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Rhone Valley wine is poetry in a glass

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The Roman playwright, Plautus, admonished “Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words,” while Robert Louis Stevenson took it a step further suggesting that, “Wine is bottled poetry.”

In this same vein, Rhone Valley Wines combined wine and poetry in their recent Poetry Slam event held at The Library at The Public. Featuring Mahogany L. Browne and Mikumari Caiyhe, the evening challenged each poet to offer up poems in praise of the Rhone Valley.

Both poets have long literary resumes and are no strangers to Poetry Slams, having competed in the Nuyorican Poets Café’s Friday Night Slam Series in the past. In fact, Mahogany is currently the slam host and curator.

Squaring off at the start of each course (listed as Acts I, II, III and IV on the event menu), Mahogany and Mikumari presented their poems. Guests were then invited to savor the dish and its accompanying Rhone Valley wines.

The Rhone Valley is among France’s important wine regions, producing more quality (AOC) wine than any other with the exception of Bordeaux. This large region runs 125 miles long from Lyon to Avignon and encompasses a wide variety of wine styles. Given its length and significantly diverse terrains, the region is generally demarcated into two main areas: Northern Rhone and Southern Rhone.

Although it is also respected for its full-bodied, aromatic whites and deep-colored roses, the region is most known for its powerful reds, which comprise the majority of the Rhone Valley’s total production, both north and south.

Within the region, Syrah takes center stage, joined by Grenache, Mourvedre, and, to a lesser extent, Carignan and Cinsaut, as the key red varieties. Whites depend upon the floral Viognier, as well as the more neutral Marsanne and Roussanne in addition to other indigenous white varieties.

With its plethora of AOCs, the region’s various appellations have a somewhat established hierarchy. Starting at the bottom of an imaginary pyramid (and the southern part of the valley), the Cotes du Rhone wines are generally entry-level wines, which offer good value, nice fruit and lovely balance. As Michael Madrigale, Chief Sommelier of Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud (and master of ceremonies for the Slam) noted, “Cotes du Rhone is like sex and pizza; even if it’s not the best, its good.”

Moving up the pyramid, the Cotes du Rhone Villages hail from the better villages within the region and offer up more complexity on the nose and palate. The next and highest rung includes the Crus such as Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Chateauneuf-du-Pape from the south and Cote Rotie and Hermitage from the north.

The event’s spring-inspired menu of Grilled Octopus, Peekytoe Crab, Grilled Lamb Chops and a Vanilla Meringue proved that these wines can pair well with a range of food, not just heavy meats.

Served with the first course, a flight of three Cotes du Rhone showed the diversity of this wine in both the blends (the level of Syrah ranged from 5% in one wine to 25% in another and 90% in the third) and winemaking styles (traditional compared to more New World). My favorite was the Domaine des Carabiniers Cotes du Rhone “Lunar Apoge” 2012.

The Southern Rhone Crus made their appearance with the crab and went surprisingly well with the richness of the spaghetti, wild ramps and lemon that also graced the plate. The Lavau Rasteau was lovely with bright, red fruit and high acidity, while the Clos de Caveau Vacqueyras displayed darker fruit and more of an herbal character. Domaine Santa Duc Gigondas “Prestige des hautes Garrigues” 2011 stood out for its power and concentration and price ($50, compared to $19 and $26, respectively).

The lamb was joined by the big guns – high priced wines with some of the best pedigrees the Rhone Valley has to offer: M. Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage “La Petite Ruche” 2012, E. Guigal Cote Rotie “Brune et Blonde” 2010 and Paul Jaboulet Aine Hemitage “La Chapelle” 2010. While they were all amazing, albeit a bit young, I would have grabbed the glass of “La Chapelle” if I had been forced to evacuate the premises before dinner was through.

The light dessert went well with the Vidal-Fleury Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise 2010, a fortified wine with sufficient acidity to balance the sweetness on the palate.

At the conclusion of the event, the audience was asked to cheer for their favorite poet, with Mukumari taking the top prize (a case of Rhone wine) and the title of Slam winner.

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