I love Rhône varieties. I most often search them out in California and Oregon. Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Cinsault, and even the rarer, Bourboulenc and Terret Noir all have my heart. So many delicious grapes on their own or in a vast array of combinations.
So when the French #Winophiles chose to kick off the 2023 year with articles on Rhône Valley diversity, I was excited to return to a Rhône from the Rhône.
Our leader on this journey into the Rhône is Jill Barth of L’Occasion. You can read her invitation post here. As we dive into the diversity of this region, you can explore further with my colleagues’ pieces below!
I wanted to go further afield than I had in the past and so I headed to Rasteau to taste a Vin doux Naturel, a sweet fortified wine that I had never tasted before.
Vin Doux Naturel
In the Rhône Valley there are 2 Vins Doux Naturels (Natural sweet wines). One is Muscat Beaumes-de-Venise, a fortified wine from Muscat à Petits Grains. The other is from Rasteau.
The winemaking for a VDP is similar to that of Port. To keep the sweetness, fermentation is halted before the yeast have had a chance to eat all of the sugar. When the wine reaches between 5-8% abv (alcohol by volume), the winemaker adds a neutral grape spirit of about 95% abv. This kills off the yeast (alcohol poisoning the wee beasties!) and is called “mutage.” The wine retains some of its sweetness and the alcohol level increases. These sweet wines can be between 16-19% abv.
The Village of Rasteau sits North East of Châteauneuf-du-Pape between the Aigues and Ouveze rivers. It is located on a hill top at 200 meters above sea level with views of the Dentelles de Montmirail.
While vines have likely been growing here since 30 BC, it was not until the Middle Ages that winegrowing really picked up through the Middle Ages, thanks to the church.
The region became a Côtes du Rhône Cru in 2010 for its still wines.
I shared a wine from Rasteau a while ago that we paired with Thanksgiving flavors.
The sweet fortified Vin Doux Naturels from Rasteau are from 50-80 year old Grenache vines. These vines produce just 1 bottle per vine. These vines grow on south facing slopes with protection from the fierce Mistral winds. The soils here are covered in stones that absorb heat during the day and release it at night, to help the grapes ripen. The rule for this wine is that it must be at least 90% Grenache, be it Noir, Gris or Blanc.
The first of the VDNs in Rasteau were made in 1934 and reach AOC status in 1943.
Cave de Rasteau
Cave de Rasteau is a cooperative that was established in 1925 and is one of the oldest in the southern Rhône, with 80 growers.
Signature, AOC Vin Doux Naturel Rasteau, Rouge 2016
The vines for this wine are from the oldest of their Grenache vines, between 50-100 years old. They are hand harvested in small boxes, sorted destemmed and crushed. Half of the wine is aged in barrels for a year before bottling.
According to the producer –
“This wine is only made in exceptional vintages.”
I found notes of cocoa, ripe fruit, spices, raspberry and currant.
16.5% abv – $24.99 Total Wine
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What to Pair?
Sweet wines can go with dessert or be dessert. They also are brilliant with blue cheeses.
I decided to splurge on a rich chocolate dessert, and well, there may be a bit of blue cheese, honey, nuts, and duck mousse on the side too. (I would hate to limit myself to just one choice!)
The notes of this wine lend themselves to chocolate and currants, so adapted this recipe for mini flourless chocolate tortes with black currant, and Chantilly cream from The Kitchen McCabe.
Rather than using currant jelly, I happened to have a jar of black currants in the fridge, so I smashed them up instead. I also added a chocolate ganache that I poured over the cakes before adding the Chantilly. I topped these with sugared raspberries and black currants.
The French #Winophiles
While I loved my journey to the sweet side of Rasteau, there are many other delicious wines in the Rhône Valley. My colleagues’ below will help you explore!
- Beurre Noisette Salmon Sprinkled with Belper Knolle + A Syrah from Crozes-Hermitage from Culinary Cam
- Relaxing with a Cotes du Rhone and Rummikub from A Day in the Life on the Farm
- Back to Cotes du Rhone for a French GSM blend from My Full Wine Glass
- For Rhone Diversity Look Across the Street from Food Wine Click!
- Tavel Rosé: Tasting and Food Pairings from Always Ravenous
- A Range of Côtes du Rhône Wines Provide Delightful Diversity Paired with Citrus Salad and Cassoulet from Wine Predator Gwendolyn Alley
- A Closer Look at Two Rhône Valley Crus: Crozes-Hermitage and Cairanne from Jill Barth
Want more on the Rhône?
Here are a few more pieces we’ve written on the region.
- Côtes du Rhône – Côtes du Rhône Villages – a plethora of flavors to pair with! #Winophiles
- Finding Connections in the Northern Rhône
- Lirac – Castles, Keeps, Wolves Divas in the Southern Rhône
- A Côtes du Rhône from Franck Balthazar and a deconstructed pairing #Winophiles
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Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. 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.