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Rhone Valley Wines Part 2: Southern Region Wines; Bodegas Caro Wines

by The Wine Guys, Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr

Last week, we wrote about the wines of the northern Rhone Valley. Today, we write about the very different wines of the southern Rhone.

While the northern Rhone consists of dramatic steep hillsides, the southern Rhone is characterized by rolling hills. It features a distinctively milder climate than the northern Rhone with less rainfall as well.

Syrah is the only grape planted in northern Rhone, but more than 10 grape varieties can be grown to make AOC-labeled wine in the southern Rhone.

The majority of the red wine produced in the south is labeled Cotes du Rhone – a bargain at $10 to $25 a bottle – and is dominated by the grenache grape with syrah, mourvedre, carignan and cinsault often added. ​​​​​​​​​​​​

The superstar of the southern Rhone is Chateauneuf-du-Pape, where both red and white wines are produced from up to 18 grape varieties. The prices of the best versions can exceed $100 per bottle.

Across the Rhone River from Chateauneuf-du-Pape lies Tavel, an AOC whose one and only claim in the wine world is to produce rosé wine exclusively. Grenache and cinsault are the main characters in Tavel rosé although a panoply of other common red and white Rhone varietals can contribute to the blend.

You’ll generally pay $25 or more for Tavel rosés, but in turn get a complex and bold drinking experience. Tavel is one of the few rosés that can benefit from aging.

Gigondas Vacqueyras, Rasteau and Lirac are four other AOCs mostly producing red wine that command prices above those of Cotes du Rhone and offer greater complexity for those seeking bigger wines.

Grenache is dominant in Gigondas and Vacqueyras and withsyrah playing a supporting role and adding power to the blends.

Our tasting began with the Chateau de Segries Tavel Rosé 2019 ($20-25). True to form, this Tavel rosé presented a fairly dark strawberry color – atypical today and setting it apart from the widely available pale Provence rosé selections. It is a very balanced wine with fruit and acid in harmony and offering notes of strawberry with a hint of spice, and more tannins than most rosés. A pretty substantial wine, this would pair well with many grilled foods.

Cotes du Rhone is the dominant AOC in the southern Rhone, and we tasted an example that proved an exception to the common mix of grape varieties. Oddly, the Chateau St. Cosme Cotes du Rhone Rouge 2018 ($16-20) is 100 percent syrah in an AOC field where grenache is usually the dominant grape. The result is an intense Cotes du Rhone presenting black cherry fruit notes and a distinctive black pepper accent.

We next tasted a Famille Perrin Cotes du Rhone Villages Rouge 2017 ($14-17). Cotes du Rhone Villages is an appellation of Cotes du Rhone and includes superior vineyards surrounding 22 villages. The wines must have at least 50 percent grenache and 20 percent syrah in the blend.

In general, the red wines from Cotes du Rhone Villages should provide more complexity than the standard Cotes du Rhone and for not much more money if any at all. This wine displayed delicious berry notes along with a classic black pepper element that created a very nice, drinkable table wine.

​Our favorite of the southern Rhone tasting was the Arnoux et Fils Clocher Vacqueyras Rouge 2017 ($25). True to Vacqueyras’ reputation, this example from a blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre had pleasant plum, berry and cherry elements with ample tannins. A long finish with black pepper notes.

The royalty of the southern Rhone outing was the Brotte Les Hauts De Barville Chateauneuf-du Pape 2017 ($37-40). A relative bargain in the world of Chateauneuf-du-Papes, this example illustrated the classic experience of this regal wine. The up-to-19 varieties allowed in this AOC tend to create an experience of savoring a compote of very ripe summer fruits. Although Brotte only uses grenache, syrah and mourvedre, this elegantly smooth wine is true to profile with raspberry and cherry fruit notes dominating. Drinking beautifully now or for the next several years. ​​​​​​​​​​​​

Bodegas Caro

Fans of Argentine malbecs would be wise to explore the wines of Bodegas Caro, a partnership between the historic properties of Catena of Argentina and Domaines Barons de Rothschild of France. Producing wines since the 2003 vintage, the partnership combines two talented wine companies to bring malbec – a staple of Argentina – and cabernet sauvignon – a staple of Bordeaux – harmoniously together.

We recently joined Philippe Rolet, estate manager (pictured below), for a virtual tasting of the three Bodegas Caro wines.

The winery, built in 1884, is in the heart of Mendoza and the vineyards are about 3,000 feet in altitude. The area didn’t develop as a wine region until a railroad was established around 1915 between Mendoza and Buenos Aires.