A Guide to Pairing: Côtes du Rhône Red

Hands down, our favorite day-to-day French region, especially when food is involved, is the Côtes du Rhône region (herein: CdR).

There is this amazing dichotomy in the Rhône region of the south of France.  On one hand, you have these amazing whites that pair eloquently with fish, shellfish, and quite honestly, anything from the sea under the graceful and deft hand of the world’s greatest sushi chefs.  On the other hand, you have these barnyard, gamey, sometimes meaty reds that can range from elegant in stylings to rich, robust, and down right dirty – all defined by terroir – and all from the same general swath of land.

Today, we’ll just focus on pairing the reds from this region as covering both red and white in a single post might constitute the next great American novel if left in our hands.  Disclaimer: did we mention how much we love CdR and food!?

A bit about CdR reds:

  • Generally a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, and Carignan (in that order), but like all things in the wine world, there are exceptions (examples being 100% Grenache wines, Northern Rhône reds that are ~100% Syrah – sometimes with bits of whites blended in, or Châteauneuf-du-Pape where up to 13 red and white grapes can all be blended together)
  • 89% of the region’s wines are red wines
  • You’ll find the best bang for your buck in the Rhône region when it comes to French wines you plan on drinking in the near-term (as a sense of validation in the region’s quality, it’s not all about producing near-term drinking wines, they do have long-term aging CdR wines that are priced on par with the absolute best of Bordeaux and Burgundy)
  • Imitation is the greatest form of flattery: Southern California has an entire group of winemakers devoted to producing CdR-type wines, and they call themselves the Rhône Rangers, and have produced some top scoring vintages replicating the CdR stylings

That said, let’s talk food (think like a chef):

Wines of the Rhône are much like the wines of Burgundy in that each village has its own unique style, profile, terroir, and set of rules. Aside from the pricier village-level wines, again, like Burgundy, you can easily find greater region wines that are listed simply as “Côtes du Rhône” – these are the wines we’ll be speaking to more here.

Generally speaking, Rhône wines are sought after for their black currant, cherry, plum, and spice components backed up by minerality, earthiness, and even meatiness.  Being the southernmost wine region of France, the fruit sees more warmth and sunlight which translates to riper fruit and fuller, more fruited flavors (more akin to American wines for example). This makes Rhône wine a crowd pleaser, but it also makes for a wine with dialed-in acidity, perfect for foods.

Compare AND contrast:

Ok, so this is where things get a little weird, and why we love Rhône wines so much.  The wine blend is so dynamic, you cannot do comparative pairings as the wine indicatively has contrasting flavors.  It’s just too dynamic a blend to simply pair one showing plum with plums.  The plum character of the wine will probably be delineated by a touch of barnyard funk, and all of a sudden you have something countering the 1:1 type of pairing you may be trying to do with plums.

Rhône wines pair best with game meats and wild animals.  Wild boar and Rhône is a match made in heaven.  Grilled, seared, ground and cased into sausage, you name it.  Venison, elk, moose, lamb, goat, mutton, all incredible with Côtes du Rhône.  While beef, pork, or chicken will also do well by Rhône wine, they pale in comparison to the game meat and Rhône combo.

Now, that’s not to say a CdR won’t be great with the grand trifecta of meat proteins, as it completely is.  Grilled chicken, pork in any way shape or form, and any cut of cattle served in any manner will go incredibly well with a CdR.  Generally speaking, CdR has tannin, but they are softer than the bolder Cabs but more noticeable than a Pinot, and thus work very well from a mouthfeel perspective in addition to the pepper note Syrah adds in the blend that leans to amping up the classic salt and pepper crust found on most grand trifecta meats.

All the above in mind, adding reduction sauces of currant, cherries, honestly, any red-to-black berry, to your grilled or seared meat of choice will expand the pairing with Rhône wine.  Extra points if you can use a bit of the wine itself in the reduction sauce (a pro tip we’ve mentioned a few times before on the blog).

Braises and stews of all of the above are comfortably at home with a CdR too.  Throw in some potatoes, brussels, carrots, onions, garlic, celery, herbs, and even a bit of the wine of choice for extra incorporation.

Savory pies are another great friend to CdR reds.  Chicken pot pie to shepherds pie to British pub classic steak and kidney pie.  Speaking of the Brits, bangers and mash are excellent with Rhône reds.

Oh, and BBQ.  Classic, smokey Texas ribs with CdR, we’re salivating just thinking about it.  Even the famous vinegar-based BBQ of North Carolina will do very well by a CdR.

And let’s not forget our veggies.  There is nary an edible plant that doesn’t go great with CdR.  Grilled, sauteed, oven roasted, battered and fried, anything from spring asparagus to fall gourds.  Fresh salads with hard or soft sheep or goat milk cheeses and dried fruits incorporated go incredibly well with CdR, especially a rhone with a bit of barnyard funk on it – eyes closed, it can transport you to a fresh farm-to-table experience with each bite.

It may sound at this point like CdR can go with anything, and that’s not untrue.  You’d have to go out of your way to do something crazy to make a CdR not work with food, something akin to serving CdR red with oysters or something outlandish and unthinkable like that.

Get weird:

A red Rhône from the Northern Rhône is Syrah based, maybe even 100% Syrah, and pairs incredibly well with…Tootsie Rolls.  Yeah, you read that right.  Tootsie Rolls are not as sweet as one might think, and the earthy, peppery Syrah plays beautifully into the flavor profile of the Tootsie Roll (we’re shy to call that flavor “chocolate” as it doesn’t really taste like chocolate-chocolate).  Anyways, try it out, it’s pretty weird and good.

So there you have it, our guide for pairing CdR reds.

How about you though? For our other guests, please feel free to share your pairing suggestions for Côtes du Rhône reds in the comments below.

Cheers!

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