If I had to choose one European wine region to drink the wines of, and to visit, it would have to be the Rhône Valley.
It was the first region I ever properly visited and from user-friendly generic Cotes du Rhône
through to the grander of wines of Chateauneuf du Pape and Hermitage the wines have always had a special place in my cellar.
The region is, in reality, spilt into two, the northern Rhône with its emphasis on syrah. And the slightly warmer south which leads with grenache but also has a strong supporting cast of other red grapes.
The last few vintages have been particularly good in the Rhône, with 2015 being a
stunning year in the north and 2016 likewise in the south, with Decanter Magazine going as far as saying 'one of the best vintages of the past few decades. Do not miss it.'
One of the great joys of the Rhône, and in particular the south, is that there are still less well-known appellations (a protected are where wine-making grapes are grown) that are great value and worth seeking out.
One of these is Rasteau, a relatively small wine producing region, situated about 15 miles
from Chateauneuf du Pape, which was only approved as an appellation in its own right as recently as 2010.
Before that, Rasteau merely added its name to that of Côtes du Rhône villages.
The wines can only be red and they must contain at least 50 per cent grenache, while syrah and mourvèdre are also planted as well as some carignan.
Domaine Elodie Balme 2014, Rasteau thesampler.co.uk £16.50) is from one of
the region's up-and-coming producers and this is a blend of grenache and syrah with a little carignan.
The wine is mainly aged in concrete vats with a small proportion aged in oak. It has a deep colour with black fruits, spices, violets and dried herbs on the nose, followed by a lovely mouth-feel with fine tannins and sweet dark berry fruit and some earthiness, before a long, expressive finish. Try this with a hearty beef stew.
Rasteau Ortas Tradition 2016, Caves de Rasteau (oxfordwine.co.uk £14.50) is from one of the Rhône’s oldest wine co-operatives and from the highly acclaimed 2016 vintage. It’s a blend of grenache, syrah and mourvèdre and shows a lovely purity of fruit.
More red fruits than the previous wine, there are also notes of violets, chocolate, cherry and plum with a smooth palate with ripe tannins and a very moreish finish. Match this with some simple grilled lamb chops or a slow cooked shoulder of lamb.
Turkey Flat Butchers Block Red 2015, Barossa (The General Wine Company £14.49, Hermitage Cellars £13.50) is, of course, not from Rasteau at all but from Australia.
But I just happened to taste it on the same day as some wines from Rasteau and its so good I just had to include it.
It’s a blend of shiraz, grenache and mourvèdre (or matero as the Aussies call it!) and so very similar in style, a sort of Rhône meets Barossa Valley.
It's seriously great value with dark bramble like fruits, cherry, spices and a savoury edge, followed by some firm tannins and great length.
You could cellar this happily for a few years but its great now, try with a hearty casserole.
Alistair Gibson is proprietor of Hermitage Cellars, Emsworth. Call (01243) 431002 or e-mail