For Food-Friendly Wines, Consider the Rhône Valley

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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. 

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

Tags: Wine