Arctic Rhone: 16 Degrees and a chance of sun.

Old grenache vines at Vieux Telegraphe

We're not gonna let it get the best of us, unless it's too late.  But we've endured some epic snowfalls and now the arctic blast is making itself known. Undoubtedly last night's Amarone Abbondanza was the high light of February for us in the shop so far, and in planning tonight's tasting we wanted to make sure it was equally luring. It's the time of year when new wines are actually a bit scarce; new vintages will be bottled soon, and new releases will make their way to us by early Spring (if that ever actually comes). So we found ourselves struggling for motivation for this week's lineup. In the end it came together in great form I think.  We dug up some great new wines from the Rhone Valley of central and southern France and, hey, we even found a couple grenaches we actually love! The Rhone is a curious wine region but one that we turn to time and again.  We can find delicious value wines, simple fun wines and serious 'terroir' wines from this mighty river valley, and when they are good they have few rivals. So we focused in tonight on some great new additions to our Rhone selections.  Ranging from carignan from the backwater region of the Ardeche to some great Villages wines from new and rising producers. Join us for what we know will be a great tasting, and we know you need to restock that wine supply so get on down here!

 The Arctic Rhone and why grenache & syrah will solve your problems Lineup:

 Mas d'Intras, Blanc & Carignan, Ardeche $16/18

The Ardeche is a curious place in France.  Nestled between the southern hills of Beaujolais and the soaring crags of the Northern Rhone, the Ardeche is a bit of a backwater of winemaking.  It is precisely its lack of prestige (although the Drome and Cornas are tecnically part of the greater Ardeche) that makes it such an interesting wine region.  In recent years the Ardeche has become a bit of a retreat for natural winemakers.  Here they can get away from the conventions of classic wine regions, seek out less expensive land and make wine the way they want to, cultivating their own following of customers. Mas d'Intras is a precise example of this.  Here the Pradal family has taken a plot of 60 year old carignan vines and made a wild little table wine.  Spice, smoke and a touch of earth make this a great wine for mushrooms, dried herbs and richer dishes or even cheese. The white has just enough richness to it but also a tangy citrus side that brightens it all up.  Vive l'Ardeche!

Dom. Creve Cour, Cotes du Rhone, Seguret $18

This is an exciting new find and a wine that fit's well into our carbonic-soif wine selections....and it's not gamay!  Pablo Hocht is little known natural producer doing some excellent work in his adopted village of Seguret.  He makes this wine for fun, and that's just what it is...80% grenache, 20% mouvedre, 100% glou-glou.

Dom. du Vieux Telegraphe, Le Pigeoulet, Vaucluse $20

This wine comes with all the pedigree of a world class Chatueauneauf du Pape producer, but without the price tag.  It's common for CdP producers to own a little swath of land in the nearby Vaucluse section of the southern Rhone.  Here the grenache finds easier growing conditions yet with the right vineyard work and winemaking some seriously good wines can be made.  This wine is generous but always has a gamy edge that we love about it. 

Eric Texier, Vaison-la-Romaine, Cotes du Rhone $20

Without a doubt Eric Texier, as strong a personality that he has, is one of our favorite winemakers in the Rhone.  Being a former nuclear engineer Texier has always taken a bit of a tecno-natural approach to his winemaking.  He is a true student of natural wine, constantly researching old vineyard sites, winemaking practices and the like.  His wines have a precision that you'd expect from an engineer yet they are allowed to be free to express their time and place.  This is the end of an exceptional vintage of this wine, so grab it while you can!

Charles Helfenbein, St. Julien-en-Saint Alban, Cotes du Rhone $25

In 2007 Charles Helfenbein made his first wines.  It's no surprise that this dedicated farmer turned winemaker has in some ways followed in the footsteps of the aforementioned Eric Texier.  Both have a pragmatic approach to their natural winemaking and farming and both have a knack for making precise and elegant syrah.  St. Julien-en-Saint Alban is a village in the Rhone that doesn't get much attention.  Being on the northern cusp of the southern Rhone they have an affinity and the right conditions for syrah rather then grenache.  The deep granite infused soils yield wines that can potentially live many years and when well done (like this one) they can rival Saint Joseph's that are double the price.  An exciting new find to be sure.

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