The Rhône flows through many soils and climates, yet somehow stamps the wines along its banks with a distinctive character, just as the Rhine unites the many wines that Shakespeare called Rhenish. The red wines of the northern Rhône - Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas and Côte Rôtie - are subtle and sappy, made mostly from the Syrah grape, and capable of considerable bottle age. Those of the southern Rhône - Vacqueyras, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas - are blends of many grapes, warm and fruity, and often at their best when young.
The ordinary Côtes du Rhône, staple of the tiny zinc-topped bars that you can still find here and there in Paris, is made all along the southern banks of the river, with village after village striving now for its own appellation, granted most recently (and deservedly) to Rasteau. Do not despise the wines which have yet to acquire a village name, however. If you want proof of how full, smooth and luxurious a good Côtes du Rhône can be, try the one on offer from Corney & Barrow - a real bargain, and a match for many an ordinary Vacqueyras. We preferred this to the Crozes-Hermitage, which will surely develop, but which has, at the moment, a hard and leathery finish like a disused handbag.
The real treasure of this month's offer, however, is another bargain, the Clot de Gleize from the very mouth of the Rhône. This is an organic wine, duly commended with a silver medal at last year's Concours Agricole, and an unusual blend of Cabernet and Carignan. Its arrival solved an outstanding problem of farm management. Joining our neighbours in the search for subsidies, we had decided to go organic, discovering a source of organic feed, ways of disposing of the muck-heap, organic medications and weedkillers. Only one thing troubled us, which was Sam the Horse. Any inorganic drink that goes into one end of Sam is tipped out of the other in equally inorganic form, so scotching our chance of a Soil Association certificate. To our relief, however, Sam was not deterred (as he might have been) by the strength of the Clot de Gleize, and he seemed to appreciate its generous flavour and luscious fruit as much as we did. It is difficult to believe that a wine that requires so much labour in its production should be sold so cheaply. I therefore urge you to buy some before the price goes up.
In its own way the Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a bargain, too - or, at least, priced at the lowest end of that (admittedly somewhat overpriced) appellation. Many varietals can be pressed into a bottle of Châteauneuf, and the result is predictable only along the dimensions of ripeness and strength. This is a rich and complex wine, young and full of promise, which deserves a good horse-steak from the boucher chevalin to show off its character.