It’s official — the first day of winter is today and the holidays are in full-swing. And here I am, dreaming of a white — I mean a warm (!) weather escape. But, since that isn’t happening anytime soon, I’m preparing for the long, chill-you-to-the-bone winter nights ahead. Comfort foods like soups, stews and cheesy pasta dishes are what I’ll be turning to.
Which wine has the texture and body to stand up to those hearty meals? Oftentimes it’s a Côtes-du-Rhône red wine that fits the bill. They’ve got lots of personality without taking themselves too seriously, like a big-hearted, goofy guy friend who always has your back. The best ones are full of exotic spice flavors, earthy, and fruity — packed with ripe, red berries. And better yet, they are an excellent value — wines of high quality and reasonably priced. Just make sure to steer clear of the really inexpensive, mass-produced ones (usually under $12).
A Few Key Facts To Know About Côtes du Rhône
The Rhône Valley of southern France is one of the oldest and largest wine growing regions in the world — roughly from Lyon in the north to Avignon in the south. It can be divided between the north and the south with the largest appellation being the Côtes du Rhône (77% of all Rhône wines) that spans both areas, but is mostly in the south.
95% of the wines produced in the appellation are red, although excellent whites and rosés are also produced.
The basic wines are labeled as Côtes du Rhône while, generally speaking, the higher level, more intensely-flavored wines are the Côtes du Rhône Villages.
Côtes du Rhône wines are usually blends of several grape varieties but it’s almost always Grenache as the primary grape for reds (followed by Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Carignon) and Marsanne and Rousanne for whites.
With so many different combinations of grapes coming from such a large, geographically diverse area, you may like one producer’s version over another’s. I suggest trying several Côtes du Rhônes to discover your favorites. See a few wine recommendations below the recipe.
In addition to beef stew, these generous reds go well with many types of meat and vegetable dishes like roast duck, pork and lamb, as well as all kinds of stuffed vegetables, macaroni and cheese, truffle dishes and both hard or semi-hard cheeses. I would even have them with heartier fish dishes like swordfish, tuna or a garlicky seafood bouillabaisse.
CÔTES DU RHÔNE HOLIDAY BEEF STEW
Adapted from a recipe in Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells. The stew can easily be prepared ahead of time and only needs reheating before serving.
2 & 1/2 pounds stewing beef, cut into 1 & 1/2 inch chunks
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch rounds
1 celery rib, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 bottle (3 cups) red wine, preferably Côtes du Rhône
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
1/2 cup beef stock
1 bunch fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
4 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and cut in half
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 strip of orange zest (about 2 inches), chopped
1) Two days before serving the stew, combine all of the ingredients, except the potatoes, garlic, and orange zest, in a large enameled casserole. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
2) The next day, bring the mixture to a simmer over low heat. Simmer gently, until the meat is very tender, 3 to 4 hours, adding the potatoes during the last 30 minutes, if desired.
3) Allow the stew to cool down. Refrigerate until the fat rises to the top and can be easily scraped off with a small spoon, about 12 hours.
4) At serving time, scrape off any additional fat. Add the 4 cloves of chopped garlic and reheat until the meat is heated through, 10 to 15 minutes. Adjust the seasonings. To serve, remove the bay leaves and thyme; stir in the orange zest and serve with a Côtes du Rhône red wine (see suggestions below).
Three Côtes du Rhône red wines worth seeking out:
E. Guigal 2012 Côtes du Rhône Guigal ($16) (pictured above). Founded formally in 1946 as Établissements Guigal, this family-owned winery is one of the most notable producers in the Rhône Valley. This red is a winner with its beautiful deep and dark red color and aromas of fresh fruits, red berries, earth and spices. A medium to full-bodied wine, with concentrated and peppery flavors and fine tannins, this wine is a great match to the beef stew.
Eric Texier 2016 Côtes du Rhône Brezème ($28). One of the less common 100% Syrah Côtes du Rhônes, the organically farmed vineyards are located in the southernmost part of the Northern Rhône. This wine is a dark purple color and bursts with dark fruit flavors, both fresh and dried: blackberry, red currants, prunes and raisins. The medium-plus tannins are silky smooth and it has a lovely, well-balanced acidity. The wine has a long, lingering finish - fantastic!
Domaine de Crève Coeur Seguret 2016 ($16) Established in 2010 by Pablo Höcht, the estate’s vines are mostly over 60 years old, and grown on sandy, limestone soils. The winery is certified organic and biodynamic. This wine is a blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Mourvèdre and has a deep, dark red color with aromas of dark fruits like blackberry, black cherry and red currant, along with notes of earth and cocoa. On the palate, the wine is well-balanced with a bright, tart acidity, big tannins, and dense dark fruit flavors.
In my notes, I wrote “crying out for food” — was it the wine or my stomach?! I think both!