terroir in a biodynamic wine, if you ask me.
  2. Chapoutier makes a huge range of wines – there’s something for everyone. Everyday wines like La Ciboise or Belleruche can be had for $10-$15, and you can take it uptown with his Selection Parcellaire (aka single-vineyard) wines made from grapes grown in the most prized vineyards for many more buckaroos. Chante-Alouette, a 100 percent Marsanne from the Hermitage appellation in the Northern Rhône, is one of my all-time favorite wines on the planet ($90).
  3. Chapoutier features Braille on the labels in honor of Count Maurice Monier de la Sizeranne, from whom Chapoutier purchased his Hermitage vineyard. The Count invented the first version of abbreviated Braille – cool, right? (Look closely, for the raised dots!)

fullsizeoutput_850Ready to dive just a little deeper into the Rhône? Here are the five most useful things to know about Rhône wines (according to me!)

  1. The Rhône Valley, in southeastern France, was carved out by the Rhône River a bajillion years ago. The region is defined by the town of Vienne in the north and Nimes in the South. It’s divided between Northern Rhône and Southern Rhône and home to a lot of many, small, steep, terraced vineyards, some of which have been planted to vinus vinifera vines for centuries. There are big differences between North and South. Read on!
  2. Northern Rhône: Welcome to Syrah-ville! Reds are Syrah, whites are Marsanne, Rousanne and Viognier. And that is that – pretty easy to remember. I never met a Northern Rhône wine I did not love.  The Northern Rhône makes up less than 5 percent of all Rhone wine.Les Meysonniers Rouge 2015 (see above) is from Crozes-Hermitage, on the right side of the Rhône river. This 100 percent Syrah is delicious with meaty stews, duck, or sautéed mushrooms. It’s also super ageable (I think this wine would be even better after five or 10 years in a cellar).
  3. Southern Rhône: Things get way more varied here, with 24 different grapes allowed in many types and styles of wine. Châteauneuf du Pape is here (which translates to “the Pope’s house,” because the Palais des Papes is in nearby Avignon). As you can guess, 96 percent of all Rhône wine is from the Southern end of the valley. In addition to Châteauneuf du Pape, you’ll find sweet wines like Muscat de Beaumes de Venis, Tavel rosé (made from Grenache and Cinsault) and Clairette de Die, a sweep sparkling wine and more.You’ll also find Michel Chapoutier’s La Ciboise Blanc from the Luberon, which is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, Ugni Blanc and Roussane. At $16, it’s a nice everyday white – fresh and light, good with spicy and salty foods.
  4. Chateauneuf du Pape: This is arguably one of the most recognized French wines, but what, exactly is it? I’ll tell you what it is: it’s a blend – red or white – of up to 18 different grapes. CDP as we’ll call it, (cuz we’re cool like that) can be made using just one grape – like, all Grenache, for example, or a whole bunch of grapes – up to 18, actually. They are: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Clairette, Vaccarèse, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Counoise, Muscardin, Picpoul, Picardan and Terret noir. Oh, you only count 13? That is because some of the grapes come in many colors – rouge, blanc, rosé or gris. This is the topic of many a heated debate among somms, who love testing each other’s memories and knowledge on the topic (kind of obnoxious, but whatevs.)The M. Chapoutier La Bernardine 2015 is a Chateauneuf du Pape, containing only two grapes: 90 percent Grenache and 10 percent Syrah. It’s delicious, with black currant and plum notes, even a slight coffee edge, hints of cinnamon and black cherry. At $60, it’s a bit of a splurge, but with a delicious French meal and good friends, it would be perfection. It can age for years, too.

5. GSM: Since we’re throwing down the acronyms, this one stands for another personal fave, Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre. These three Rhône varietals get along great in the same bottle. The wine is generally medium-bodied, full-flavored – not a shy wine – with bold red and black fruit, a bit of spice and plenty of structure.

Ready to talk food? Let’s go. I had some epic food fails this month, and I chalk it up to lack of time, rushed judgments and shitty grocery shopping. But I made the mistakes so you don’t have to!

Food Fails I had dreams of braised lamb shanks with black olives or sautéed duck breast with fig jam. But here’s what I had in my freezer: Italian sausage. Good Lord, it was just awful. I somehow thought a pork sausage of any type would work. Wrong, wrong, wrong, big fat WRONG. It was super-gross. The overly assertive spices in the sausage – oregano and basil mostly – clashed like Italian titans with this super-French Syrah (the Les Meysonniers 2015). Also not great: a really bad Shepherd’s Pie I made that called for peas, corn and way too much Worcestershire sauce. It was overly tomato-y and oddly sweet. Down the drain that went. So, clearly my pantry was speaking Italian and British, while my wine inventory was speaking French. Note to self.

Food Wins! Sautéed cremini mushrooms in butter, with a light shower of dried thyme and salt proved delicious with the Les Meysonniers Rouge. The meaty, umami flavor of the mushrooms was just what the silky spicy Syrah wanted. I still want braised lamb shanks and duck breast, and the La Bernardine will be beautiful with either of those. Also good: hard, salty cheese, like Parmesan, and smoky bacon (because sometimes a bacon sandwich on toast with sautéed mushrooms  on the side is dinner!)

I hope you are inspired to roam the Rhône aisle at your wine shop! Cheers!

Check out these other posts from The French #Winophiles on the wines of the Rhône Valley and Michel Chapoutier, and join us Saturday morning, March 17 at 10 a.m. CST on Twitter. Just use #Winophiles – it’s really fun!

Gwendolyn Alley at Wine Predator tells us about “Duck à l’Orange with M. Chapoutier’s Biodynamic, Organic Rhone Wines”

Jill Barth from L’Occasion writes about “Braille on the Label and Other Pioneering Moments of Chapoutier”

J.R. Boynton from Great Big Reds writes about “The Dark Side of Syrah, with Domaine Fondreche Persia 2012  (Ventoux)”

Jeff Burrows from Food Wine Click shares “Northern Rhone Wines and My Steak Tartare Disaster”

David Crowley at Cooking Chat at tells us about “London Broil Steak with Châteauneuf-du-Pape”

Rob Frisch at Odd Bacchus writes about “Return to the Rhône”

Susannah Gold at Avvinare writes about “Rhône Gems from Chapoutier in Chateauneuf, du Pape, Crozes-Hermitage, and Luberon”

Nicole Ruiz Hudson at Somm’s Table tells her story of “Cooking to the Wine: Les Vins de Vienne Gigondas with Gratinéed Shepherd’s Pie”

Wendy Klik at A Day in the Life on the Farm tells us how “Ireland and France Collide”

Camilla Mann from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares a post on “Sober Clams + a French Syrah”

Jane Niemeyer at Always Ravenous shares “Bison Burger Paired with Northern Rhône Syrah”

Martin Redmond Enofylz at shares “A Taste of The House of Chapoutier”

Rupal Desai Shankar at Syrah Queen writes about “Chapoutier: King of the Rhône”

Lauren Walsh at The Swirling Dervish writes about “France’s Rhône Valley: Mountains, Sea, Wind, and Wine”

Payal Vora at Keep the Peas tells us about “The Rhône: A Taste of Terroir with the Winophiles

Michelle Williams at Rockin Red Blog writes about “Maison M. Chapoutier: Expressing Terroir Through Biodynamics”

17 comments

  1. Those food pairings (the ones that worked) sound fantastic. I had trouble pairing that Syrah, I think because both dishes I tried it with had some sweetness. Those savory/herbaceous pairings sound every so much better!

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  2. Thanks so much for hosting this month Liz and for introducing us to this wonderful vintner and his wines. I am new to the Old World wines and enjoying so much learning from and along with all of you.

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  3. Just the “Important Facts, According to Liz” love it! Once again your personality shines through in your writing and leaves me wanting more. Thank you again for hosting and arranging the awesome samples!!!

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  4. Liz, I really enjoyed your post! For some reason, when people share their food fails, I don’t feel so bad about my own (like when I mistook split peas for green lentils – what a mess!) And thanks so much for hosting this month and arranging samples. It’s been a fun trip!

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  5. Liz! Thanks for hosting – it was a super month.

    Let’s hope this is the one and only time you ever have to write about a ‘really bad Shepard’s Pie’. Have mercy on you!

    But, as always yummy mushroom and Parmesan cheese can tide us over.

    Fun post, fun month. Thanks so much!

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