Anyone remotely interested in wine or aeronautics has to love the vintners of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in France, who in 1954 passed laws prohibiting the landing and taking off of any flying saucers or flying cigars in their vineyards.
To my knowledge, this decree has worked, as there have been no reports of flying saucers landing amidst the vines of the Southern Rhone appellation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
When visiting this area many years ago, one of the first things I noticed was the characteristically rocky vineyard floors. I am not talking landscaping pebbles here but rock piles, causing one to wonder how anything could possibly grow from such rough terrain.
These rocks hold heat, which especially aids red grapes in reaching their full ripeness — and ultimately translating to red wines of great intensity.
In some locations, rocks cover practically every inch of soil surface, aiding in soil moisture retention in dry growing seasons.
Because grapes, especially grenache, can achieve their ultimate degree of ripeness under these growing conditions, red wines from this region can reach 14 to 15 percent alcohol by volume, which likely makes them attractive to New World consumers.
This French wine region takes its name from the Rhone River, which originates in the Swiss Alps and flows across France before emptying into the Mediterranean near Marseille.
The Rhone wine-producing area is divided into two major regions, the northern Rhone and the southern Rhone. Red wine dominates in both regions. Syrah reigns in the north and red blends dominate in the south, where grenache and mourvedre play major roles.
Southern Rhone wines are likely better known because of the region’s best-known appellation, Châteauneuf-du-Pape (which translates to the "new chateau of the Pope").
In 1305, infighting in the Catholic church drove Pope Clement V to move the papacy to Avignon, a provincial town located in the heart of the southern Rhone. The papacy did not return to Rome until 1377.
Though small amounts of white Châteauneuf-du-Pape are made, the region is best known for its lusty reds. Grenache is the dominant red grape used in Châteauneuf- du-Pape blends, but is often backed up with syrah and mourvedre. As many as 14 varietals are allowed by law to be used in the blend, including both red and white.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is often the most expensive wine from the southern Rhone, but there are other southern Rhone wines equally enjoyable for less money, including those simply labeled "Cotes du Rhone" or "Cotes du Rhone Villages."
Approximately 80 percent of wine from the region is either Cotes du Rhone or Cotes du Rhone Villages.
Fruit for Cotes du Rhone wines is sourced from approximately 150,000 acres of vineyard land scattered across the southern portion of the district.
Wines for Cotes du Rhone Villages are sourced from more specific sites and should be a step up in quality from the generic Cotes du Rhone, but this is not always the case. Some generic Cotes du Rhone wines can be quite appealing.
When dining in a restaurant with an extensive and expensive wine list, look for the southern Rhone section, which often includes interesting wines that offer more bang for the buck.
I found two excellent Cotes du Rhone wines at Tyson’s Fine Wine and Things in Anniston. Consider the following with the assurance they have not been contaminated by incoming saucers or cigars:
Domaine de Chateaumar Cuvee Bastien Côtes-du- Rhône 2015. $15.25. Excellent red wine for beef or lamb. From 100 percent grenache, this wine assaults the palate with flavors of ripe prunes and dark berries with a hint of pepper and cinnamon. Producer recommends serving at room temperature and opening the bottle at least 30 minutes before serving.
Nostre Pais 2013. $18. From a blend of grenache, syrah, carignan, mourvedre and cinsault, call this wine a baby Châteauneuf- du-Pape. Dark fruit flavors mingled with hints of herbs and spices. For those interested in wine ratings, the world’s most influential wine critic, Robert Parker, gave this wine 92 points.
Pat Kettles writes about wine for The Anniston Star. Contact her at email@example.com.