You have probably tried a southern Rhone wine, such as a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Maybe not knowing the grapes that go into it, these wines are quite enjoyable and very food friendly. The Rhone Valley is located in southeastern France between Lyon an Avignon. The Northern Rhone is cooler and the valley has steep hillsides, and produces primarily red wine from Syrah on it’s own, or co-fermented with some Viognier. In the southern Rhone, the climate is more Mediterranean and the terrain is more spread out.
Recently I was invited to attend an event to learn about Southern Rhone blends, and try to make a blend myself.
Which Grapes Make a Rhone Blend?
A southern Rhone blended wine can contain wines made from up to 19 grape varieties. But luckily most of the time these blends are made from 3 varieties: Red Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. Grenache is typically the primary grape in a Southern Rhone blends. It offers red fruits, spicy notes, higher acidity, and a fruity sweetness. The colour is lighter and translucent red in the glass. Syrah provides structure to the wine. Dark coloured and peppery, it has higher tannins and lower acidity. Syrah provides flavours of blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, as well as violets. Mourvedre also produces a deeply coloured wine with strong tannins, and flavours of blackberries, plums, wild game and spices. A classic blend of these three grapes is: 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah, and 10% Mourvedre. But there is nothing to say that these percentages cannot be altered.
Our Blending Session
At the seminar we were given a bottle of wine made from each of these 3 grapes. All were from the 2013 vintage. The Grenache had aromas of crushed ripe raspberries, strawberries and other sweet red fruit. Medium body, with flavours of roses, red cherries, light pepper, and left a sweetness on your tongue. The Syrah had aromas of meat and dark plums for me. Bigger in body than the Grenache, this wine was smooth, with dark fruit, ripe plums, and cassis. The tannins were firmer and the wine had a peppery finish. The Mourvedre had aromas of ripe juicy cassis. It was dry and round in the mouth with flowers and purple fruit flavours along with nutmeg and chocolate on the finish.
Our table of 6 tried 3 different combinations of these wines till we settled on the last one. The first was 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and 10% Mourvedre. It had some flowers, nutmeg and ripe fruit on the nose. Full body, round, with blueberries and pepper flavour. It was OK, non-descript, but probably would be pretty popular with many people. The second blend was 70% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre, and 10% Syrah. The Mourvedre percentage was increased as both it, and Grenache had flowery notes, and maybe this combination together would make a very interesting wine on the nose and palate. It was lighter than the first blend, and did had a flowery nose. The red fruit showed up more and was higher in acidity than the first blend. A more interesting, geeky wine, that probably would go very well with food. This then lead us to our third blend, with was 70% Grenache, 18% Syrah, and 12% Mourvedre. The Syrah and Mourvedre only varied by 2% from our first blend, but that 2% difference had profound effect on the final wine. The wine had a bit more acidity to it, with brighter fruit flavours. There were 5 tables of media and other wine trade people making their own custom blend. We all blind-tasted the 5 blends and voted on our favourite. We all ranked the wines ourselves. Without knowing which table made which blend, I chose our table’s wine as my favourite. My second place wine was our first blend (70G/20S/10M). When all the votes were tallied, my second place wine was the overall favourite, and our table’s blend was second place with everyone!
I very much enjoyed this blending session, and seeing how much effect changing a blend by 2% can cause in aroma and flavour. I hope to try making my own Bordeaux blend in the future, or maybe even a Cape blend. What are the grapes for these blends? I’m not telling. That is homework for you. Please post your answers in the comment section below and educate your fellow wine lovers.
Below is a list of a few Southern Rhone blends available at BC liquor stores you may want to try. Enjoy!