Posted by: tomciocco | March 16, 2014

IT TAKES (AN OBSCURE) VILLAGE – CHUSCLAN

When you really break it down, the Rhone wine region is so huge geographically as well as varied in terms of elevation and soil that it really should be re-thought and consequently re-classified. Red Northern Rhone regions are fairly cool in terms of climate. All of the growing zones there are situated on shale-y soils at fairly high altitudes, and are dominated by the Syrah grape, and can in some appellations include the aromatic white grapes like Viognier as well as Marsanne and Rousanne. The south is hotter and sunnier, dominated by a much flatter terrain with soils chock full of large alluvial stones whose blends can be composed of a couple of handfuls of different grape varieties in a fairly loose set of percentages allotted to each.

Then there are the actual legal classifications (moving from simplest to most prestigious): Cotes du Rhone, Cotes du Rhone Villages, Cotes du Rhone Villages that include the specific village name, and the Crus (like Hermitage in the North and Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the south.) In the glass these wines can and do range from flabby, boring plonk all the way to bottles of the most sublime nectar and of course everything in between.

So if many of the basic CdR are at best charmingly rustic and at worst just bulk jug wines, the Crus can range from very good but ultimately overpriced to drinks that can literally change your life. All of the best examples of all of these levels of wines have their uses at the table, but for me, the “sweet spot” in the Rhone is with the name-designated Village wines, and that’s what we’ve got up on the bench tonight in the form of the little known CdRV-Chusclan.

Chusclan is located just few clicks north of the ancient Papal city of Avignon on the right bank of the Rhone river on pebble-rich sandy clay soils underlaid by limestone and this particular one is made from a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Counoise ans Mourvedre. This soil composition is the major contributor to the fruitiness for which Chusclan is known, and this five variety blend gives this wine a complexity typically only seen in Cru bottlings. And would that this area was better known than it is, but with only about 150 hectares of land under vine, there isn’t much to go around, but the region’s relative obscurity and production limitations are your gain – these named Village wines often represent the “knee in the curve” in terms of price to quality ratio, and Chusclan more often than not comes out at the top of that list. Keep your eyes peeled.

I matched this wine with a first course of bread rounds spread with a hash of tuna, egg, herbs and spices followed by a great classic from the Provencal kitchen, Daube (A complex beef stew with wine, mushrooms, olives, anchovies, orange rind, salt pork, herbs, etc.) alongside some flat egg noodles with boiled cubed potatoes.

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Chateau Signac Cotes du Rhone Villages Chusclan Cuvee Tradition 2012

Medium deep crimson/garnet color. Quite complex nose of dried red currants, wild strawberries, plum, cloves, dried lilies, fresh mushrooms, burnt wood match and tomato leaf. The body of the wine is big and chunky with a dry, smooth tannic structure, and an overall balanced and cohesive character that displays flavors of cranberry, black cherry, grape fruit leather, mocha, black pepper, and walnut paste, all pervaded with a slightly salty minerality. Long, pleasantly bitter/tart finish.

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