LA ROCHE DE GLUN, France - Cotes du Rhone is on the restaurant wine list, not once but three times, once under each of three headings: red, rose, and white. But even that doesn't tell me nearly enough, as is clear from the row of bottles lined up on a sideboard.
The sideboard is in La Roche de Glun, a very small suburb of a small town, Tain, on the midline of the Rhone wine region. It belongs to the Paul Jaboulet Aine Co. (“aine” is the French equivalent of “Sr.” after a man's name), a major maker and marketer of Rhone wines since 1834. It is hosting a trade tasting to display the broad spectrum of its wines.
All 10 bottles on the sideboard are Jaboulet wines, and each is a Cotes du Rhone, but in addition each is a different wine. There are reds, roses, and whites among them; some are from the northern Rhone, some from the south; and in all they may have been made of as many as a baker's dozen grape varieties.
What more than color should one know?
Price alone is enough to identify the eight appellations from the north - Cote Rotie, Condrieu, Chateau Grillet, St-Joseph, Crozes Hermitage, Hermitage, Cornas, and St-Peray. But once you've enjoyed any of their wines, red or white, you're not likely to need a reminder. These are the wine-rich areas, centered at towns clinging at water's edge to the not-quite-mountainous but steep, terraced hillsides.
Of these eight world-class districts, three - Condrieu, Chateau Grillet, and St-Peray - produce only whites, and two, Cote Rotie and Cornas, only reds; both reds and whites come from Hermitage, St-Joseph, and Crozes Hermitage.
A glass of Condrieu, like Ch. (chateau) Grillet 100 percent viognier, tastes as if a genie rising from the bottle had substance, wrapping itself softly around the tongue, opening an entire new dimension of what the Viognier is capable of.
Other whites are made of two lesser grapes, the Marsanne and Roussanne, although Marsanne is gradually replacing Roussanne up and down the entire valley.
Much must be said of the single red grape, Syrah, which on these soils and in the hands of these winemakers gives vivid color and very forward, deep, complex character to the finest Rhone reds. Less intense but still, where it can be raised, an impressive addition to the blends of southern rhones, the Syrah must be accounted one of the world's great wine grapes.
Robert Kirtland is The Blade's wine critic.