The Rhone Valley is most famously associated with the village Chateauneuf du Pape in the South, however a recent visit to Jean-Luc Colombo in the Northern Rhone has highlighted the superb quality of the smaller villages of the northern Rhone.
The wines of the Northern Rhone are dominated by the Syrah grape, but there is also some delicious white wines produced in the villages of Saint Peray, Condrieu and St Joseph, and these are made predominantly of Viognier, Marsanne and Roussane.
Our trip began on the steep slopes of Cote Rotie (roasted slope) where the terraced vineyards are all hand harvested. These vineyards produce world class Syrah based wines (around 20% Viognier is allowed to be added). At Jean Luc Colombo they have 40 people harvesting per hectare of vines and it was easy to see looking down the steep slopes how hard harvesting the old vines would be.
The Colombo family home is in Cornas near the town of Vienne and it was here in the 1980’s Jean-Luc carved his career in winemaking. In 1982 Jean Luc moved his family from Marseille to the heart of the Rhone Valley to set up a pharmacy and oenology lab. 4 years later he bought his first vineyard Les Ruchets in Cornas and the rest as the saying goes is history! Winemaking took over and the pharmacy business was sold. Wife Anne and Jean-Luc began investing in more vineyards and also created a negociant business in the region. Hot on his heals, only daughter Laure has now joined the family making wine and is also producing some of her own label wines under the Colombo et Filles label.
Laure lives just above the small village of St Peray and has managed to purchase small plots of abandoned vineyards around the village and in Cornas as well.
Laure’s ambition is to make wines to drink and enjoy with friends. Even her Cornas 2014 was approachable now. She has minimised the use of new oak, and is letting the wines and the unique terroir do the talking, rather than producing big, oaky wines that need to be cellared for a decade or more before they become ready to drink. That is not to say the wines are not cellar worthy, they are!
Wine of the day for me was Laure’s Saint-Peray 2015 pictured above, it is a blend of 50% Roussane and 50% Marsanne, the wine is fermented in oak and left on its lees for a year to bring out the beautiful fruit, but the wine retains an exciting mineral edge that refreshes the palate on the finish. It has notes of citrus, apricot and quince which complemented the fresh goats cheese Laure served for us, made by her goat farming neighbours.
The joy of the wines from the Rhone is that they are great partners to food. Syrah’s unmistakable cracked-pepper notes make it a great match to most meat dishes be it grilled, stewed, smoked or roasted. The wines of this region also go well with dishes that have bold flavours such as spicy dishes, wild mushrooms or hearty vegetable stews. The whites from the Rhone tend to be full bodied and aromatic, they have texture and weight that make them very versatile in terms of food matching. I would tend to pair them to shellfish, smoked fish, squash risotto or even a curry as well as the game dishes like guinea fowl, pheasant or partridge.
What is nice about the Rhone valley is the sheer diversity of the wines from north to south, and when you get talented winemakers such as the Colombo’s the wines are interesting, drinkable and the most important thing of all delicious!
Explore the range of Colombo wines in our shop HERE!