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Earthy rhône wines compliment robust types of foods
Published 6/19/2013 6:00:00 AM
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"It’s like driving past the U of I Dairy, you know, on a cool night."

"Oh, you mean like fresh poop?"

"Yeah, but like the vegetative kind."

And so starts the wine tasting. You wouldn't think it, but creative adjectives like "fresh poop" are one of the few ways to know you’re around a bunch of winos.

No, it’s not that we all have some kind of fetish or anything like that, it’s called complexity.

Earthy aromatics in wine are an interesting component. Folks often describe them as mushroom-y, barnyard like, vegetative or even like the forest floor. "Poopy" is probably my favorite descriptor just because it sounds silly more than anything else.

One shouldn’t take themselves too seriously when tasting wine, or else you risk becoming a first-class snob.

Really, I’m not making this up. Thanks to science, we know that 4-Ethylphenol can make your wine smell like Band-Aids, a barnyard, and yeah, poo. It’s not all fecal though— 4-Ethylguaiacol will remind you of bacon, spicy and smoky aromas, all of which probably sound more appealing.

These two compounds come as a metabolic byproduct from the species of yeast, Brettanomyces. This yeast enters wineries either from the oak barrels (which the wines are aged in) or by wineries not keeping their equipment clean.

Wines from the Rhône river valley of Southern France often have these earthy characteristics, but in the balanced, I-like-this kind of way. The grape varieties used over there are mainly Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre grapes, all of which are also grown in Washington.

If you ever wondered if wines grown in different parts of the world with the same type of grapes taste the same, they don’t. In fact, I can’t think of a Washington wine made from the same grapes that are similar to the three wines I tasted from the 2011 vintage.

I love to drink the wine Domainede Fondrèche, Fayard, from the region of Ventoux. Everything about it is balanced—yes, it is the bottle that made someone say "fresh poo," but he was being facetious. It did have some barnyard characteristics with a great body and tons of acidity that kept the taste refreshing (as opposed to trippy). Delicious, chewy tannins coat your palette with just the slightest touch of sweetness.

Not far off was the Mas Carlot, Les Enfants Terribles that hailed from the Costièresde Nîmes. A little heavier on the Brett, meaning it had some pretty funky-skunky things going on. It tasted almost like a meat stew with preserved lemons akin to a Moroccan tagine.

In your mouth, it had a nice spicy component that suggested Christmas pastries with supple soft tannins, as if you became your own tongue and wrapped yourself in a warm burrito.

Finally, the Domainedes Coteauxdes Travers smelled almost oxidized. Like a deep dark soy sauce mixed with blood and iron, the des Travers hinted at heavy extraction on the skins of the grapes.

Instead of the supple enticing mouth feel of the Mas Carlot, there was a lack of acid that made it flabby, limp and sad. A pity since there were some nice chewy tannins with good fruit, but an example of how acid keeps things exciting.

Rhône wines are probably some of the best in the world when pairing with meaty foods, and these are no exception. Salty cured meats (in tubular form or not), steaks, meat stews, jerky and all sorts of burnt-on-the-charcoal foods are good. If you’re vegetarian, my condolences, but root vegetables and all things fungi are encouraged.

Basically anything robust that might go, "Brah! Do you even lift?"

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