Posted on | January 21, 2016
Written by | David Lincoln Ross
Classic Regional Wines are Hitting the Spot in the Modern American Market
What is driving the region’s growth? For Peter Landolt, Wine Director at Viscount Wines & Liquor in New York’s Hudson Valley, pure quality-price ratio is key: “For $12 to $20 a bottle, you can enjoy a world-class wine.”
The region’s spectrum is a factor as well—arguably offering more variety than other classic regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. White Rhône wines are not so plentiful, but the dry rosés and sweet wines are among the finest representatives of their type in France. And the reds stretch easily from simple Côtes-du-Rhône to cellar-worthy all-Syrah gems from Northern Rhône appellations like Cornas.
Belinda Chang, Beverage Director at recently opened Maple & Ash in Chicago, explains: “I think that the Rhône producers admirably pull of the hat trick of offering high-quality daily drinking, mid-priced wines comfortable for once or twice a week, and wines for super special occasions.”
Second only to Bordeaux in volume of wine exports to the U.S., Rhône wines are poised for continued solid sales in 2016. In particular, Peter Deutsch, President, Deutsch Family Wines & Spirits, importer of Vidal-Fleury, reports that rosés are taking off: “While both red and white are showing growth, rosé is leading the way, growing over 85% this year and now accounting for nearly half of [our] Rhône Valley wine volume.”
All told, rosés now account for approximately 15% of all Rhône wines sold in the U.S., according to Inter-Rhône; that’s up from single-digits not so long ago.
Not all is picture-perfect, however. Some importers are concerned that if entry-level Côtes-du-Rhône prices creep up, there could be some consumer trade-off to other categories. Ian Ribowsky, GM of Vins Jean-Luc Colombo, a leading supplier of wines from both the Northern and Southern Rhône Valley, cautions, “As some Southern Rhône wines approach the mid-teens, we could see some price pressure.” On the positive side, he adds, “Following the decline of Australian wines, French wines—and Rhône wines in particular—are being inserted on retailers’ shelves and on wine lists. And the reason is that they are excellent.”
More than a dozen authorized red and white grape varieties are permitted across Southern Rhône appellations, but the region’s reputation has long been driven by the harmonious trio of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Syrah, which stars solo in such Northern AOCs as Crozes-Hermitage and St. Joseph, already enjoys credibility among wine’s cognescenti. As Sandy Block, MW and Wine Director at Legal Seafoods, drily asserts, “Before Malbec, there was Syrah, and after Malbec there will be… Syrah.”
The Rhône’s other prime grape, Grenache, is enjoying growing awareness (even hipness); Grenache’s character is right in the taste wheelhouse, so to speak, of many Americans who favor ripe and fruity wines.
Overall, notwithstanding some pricing concerns, merchants, restaurant wine directors, somms and food and beverage directors are bullish on the wines of the Rhône Valley, and that is a rosy outlook indeed.