For Food-Friendly Wines, Consider the Rhône Valley

August  1, 2013

We may have food down cold, but wine? This is where we'll conquer it. Join us; we don't want to drink alone. 

Today: When it comes to wine, we've found your dinner party pinch hitter. 

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You can stop looking for your go-to wines: we've found them, they're from the Rhône Valley of France, and they want to be your dinner party pinch hitters. Why? Because they're often savory, wines from the Rhône play well with food. And they're as carefully made as any great dish you've ever had. 

Winemakers in the Rhône Valley of France are a lot like cooks in a kitchen. Just as cooks choose from an array of seasonings, vegetables, grains, and proteins to put together a meal, winemakers choose from an array of grapes from which to make their wines. If a wine is labeled Côtes du Rhône (a regional appellation), for example, up to 21 different grape varieties are permitted by law to be used in the blend. Like we do when we cook, winemakers are either following a recipe, or they're experimenting as they go. 

Rhone Wines from Food52

And they're often tweaking: winemakers know to add more or less of a grape, depending on what the wine needs. They draw from a range of grapes (in Northern Rhône, Syrah and Viognier, and in Southern Rhône it’s Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah) often described as savory, or mouth-watering, which is a quality similar to the full flavor you’d expect from non-sweet dishes in your kitchen.

If a wine needs more structure, they’ll add more Grenache. If it needs more color, they’ll add more Syrah. And if a wine needs more spice, they’ll add more Mourvèdre. It’s a logical, intuitive approach -- perhaps like the one you used to make dinner last night -- that lends itself well to experimentation and adaptability.

That’s one of the most notable features of Rhône wines: their adaptability, especially to food. Here are three solid picks that are likely to be a success at your dinner table. 

Braised Short Ribs from Food52

2010 Domaine Aphillanthes Vieilles Vignes Côtes du Rhône
Wisdom comes with age, they say, and it's true for vines too. Wines made from vieilles vignes, or old vines, tend to be more mellow, with less of a bite. They've been around the block, so to speak, they're confident in who they are, and they aren't too blustery or assertive. This particular wine, with its flavors of smoky herbs and figs, is the wine version of a slow braise. Try it with a natural pair: braised short ribs. Extra points if you use wine from the bottle as the cup of wine the recipe calls for! Or grab two bottles at the store: this wine is the wallet-friendlier version of its more luxe Chateauneuf-du-Pape neighbors.

2010 Domaine Aphillanthes Côtes du Rhône
This bottle is very savory, which means it will pair very well with a range of foods. Try a recipe that highlights strong flavors such as blue cheese, like this slaw. Or, for a more substantial recipe, try something with assertive flavors, such as Korean barbecue.

2011 Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhône
One of the most striking features of Rhône wines is their color, and the Saint Cosme fits the bill with its pretty, lush, deep purple tones. Smell it, though, and you'll know straight away that you've got your hands on a spicy, racy, spitfire of a wine. The taste isn't nearly as vivid as you'd expect from the nose, but it's still an opportunity to balance an aromatic wine with a dish that lingers on the palate. Try it with something boldy flavored, like this lamb.

Have a go-to food-friendly wine? Tell us in the comments! 

Top photos by James Ransom, bottom by Sarah Shatz

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • AntoniaJames
  • aargersi
  • Cathy Huyghe
    Cathy Huyghe
  • vvvanessa
Cathy Huyghe

Written by: Cathy Huyghe

Best advice I've ever heard regarding wine? "Just drink the stuff."


AntoniaJames August 5, 2013
One more quick Q: Are you familiar with Côtes du Rhône Villages Valreas? A friend of a friend, who's lived outside Montélimar for several decades, highly recommends it as a great "Villages." Haven't tried it yet, but understand at least one is available locally. ;o)
AntoniaJames August 5, 2013
By the way, Cathy, can you recommend a good iPad app for recording your wine notes? I've been using paper for the past nearly-three decades, but am thinking it might be a lot easier to go digital. ;o) P.S. Actually, I'd like an app that makes it easy to implement a dual system, i.e., that allows for printing of my notes. Thank you!
aargersi August 2, 2013
We will be visiting those lovely wines in person in a few weeks! I intend to slosh quite a bit of it :-)
Cathy H. August 5, 2013
So exciting! Are you planning to visit wineries? If so, which ones? Safe and happy travels!!
AntoniaJames August 1, 2013
As you'll see in many of the recipes I've posted here, I almost always use simple Côtes du Rhône reds when I need red wine for braises, soups and stews. We also love them for drinking -- we served a Côtes du Rhône at our wedding, 30 years ago! My father always had it on hand when I was a kid (and he still does). He affectionately referred to it as "sloshing" wine, because it's so party-friendly, as well as such a great everyday wine. Happy to see this old friend getting some love. ;o) P.S. I'm fond of the CdR whites, too. And did you know that when you bicycle south along the Rhone, you get the most unbelievable tailwind? I cycled from Valence to Avignon with 12 pounds in my paniers one gorgeous Sunday and it felt as if I were bicycling downhill all day. I could have gone twice the distance and not felt tired!
vvvanessa August 1, 2013
Well, I know what I want to do on my next trip to France.
Cathy H. August 5, 2013
I love your frequent use of Côtes du Rhône wines! They're a great choice. Do you have any favorite producers? Cooking and sipping (while you cook) is such a seamless thing and makes the food and wine "rhyme" almost all the time, I've found. What wine did you serve at your wedding?
AntoniaJames August 5, 2013
I have two excellent wine merchants nearby, (i) Kermit Lynch, and (ii) Wine Mine -- much smaller and not as well known beyond our immediate area, but the proprietor's taste is quite similar to mine, and he usually has a few different bottles of whatever I want. More important, I always like what he recommends. He's a lot closer, too. Recently, I've bought from either or both of them (all 2010):
Domaine de la Janasse "Terre d'Argile", Côtes du Rhône-Villages
Mont Olivet, Côtes du Rhone
Caillou, Côtes du Rhône Veilles Vignes
Domaine Roche, Côtes du Rhône
For "production" cooking, I also like Famille Perrin & Fils "Réserve", Côtes du Rhône -- it's not a sumptuous wine but it's perfect for beef Burgundy, my lentil and sausage soup, my vegan mushroom and grain stews, etc.
When I lived on the East Coast (28 years ago), I bought a lot of Crozes-Hermitage; my father frequently bought that when I was growing up. Also, André Brunel, who is better known for his Châteuneuf-du-Pape, had an outstanding Côtes du Rhône in the early-mid eighties, a Les Cailloux, which I remember well. As for our wedding, I don't have notes on the two reds my father brought, but I do know for sure that one was a Côtes du Rhône that was bottled and labeled for my father's purveyor for the past 50+ years, what we knew as "Woodley" in NW Washington, D.C. It's full name now is Calvert Woodley Wines and Spirits. That CdR was a great wine for a small, low-key winter wedding! ;o)