Do you really want to dork it up on Valentine’s Day? Then I’ve got a wine for you. There’s no better way to pay homage to St. Valentine then to drink a Côtes-du-Rhône. It’s a great wine, affordable, and has a solid tie to the day.
How is that, you may ask? Well, it all goes back to the lovely port town of Roquemaure, in the Southern Rhône near the city of Avignon. This place has a long history of winemaking and it used St. Valentine to save the town!
They’ve been making wine in the Southern Rhône, at least since Roman times (like in the 2nd century), but this area was one of the first to step up the commercial game — Roquemaure and the neighboring towns began stamping their wine barrels with “CDR” for Côtes-du-Rhône as early as 1737 (200 years before the French quality pyramid popped up) to let buyers know that the origin and quality of the wine was solid. With a great location for exporting (the town is right on the Rhône River) they did a brisk trade and got lots of cred from their stamp.
Sadly though, the very thing that allowed Côtes-du-Rhône from this area to spread far and wide was also its undoing, Roquemaure’s location on the Rhône and its imports from New York necessitated an intervention from St. Valentine.
As the story goes, in 1862 a Frenchman received a shipment of American grapevines, which he proudly planted in his garden in the town. Within a year, a strange thing started to happen to neighboring vineyards — they seemed plagued and started to die. Why? Because the Charles Manson of grapevines, a pesky bug that multiplies with alarming speed and poisons the roots of European grapevines (different species from American ones), thus becoming a mass murderer in fairly short order, had arrived in Roquemaure. American vines are immune to this pest, called phylloxera, but the French stock aren’t and died nearly on the spot (this spread all over France and other parts of Europe, BTW. And you wonder why some French hate Americans?).
By 1868 Roquemaure, which relied heavily on wine for economic livelihood, was affected by phylloxera and all the vines lay dead or dying. People grew desperate. So they pulled out the big guns — a rich dude in the town, Maximillen Richard, headed down to Rome to see about acquiring some relics of a patron saint for protection.
After some wheeling and dealing, Richard returned with the relics of St. Valentine. Gradually the vineyards recovered and the folks fell in love (pun intended) with their guardian. Since 1989, on the Saturday and Sunday closest to Valentine’s Day, the town of Roquemaure hosts La Fête des Amoureux (the Festival of Lovers) to celebrate love and lovers alike.
So if you’re at a loss for what to drink today, look no further. And, if I may be so bold, I’ve got a great wine to recommend that’s inexpensive and delicious…and one I’ve reviewed before because I really do love it. This one is from a little north of Roquemaure (if you want something closer you can get a wine from Lirac, which will be delicious but more expensive!), but I think it embodies the spirit of the day very well!
The Wine: 2009 Delas “Saint-Esprit” Côtes du Rhône
Color: A dark ruby with a pink rim, it was transparent and looked a little like cherry cough syrup, but less thick and syrupy.
Smell: Since Syrah dominates this blend, I think this wine has a lot more going on than most Côtes-du-Rhônes. Smells like licorice, decaying leaves, and black pepper were subtle but super interesting. There was a black cherry smell but all-in-all the aroma was mellow, so don’t expect it to jump out of the glass.
Taste: The wine was earthy and kind of like licking rocks (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, try it sometime. I promise you’ll get it!). It had black cherry and cola flavors and was spicy. I loved that it was like baking spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice), but also like black pepper — it had a bite and a warmth to it. There was a black licorice flavor too that was fabulous. Mouthdrying tannin was there, but it wasn’t overpowering and the alcohol was moderate and didn’t burn. Great balance of all the flavors that stick around in your mouth for a while after you swallow.
Drink or sink?: Drink. For around $10 this an amazing wine. I have yet to find a basic Cotes-du-Rhone that outdoes this one. Perfect for a more mellow Valentine’s Day!