Cru Class is an opportunity to dive head first into more specific wine regions and focus on terroir and how regional laws/traditions influence what goes into that bottle. It's an opportunity to taste wines of a higher caliber in a small group session which allows for more open discussions without the feeling of being intimidated. To gain a better understanding of these wines and regions they come from you could read a bunch of books. I have, I could lend them out to you if you'd like, but I think the best way to back up what you're reading about is to dive right in and open the bottle and let the wine tell you it's story.
For April's Cru Class we ventured to the Rhone Valley of France. With so many different appellations and styles how do we determine what we'll taste and what best represents that region? Call in Rhone aficionado and super star sales person, Geoff Troup!! Geoff is super passionate about Rhone wines. We feel it's always a better learning experience when someone passionate about the topic is front and center. We love Rhone wines, but to hear the presentation from Geoff adds a little more "flava" to the class. The decision of wines centered around the theme of how neighboring appellations share similar styles, regulations, traditions etc, but couldn't be anymore different. How much of a difference can 30+ miles make? Tremendous!!
Cotes du Rhone Village vs. Chateauneuf du Papes:
While their varietal make ups were very similar, the Sablet was a fuller bodied white wine. One taster commented that the wine was the meal and one glass would do her in. The Chateauneuf Blanc was lighter in comparison with the same taster commenting that this could be a "porch pounder" white wine for the summer...we wanna hang with you if you're pounding white Chateauneuf!!! But yeah the minerality, acidity, roundness was all there. Both wines fantastic in their own right. Time and place, Sablet will not be pounded on my front porch for the summer, but will hold up to more substantial meals requiring white wine.
Northern Rhone Syrah:
When dissecting the Rhone Valley, keep in mind that the north is dominate with Syrah while the south reigns supreme with Grenache.
Case in point Cornas vs Saint-Joseph, classic examples of northern Rhone Syrah. The Saint-Joseph on the palate is speckled with black cherry, raspberry and blueberry fruit with hints of cassis, licorice and black pepper. This medium to full bodied Syrah is round and lush with a succulent finish that is minutes long. The Cornas was a fuller style showing more tannin structure with dark unripened fruit skins and baking spice on the nose.
All of the comparisons this proved to be interesting. What started off as a Rasteau vs Chateauneuf which was in itself a great compare contrast tasting, we turned it up a notch and put a big name brand against a smaller brand. Rasteau was all dark fruit, slathered in vanilla and cedar. This medium-bodied wine is richly textured but oaky, with a finish that's loaded with vanilla and wood tannins.
Veuix Donjon is a very highly rated point schemed wine with international recognition and cha ching costs more. When tasting this side by side with the Cigale you begin to understand why we pulled this last minute to try and behold the class turns into discerning Rhone critics that I would subscribe to. The Cigale was layered and detailed from front to back, start to finish. The Donjohnson, while still a good wine with a reputation to uphold, was what seemed to be built for a more modern world wide appeal. It's not a crap wine it just had no real distinguishing characteristics that night when compared to the Cigale. Yes both wines need to be laid down for several years, decanted, yadda yadda, but the group was unanimous in agreeing that the Cigale was the better wine that night hands down.