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WINE CLUB Varietal of the Month: Rhone Valley Red Wines

Morgan Cotes du CrowWine has been produced in the Rhone Valley for over 500 years with some of its steeply terraced vineyards among the oldest in France.

The Rhone Valley produces some of the world’s greatest red wines, but the valley is divided into two distinct regions. The Northern Rhone produces powerful, complex and age-worthy red wines, generally in very limited quantities, from the noble Syrah grape.
The Southern Rhone is a nearly bottomless source of more rustic and often richer blends based on the Grenache grape. They offer a richer mouth feel with more roasted and sometimes liqueur-like fruit character, plus notes of wild herbs and spices. More than 90 percent of the Rhone Valley’s production comes from the South, and this area is one of the world’s great sources of red wine value.

French AOC laws (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine) establish the geographic limits of each appellation, permissible grape varieties, methods of production, minimum alcohol level and maximum crop yield per hectare.

Rhone Valley wines are divided into four levels:

  • Cotes du Rhone AOC: Accounting for 50% of the valley’s production, this is the entry-level classification. Most are red blends based on Grenache or Syrah, and the vineyards are planted on a variety of different soils. Production rules are not as strict as other levels, but wines must have a minimum of 11 percent alcohol and be made from the 21 sanctioned grape varieties. These wines are easy drinking, food-loving wines that are perfect for every day.
  • Cotes du Rhone Villages AOC: The next step up are the village wines that are a bit more complex with lower yields and slightly higher alcohol. These wines are great for aging.
  • Cotes du Rhone Named Villages AOC: The next level of exclusivity includes Rhone village wines with labels bearing the name of one of the 18 villages that are allowed to declare their names.
  • The Crus: These 18 distinctive regions – eight on the north side of the valley and 10 on the south – truly express their individual terrain and are responsible for only 20 percent of the Rhone’s production.

Morgan Cotes du Crow
Although this wine is grown and produced in Monterey County, California, Cotes du Crow’s is a unique blend of the two noble, predominant red varietals of France’s southern Rhone Valley: Syrah and Grenache.

The wine was fermented in open top tanks and received manual punch-downs. This enabled good extraction and structure development with pleasant tannins. After fermentation, the wine was transferred to French oak barrels. The 12 percent new oak gives the wine subtle spice and vanilla characters without overpowering the elegant fruit profile.

This Rhone-style blend has a rich ruby-red color highlighted with purple edges. Coffee cake, dates and raspberry aromas jump out of the glass. The wine is medium-bodied with soft tannins; it offers a mouthful of pomegranate, black cherry and cranberry. Its weight and balance make it a perfect pairing with anything off the grill.

Grilled Stuffed Chicken Thighs

8 boneless chicken thighs
1 cup frozen spinach, thawed
1/2 cup goat cheese crumbles
1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
1/4 cup parmesan, grated
1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 Tbs olive oil, divided
1 lemon, juiced
salt and pepper, to taste
several toothpicks, soaked in water

Squeeze excess water out of spinach, and add to a bowl. Add goat cheese, breadcrumbs, parmesan, mushrooms, garlic and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Stir to combine; season with salt and pepper.

Lay chicken thighs flat on a baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Add a small amount of stuffing to the middle of a thigh and roll tightly. Do not overfill or the stuffing will fall out during grilling. Season outside of thighs with salt and pepper.

Heat grill to high. In a small bowl, combine remaining olive oil and lemon juice. Place thighs on grill, seam-side down. Turn grill to low; close the lid. Watch for flare-ups. Periodically baste with olive oil and lemon juice. Cook for about 10 minutes per side or until chicken is cooked through completely.

Serves 4

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