If experience has taught me anything about buying wine, it's to strike at all price levels when a vintage is considered by all in the region to be exceptional. That means what's good for the region's best wines is usually even more effective for its lesser lights - case in point, 2007 Rhone Valley reds.
Conditions in the vineyard were reported to be near perfect - the ripening process was slow and steady, producing rich, fruity, exuberant red wines.
Armed with that type of information, you can plan your attack beginning with the entry level Côtes du Rhone and the Côtes du Rhone Villages blends (already in the market) and eventually, as they're released into the market, all the bigger name, single village appellation wines especially from the north.
The Rhone is essentially split into two production zones: the northern section where the long lived syrah reigns supreme in Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, St Joseph and Cornas; and the southern reaches where Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a blend of as many as 13 grapes, heads up a plethora of alluring and affordable red blends that contain mostly grenache and syrah and are labelled Côtes du Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages or, as mentioned, are simply the standalone village wines such as Gigondas, Cairanne and Rasteau.
Historically, the Côte du Rhône was an administrative district in the Gard region of southern France where the wines were thought to be particularly renowned.
Amazingly, as early as 1650, regulations were put in place to guarantee or protect the origin and quality of the region's wine. In fact, an official edict of the king in 1737 stated that all casks used to hold and sell the regional wine be branded with the letters "C.D.R.", clearly referencing its Côte du Rhône origin.
By the middle of the 19th century, the singular Côte du Rhône became Côtes du Rhône and not only included the beloved right bank vineyards planted by the Romans but all the vineyards along the left bank of the river, too.
In 1937 a gentleman known as Baron Le Roy created the AOC or Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée Côtes du Rhône and the game was on.
By 1966 the region's vignerons were in agreement that there was a certain style or, at the very least, typical characteristics found in Côtes du Rhône reds that needed protection. By implementing rules that ensure 40 per cent of any wine labelled Côtes du Rhône AOC contains the coveted grenache grape, local growers hope to protect the soft, fleshy, lively flavours that make the Côtes reds so alluring.
In all, some 24 grapes have the legal right to be grown inside the Côtes du Rhône appellation, although the ones most likely to be included in any blend are grenache, cinsault, mourvèdre, syrah, carignan and counoise.
The Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée Côtes du Rhône is the broadest moniker one can apply to any wine grown in the Rhone Valley, and while it includes all the famous northern communes such as Hermitage, St Joseph and Cote Rôtie, the majority of the fruit comes from the villages and environs of the southern reaches of the warm, windswept valley.
Next up the quality ladder is Côtes du Rhône-Villages, spanning some 90 communes or villages. The grape mix involved in this blend is similar but in the case of "Villages" designation the grenache must represent 50 per cent of the blend, while the combination of syrah and mourvèdre must count for 20 per cent of the volume. The result is richer, focused reds with more complex, earthy flavours and less emphasis on fruit.
Above the simple Cote du Rhone Villages blend, producers may attach one of the 18 designated single villages thought to be the best in the region to the label.
Finally, those villages that have distinguished themselves over time are given cru status by the authorities allowing them to shed all the designations save for the single village name, which is all that appears on the label.
In outstanding years such as 2007, Vacqueyras, Lirac and Gigondas come quickly to mind. Expect them to easily age for seven to 10 years.
The good news is Rhone wines are widely available in B.C. government and private wine stores.
Look for familiar names such as Brotte, Chapoutier, Chave, Guigal, Jaboulet, Delas and Domaine de Beaurenard, Louis Bernard, André Brunel, Domaine de Cristia, Pere Anselme, Domaine de l'Oratoire St Martin, Ogier, Perrin & Fils, Domaine de la Renjarde and Boutinot.
Serve them with some classic Rhone menu items such as roast turkey, pot roast, any number of stews, sausages, pork and wild boar. All will tame the final cool-weather days of the season.
A River of Rhone Reds
Louis Bernard Côtes du Rhône Villages Rouge 2007
The CDR "Villages" rouge is a slightly slicker, warmer version of the regular showing the class of the '07 harvest. The grenache lends it a soft, fleshy texture that leaves the finish long and smooth. $15
Brotte Côtes du Rhone Les Brottiers 2007
Rich, supple palate with peppery, liquorice, smoked meat, leather, and black cherry jam flavours. A slick, dark fruit style. Hamburgers, anyone? $16
Perrin Réserve Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2007
Black cherry, liquorice, dark plums and savoury mineral, exotic orange, meaty flavours. Fine intensity. Good value. $18
Delas Saint Esprit Côtes du Rhône 2007
Cherries, plums and liquorice with meaty, orange, mineral, chocolate flavours. Fine intensity with lots of fruit. Flank steak is a good match $19
Ogier Crozes-Hermitage Les Brunelles 2007
Ripe black cherry, plum fruit flecked with liquorice, meaty, black pepper and garrigue notes. Excellent finesse and length for near term consumption. $27
Perrin Vacqueyras Les Christins 2007
Warm with big chocolate, red liquorice and meaty, savoury orange flavours. Try it with roast duck or pork. $27
Coudoulet de Beaucastel Rouge 2007 Côtes du Rhône
A baby Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the Perrin family awash in black raspberry, black plums, liquorice, dried herbs and orange peel flavours. $35
Anthony Gismondi is a globetrotting wine writer who makes his home in West Vancouver, British Columbia. For more of his thoughts on wine log onto www.gismondionwine.com