Considering Rhone Blends

Learn about the three varieties that make up the wines of this region


Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, we know more about these grapes than we might be aware of! Cotes du Rhone, Rhone rangers, and of course the GSM blends from Australia are all built on this fortunate trinity. Fortunate not only because they have come together nicely in various vineyards around the world, but also because they tend to work together exceptionally well, producing a wine that is more than the sum of its parts in places where each variety on its own might seem somehow incomplete.

From lowly Cotes du Rhone, to grand Chateauneuf-du-pape, this trio of grapes makes up some of the most familiar blends we all enjoy, from Grenache, with all its plum red fruit, and body benefits from the depth and darker fruit acidity, to the spice of Syrah, and the rich, tannin and earthy complexity contributed by Mourvedre. While there are additional varieties that add nuance to some of these wines, these three form the core of the typical Rhone blend.
Of course with today’s explosion of styles, many wines do not have all three of these varieties, substituting other varieties for the qualities they bring to the mix. This class of wines, loosely based on the Rhone Varieties, is as fascinating as it is broad, and worth taking a peek at.

Wine and Grape image via Shutterstock

2008 John Duval Wines Plexus Barossa Valley 14.5% $40

53% Shiraz, 26% Grenache, 21% Mourvedre
Super peppery on the nose with a rather unusual blend of floral and soil aromas along with a hint of India ink forming a base for the blueberry fruit. The oak builds a bit in the glass showing a fair veneer with air. This enters the mouth with excellent focus with a fairly bright, taut style that reveals the perfumes of flowers, green coffee, meat and something vaguely sassafras-like before the light fruit arrives. The fruit is reticent but there are flashes of great blueberry and red cherry/cranberry fruit on the mid-palate that leads to a peppery, slightly hot finish that shows really excellent depth to that succulent red berry fruit. This needs time to come together but it is already admirably complex and should improve over the next 2-5 years. 92pts Find it Here

2009 Jorian Hill Bespoke Santa Ynez Valley 13.9% $30

45% Grenache, 45% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre
Creamy red berries greet the nose along with a gentle underlay of spice with hints of pink peppercorns and red flowers along with well-judged vanilla and caramel notes. This is lovely, entering the mouth with freshness and brightness. There's an initial whack of something vaguely medicinal, minty and spice which is followed by rich yet fresh berry and plum fruits. The really attractive thing here is the texture, which remains rather dry and elegant for this style of wine. Some pomegranate and wild cherry pop on the back end along with a little sweet vanilla oak, with everything coming together quite nicely in the moderately long finish. The flavors on the finale seem a bit candied, but the texture of this wine remains fresh. 91pts

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2009 Gerard Bertrand La Forge Corbieres Boutenac 14.5% $70

50% Syrah, 50% Carignan
Quite an impressive nose rich with dried meat and black pepper aroma over intriguing blue floral, red cherry and blackberry fruit dotted with hints of candle wax and fragrant clean oak. This is rich and powerful with broad shoulders entering the mouth and delivering cocoa-tinged game, mineral, oak and earthy flavors tinged with a hint of fig. It's also really tight with lots of powdery tannins on the palate and some dusty confectioners sugar notes on the back end. There is great focus here, and excellent balance, I just don't know where this is going to go, but it reminds me in a way of the Achaval Ferrer Single Vineyard Malbecs, which age quite well. 90pts with room for improvement. Find it Here

2010 Beckmen Vineyards Cuvee Le Bec Santa Ynez Valley 14% $18

44% Syrah, 34% Grenache, 13% Mourvedre, 9% Counoise
Spicy and herbal on the nose with hints of sandalwood and dried herbs along with a hint of vanilla over raspberry, blueberry and blackberry fruit. Very frutti del bosco here. Bright and lively on entry and very much in the style of a top Cots du Rhone. This has no fat to obscure the very pretty strawberry, herb and floral notes on entry, deepening to include dark cherry and plum flavors on the back end, all enlivened by lovely late arriving acids. The finish is a bit tight still, with tannins that appear out of nowhere, but this already a lot of fun and the perfect wine for a nice steak frites. 89pts Find it Here

2009 Ancient Peaks Winery Renegade Margarita Vineyard Paso Robles 14.5% $20

46% Syrah, 31% Malbec, 23% Petite Verdot
A bit of an unusual nose with a hint of pine cones yet not balsamic. This is clean and light with a background note of eucalyptus and some sweet red licorice notes over medicinal violet pastille, carob, and dried black plum aromas with a nice teriyaki beef top note. Smooth and fairly seamless on entry, this is a big wine, make no mistake about it, but it's fairly well-balanced and doesn't have too much baby fat today. There's some lovely grapey, black plum and date flavors here all wrapped up in pencil lead, African violet, and lightly toasted coconutty oak flavors. The finish shows a bit of spicy, zesty pomegranate along with a fairly long oak imprint and just a hint of warmth. Big and rambunctious, this is a lusty wine perfect for BBQ beef ribs. 89pts Find it Here

2009 Kokomo Cuvee Ivy North Coast Ca 13.9% $24

50% Carignan, 36% Syrah, 15% Petit Sirah
Tight on the nose with dried herb, pencil shavings, mushroom and vanilla base notes under rich blackberry and black currant fruit. There's a high level of toast to the nose as well. This is tight in the mouth, and while it's a bit low on acid, it's also well enough balanced to be a bit juicy in the mouth with a wash of lovely black fruit early on that picks up some cocoa and nutty nuances on the mid-palate and then a little black spice on the back end. This finishes with some dry tannins, and lightly extracted black fruit that is rich but not really sweet. This needs some time but the fruit here seems to be quite fresh and clear.  Definitely interesting. 88pts Find it Here

2011 Domaine du Mistral Cotes du Rhone 14% $13

75% Grenache, 25% Syrah
A little smoky and woodsy on the high-toned nose. There's some nice red berry fruit here over light inky mulberry notes and dried herb aromas. Round and plump in the mouth with lowish acidity and mild tannins supporting a nicely inky, earthy and bitter licorice-tinged palate that delivers a pleasant blend of cranberry and red currant fruit. The finish is a little dry, tough and short, with a twist of sweetness on the finale followed by a lingering note of alcoholic burn. A little dilute flavor wise. 80pts

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NV Wilson Creek Loyalty Temecula Valley Waggin Tail Vineyard 14.1% $33

50% Mourvedre, 25% Syrah, 15% Merlot, 6% Zinfandel, 4% Petite Sirah Port
Not much going on on the nose here, a little washed out cherry fruit lifted by noticeable alcohol. This is smooth as silk, and incredibly easy to drink, as if a bit of Teflon has been added in here. It is a wine whose appeal is built on texture since the flavors are decidedly light. There's some cranberry and cherry fruit with a hint of blueberry here, but without much intensity, if with attractive freshness. A little porty on the back end, this shows some carob and a hint of peppery spice lending it a shade of complexity, which all fades promptly on the short, slightly hot finish. 80pts Find it Here

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