Wines of the Rhone , Loire and Alsace
The wines of the Rhone, the Loire and Alsace have considerable merit and are deservedly popular in many parts of the world.
COTES DU RHON WINE
Principle wines of this district are:
Red: Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Comas, Cdte Ratie, St.-Joseph.
Red and white: Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage.
White: Condrieu, St.-Peray.
White and rose: Lirac.
The Rhone links the sun-warmed Mediterranean with the snowy Alps, and was the route chosen by Hannibal to take his elephants from Spain into Italy. Since Roman days, the steep, stony slopes of the Rhone Valley have been planted with vines yielding wine of a most generous nature. The two main characteristics of the Rhone wine are stability and keeping quality.
For someone taking Hannibal’s journey in reverse, the starting-point for their pilgrimage of 125 miles down the narrow valley between Lyon and Avignon is the Cote Rotie, most northern point in the Cotes du Rhone. Here are the two hills called Cote Brune and Cote Blonde (the latter has this name because of the large amount of lime in the soil), and they yield the finest and most elegant red wines of the Cotes du Rhone, those of Brune being, in fact, slightly superior. Cote Rotie wine is lighter than the widely-renowned Chateauneuf-du-Pape and, considering its quality, surprisingly inexpensive, though blended Cotes du Rhone wines are cheaper, of course. South of the Cote Rotie is Condrieu, where some fine white wines are made, golden in colour and not less than 11 % in alcoholic strength. They are, unhappily, small in quantity and so, to savour a superb Chateau Grillet it is necessary to go to the region — a wine safari much to be recommended!
Southwards, again, is the Hermitage Hill, rising a thousand feet above the tranquil town of Tain l’Hermitage. On the slopes of the Hill there are a great quantity of vines. The black Syrah grape predominates, and the proportion of red wines to white is about two-thirds. Both red and white display breeding, with a hint of honeysuckle on the nose; the white wines are big and dry. Both red and white are not at their best until they are six or more years old. Chateauneuf-du-Pape comes from vineyards stretching across what is believed to be an extinct volcano. A wide variety of vines produce the powerful reds and whites, both made from thirteen or fourteen different grapes. Their minimum alcoholic strength is 12.5% and often more — 14% or so. This accounts for them being called ‘gutsy’ wines. The whites are a darker gold than the white Burgundies.
The principle districts and their better known wines are:
White: Coteaux du Layon, Quarts de Chaume
Red and rose: Saumur
Coteaux du Loir*
Sweetish white and rose wines
Light, dry, white wine
White: Pouilly Fume
Dry white and rose wines
Red: Bourgeuil, Chinon
* Not to be confused with La Loire. In French, main rivers are feminine, tributaries masculine.
The Loire produces a considerable variety of whites and reds, which are meritorious if not world-beaters. The reds, Chinon and Bourgueil, are light and agreeable rather than distinguished. The sweet white Quarts de Chaume, from the Coteaux du Layon however, have been compared to a good Sauternes. The most stylish white wines come from the Upper Loire, Blanc Fume de Pouilly or Pouilly Fume (not to be confused with Pouilly Fuisse) — dry, delicate, round and flinty flavoured — and so do the lesser whites, simply called Pouilly-sur-Loire. Sancerre provides much white wine, which must have an alcoholic strength of 10.5% to carry the name. From the Middle Loire come the Saumur wines, white, crisp and still or sparkling — the local people will try to persuade you that the sparkling ones are as good as Champagne.
From near the mouth of the Loire comes Muscadet, very dry and yet flowery. It has become immensely popular with (and through) visitors to Brittany from all over the world, especially as an accompaniment to sea-food.
Known by the name of the grape, the principal ones being:
Full flavoured wine, not too sweet
Produces lighter, slightly greenish wines, good for summer meals
Mellow, soft, fruity flavour, and fragrant bouquet
A Traminer with a particularly rich bouquet
TOKAY D’ALSACE (PINOT GRIS)
Fruity dry or medium dry wine
Fruity dry or medium dry wine
Alsace now produces considerable quantities of white wine, which have gained in popularity in recent years. They have a German rather than a French quality and are generally put into German-shaped bottles. The Rieslings and Sylvaners particularly resemble fairly closely the wines made from the same grapes along the Rhine. They are, in the main, full-bodied and fruity. The Traminer is generally dry and aromatic, but less spicey than the Gerwurztraminer (the prefix indicates the spiciness); the latter is a full and fragrant wine, recommended with pate, smoked salmon, Lobster Thermidor. The Muscat is an oddity: its powerful bouquet suggests a sweet wine, yet it is dry and has a piquancy entirely its own. Pinot Blanc d’Alsace is full-flavoured, a wine to drink right through a meal. There is also a wine named after the charming little town of Riquewihr — cheap and cheerful for a party.