Rhone wines, from southeastern France, were my first reds. I fell hard for them many years ago. And I still love these wines. The Rhone wine region in Southern France is situated in the Rhone River Valley and produces numerous wines under various Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) designations. The region's major appellation in production volume is Côtes du Rhône AOC. Two sub-regions—with different vinicultural traditions and different wines—divide the Rhone into the Northern Rhone and the Southern Rhône. The Northern Rhone Syrah dominates in the north, and Grenache dominates in the south. And with a wide variety of grapes grown in the Southern Rhone, blending wines here is an art form.
The most renowned appellation of the southern part of the Rhône Valley is Châteauneuf-du-Pape (New Castle of the Pope). It is aptly named for its papal history, as the 14th-century summer residence of the Avignon popes was located here. And ruins of the Papal summer palace, which was destroyed in WWII, still remain.
Situated on Plateau de La Crau, in the southeast of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC is the Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe. Here the Brunier family has been making red and white Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines for more than 100 years. They believe the Vieux Télégraphe’s terrior includes their family who protects each vintage from modern influences.
Vieux Télégraphe Red is a classic Chateauneuf-du-Pape’s that “speaks to me,” vintage after vintage. And well it should—Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe derives its name from an old telegraph station, which was situated on the hill where this Châteauneuf domaine now stands. Tonight I preview a 2003 vintage of this grand vin, which should be at its best from 2010 until 2030. This bottle is a blend of Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Cinsault, Clairette and more. The wine is ruby in color with amethyst nuances and medium to full in body. It offers notes of blackberry, black cherry, licorice, currant, raspberry and pepper. A classic Châteauneuf blend, the wine is dense with a lovely acidity. It is the perfect wine to sip on a cool, fall or cold winter night while watching a roaring fire in the fireplace.
Châteauneuf-du-Papes are also food friendly and pair well with fall fare. Serve with casseroles made of roasted, stewed or braised meats, such as lamb, beef or venison. The wine also works well with game birds, especially roasted goose. And it is well matched with duck confit, cassoulet as well as lentils. Serve a bit above cellar temperature, at approximately 62 degrees.