17 Apr Finding Connections in the Northern Rhône
I’ve only been to France once. We were in Germany and during our week in Hamburg we took the train to Paris for a single day. Up early, we arrived at the Gard du Nord train station and made our way to Le Sacre Coeur to climb the steps. We wandered past the Opera House on our way to the L’Arc de Triomphe. Lunch was at a small table with an appropriately rude waiter under the Tour d’Eiffel.
A boat took us down the Seine to Notre Dame and we walked back to the Louvre to look at the Castle beneath it and then wandered the museum briefly, with a quick late day stop to see the Mona Lisa. Feet hot and sore from all the walking, we kicked off our shoes and cooled our feet in the fountains around the glass Pyramid.
I could not remember dinner. I asked Michael and his memory was clear, it was at a small sidewalk café. The table next to us had a German couple that refused to speak German or French and would only speak English to the waiter. We returned to our tiny hotel room only to quickly sleep and wake early to take the train back to Hamburg. It was only a brief “Golden Day”.
All of my knowledge and connection with France come through connections. That entire day was based on the connections I had put together from 4 years of studying these places in High School French.
Now, my knowledge of France and French wine come through bottles of wine, and wonderful people I have met who connect me with France through their eyes.
Connections are something I look more closely for these days.
The French #Winophiles
This month the French #Winophiles, are discussing the Northern Rhône. I love Rhône style wines. The key word is “style”. There are so many of the rhône varieties have been planted in the new world and that is where I find my connections.
Rather than focusing on food this month, (my pantry did hold the ingredients to make a cassoulet!), I thought I would focus on the other connections that I have to the Northern Rhône.
Grapes of the Northern Rhône
Unlike the Southern Rhône where you find at least 16 different varieties, the Northern Rhône has just a few varieties to choose from. While there are several white grape varieties you might come across here, including Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne, the Northern Rhône is focused solely on one red grape, Syrah.
JL Chave Sélection Crozes-Hermitage “Silène” 2016
This wine is from the Crozes-Hermitage AOC of the Northern Rhône. These vineyards sit around Hermitage AOC on the East bank of the Rhône River. The revered Hermitage AOC, is commune size and is surrounded on 3 sides by Crozes-Hermitage, with it’s last side against the river. Crozes-Hermitage is much larger with plots less sought after than Hermitage. None-the-less, this is a fine wine and a little less exorbitantly priced than the other smaller AOCs. Half of the grapes for this wine are from an estate parcel planted in 2003 that is on the east facing flank of the Hermitage Hill. This allows the vines a more granitic soil than the vines on the valley floor.
Bob Lindquist & Chave
My story, as I said, is about connections and I chose the JL Chave syrah for a connection with Santa Barbara. In 2016 we attended a Syrah Seminar hosted by the Santa Barbara Vintner’s Association. On the panel was Chris Hammell, the Vineyard Manager for Bien Nacido Vineyards, in the Santa Maria Valley. Chris told a story about meeting Jean-Louis Chave . Chris was pretty excited about being in the cellar with one of the most famous people in the Syrah world. The first thing that Jean-Louis says to him? “Hi Chris, thanks for coming. How’s Bob Lindquist?”.
I had the honor of meeting Bob Lindquist, while in Santa Barbara the year before, during a seminar on the winemakers of Zaca Mesa. Bob was an early Rhône Ranger advocating for syrah in the US. He made his Qupé wines at the winery on Bien Nacido Vineyard with Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat for many years. After selling Qupé, he remains at the same winery, making his Lindquist Family Wines. He is quiet and humble, makes delicious wine and is a legend in California Syrah.
The Chapel connection
My other connection is via Hermitage. No, I have never been there. I have only seen photos of the iconic stone chapel that sits on the Hill behind the town of Tain l’Hermitage. This is the famous Chapel of St. Christopher.
When we visited the Yakima Valley in 2018, we heard about a vineyard with a stone chapel created to be similar to this famous Chapel. This past fall we were able to return and to take in the sunset with the owners of the Red Willow Vineyard where it stands. We sat eating Rainier cherries and drinking wine with owner Mike Sauer and his son Jon. Again, humble people who grow amazing and sought after fruit. The story of the chapel, you can hear straight from Mike below. They planted this difficult area with Syrah and Viognier. The chapel is very reminiscent of the Chapel of St. Christopher.
Connections with Art
I looked around to find a place to photo this bottle and it practically pulled me to a painting downstairs that was done by my brilliantly talented friend RuBen. The painting has always felt like a glimpse of the universe to me, which felt appropriate. RuBen painted this piece inspired by a wine. That wine? Syrah.
A final thought
These places are states or continents apart. Some share climates or soils that are similar, and all have kindred spirits working the land. They are different and unique, as are the wines that come from the grapes they grow and turn to wine. But, in their own small region, a dot on the map of this large globe, they are connected. It’s a reminder that we are all connected.
Join the French #Winophiles on twitter this Saturday April 18th at 8 am PST to speak about all things Northern Rhône. And then take a look below at the other amazing pieces shared by my fellow #Winophiles.
- Cindy from Grape Experience shares “Strength and Power Meet Balance and Elegance in Syrah from the Northern Rhone”
- Wendy from A Day In The Life On The Farm presents “To Syrah with Love”
- Lauren from Swirling Dervish explores “Old World Syrah from the Northern Rhone: 2016 Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage”
- Jeff from Food Wine Click presents “A View of Northern Rhone’s Saint Joseph through Three Wines”
- Linda from My Full Wine Glass shares “Crozes-Hermitage: A gateway to Northern Rhône wine (#Winophiles)”
- Jill from L’Ocassion tells us “How France’s Northern Rhône and Southern Rhône Valleys Differ”
- Gwendolyn from Wine Predator writes about “In These Times, Drink from Deep in The Cellar: Two from Northern Rhone’s St Joseph’s #Winophiles“
- Susannah from Avvinare writes about “Virtually visiting Crozes-Hermitage through Chapoutier’s Wine”
- Camilla from Culinary Adventures With Camilla shares “Chicken Chasseur + Guigal Crozes-Hermitage 2016”
- Nicole at Somm’s Table presents “A Simple Spring Lamb Feast with Maison Nicolas Perrin Crozes-Hermitage”
- Jane from Always Ravenous shares “A Taste of Hermitage Marsanne”
- Martin from Enoflyz shares writes about “Looking For Value in Northern Rhône? Look For Crozes-Hermitage!”
- Lynn from Savor The Harvest presents “Exploring Treasures of the Northern Rhone #Winophiles”
- Terri from Our Good Life shares “Hey Syrah, Syrah, whatever will be, will be: Mushroom Rice #Winophiles”
- Rupal of Syrah Queen shares “Exploring Côte-Rôtie – Syrahs With A Twist”
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.