A "Where-ness" of Wine: Southern Rhône
by Mark Middlebrook
In summary, if the label says just "Côtes du Rhône" and it’s from a good producer, it should be good wine. If it says just "Côtes du Rhône-Villages", it should be a bit better. If it says "Côtes du Rhône-Villages" and the name of the village, then it should be better still - or at least have more specific character from that village. And if it says just the name of the village, it should be among the best of the southern Rhône wines. (Distinguishing good producers from mediocre ones requires keeping tabs on reputations and, most of all, tasting their wines year after year. That’s part of what we do in order to bring you the best wines.)
The Côtes du Rhône doesn’t exhaust the field of Grenache-based "Rhône-ish" wines. Coteaux du Tricastin and Côtes du Ventoux are appellations that flank the Côtes du Rhône proper and that produce wines of similar character. In the Languedoc region further west, appellations such as Costières de Nîmes produce some tasty and inexpensive wines. In Provence to the East, the Côtes du Lubéron appellation does likewise. We carry wines from all of these regions, so ask us to show them to you.
A little geographical background is a good thing, but how do the wines taste? Like most of the wine styles that I really love, southern Rhônes combine a pleasing but not overly grapy fruitiness with earthy "low notes" and a bit of spiciness. The fruit often tends towards berry qualities and the spiciness towards black or white pepper, but there is plenty of variation. Different Rhônes emphasize and balance the parts of this fruity-earthy-spicy triangle in different ways. The next time you’re in the shop, ask one of us to describe some of the individual wines to you.
Southern Rhône wines have all the attributes of versatile food wines - good fruit quality, medium body, lively acidity, and moderate tannins. They go well with chicken, pork, burgers, and most vegetables. They’re particularly good with barbecue - just about anything that you’re going to - or could - toss on the grill will taste good with a southern Rhône wine. One of my favorite no-fuss Market Hall meals is a ready-roasted chicken, potatoes baked in the toaster oven, a green salad, and a bottle of Côtes du Rhône - which in fact is what I’m about to eat as I write this!
At Paul Marcus Wines, we keep a steady - and steadily changing - stock of Rhône wines on hand. Prices range from $5.99 for a yummy, robust Côtes du Ventoux up to $60 for the most rarified Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Half a dozen satisfyingly delicious Rhônes anchor our under-$10 red wine section next to the cash register. Our "wall of Rhône" next to the Pasta Shop contains even more choices in the $10 to $20 range, including the wines from Domaine Sainte-Anne. These are amazingly character-ful wines for not a lot of money. We also have one of the best selections of Châteauneuf-du-Pape producers in the Bay Area. Whatever your budget, stop in, tell us what you’re going to eat, and ask us to recommend a Rhône.
Some Southern Rhône Favorites
Here are six current Paul Marcus Wines southern Rhône favorites:
The 2001 Ségriès Côtes du Rhône ($8.99) is a classic lighter-bodied Rhône. It’s bright and fresh, with a nice spicy, peppery edge. The Ségriès is one of those "fun and friendly" Rhônes that will satisfy serious wine aficionados and neophytes alike. When you take this little huckleberry to a party, you’ll notice that it’s the bottle that turns up empty first - while all of those under-$10 nondescript new world wines are still three-quarters full. (Don’t say we don’t warn you - fill your own glass first, or bring two bottles and stash one in the corner!)
The 2001 Mas Grand Plagniol Tradition ($9.99) is from the Costières de Nîmes appellation west of the Côtes du Rhône, where Grenache-based wines of similar character are produced. The Mas Grand Plagniol has the same bright fruit quality as the Ségriès, but is earthier and more complex. The extra helping of Syrah (50%) in this wine gives it great, almost meaty depth along with the succulent fruitiness.
Domaine Sainte-Anne’s 2000 Côtes du Rhône Villages Cuvée Notre-Dame des Cellettes ($16.00) shows the elegant side of Rhône wine: perfumed aromas, lush fruit, finish. If you’re the sort of person who likes red wine as an aperitif, it would be hard to do better than this beauty. It’s also great with roast chicken and any other moderately flavored food. Year in and year out, Domaine Sainte-Anne produces dependably delicious wines of great finesse, and we have several different cuvées from their just-released 2000 vintage. Come by and ask us about them.
The 1999 Château de Montmirail Gigondas Cuvée de Beauchamp ($15.00) has the power that typifies the best wines from the special Gigondas appellation. Good Gigondas wines are more full-bodied and structured (i.e., more complex and age-able) than ordinary Côtes du Rhône wines. In the Montmirail Gigondas, you can taste darker fruits and spices a-plenty. This is a great wine to serve with more strongly flavored foods and full-flavored, hard cheeses.
Domaine de Grangeneuve’s 1999 Cuvée de la Truffière ($17.00) is from the Coteaux du Tricastin, just north of the Côtes du Rhône proper. This is a serious wine - dense, earthy, spicy, and above all complex. Try it with grilled meat and then stash a few bottles in a cool place to uncork in a few years, when it will have developed even greater complexity and subtlety.
The 2000 Domaine Grand Veneur Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($25.00) is part of the first wave of the 2000 Châteauneufs that we’ve recently received. The Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation gives birth to the southern Rhône’s grandest, most complex, most thoroughly satisfying wines - complex compotes of deep fruits and spices with a firm structural "frame" to hold it all together harmoniously. This is a great price for the king (or more accurately, Pope) of southern Rhône wines - most Châteauneuf costs $30 or more a bottle. The Domaine Grand Veneur is drinking beautifully now, and like all good Châteauneufs, it will continue to evolve for years.
We have lots of other Rhône wines in stock, so come by the shop and ask us to show you some of them.
Primary Considerations: What Should I Drink Today?
by Chad Arnold
"Un momento, mon frère! Wait right there."
I don’t consider myself a Chardonnay apologist per se, BUT, man, there are so many delicious examples available right now that, well, I feel a physical obligation to share my personal favorites with you. Really.
I know it seems hip to diss Chardonnay right now, but that is to ignore many of the most expressive everyday Chardonnays available right now, which seems silly - silly in the sense of letting a questionable culture dictate what is hip or not hip to drink. You should drink what is good.
Many of the wines that come from the Mâconnais, a smallish region just south of the Cote d’Or in France happen to be made with Chardonnay. And they are great. Really. They marry deliciously with all kinds of food. And best of all they are cheap.
So. Here are a few options to try out the next time you’re serving scallops, shrimp, monkfish, or a pork dish. Merlin’s 2000 Mâcon-La Roche Vineuse, Vielle Vignes (old vines) - at $15.00, it’s a complex balanced Chardonnay without being too oaky OR too lean. Perfect. If you want something to rival the top tier Chards from California or Meursault check out Merlin’s 1999 St.-Véran, La Grand Bussiere. Wow. Tremendous richness without any sweetness. A deal at $30.00.
For Geographically Genuine Grenache & Syrah: Try Tricastin!
by Chad H. Arnold, Chairmain, Tricastin Triumph Committee
Following the French relinquishment of authority over Algeria, many French natives returned to their birth-soil. Back home they had to earn a living [and have a continuous flow of wine], so many of them settled in Tricastin, for the beauty [think of Van Gogh] and the terroir [think of, well, terroir], and so they established vineyards.
This relatively unknown viticulture region of Coteaux du Tricastin, now an appellation controllée, lies about twenty-five miles north of Avignon in the south of France. Still a so-called "up and coming" wine growing region TRICASTIN IS A REGION YOU SHOULD KNOW.
So where should someone start to discover the area’s wines? Well, (duh), with the best examples available. And the very best examples are rich, concentrated wines that come from the Domain de Grangeneuve. Founded in 1964, and run by Odette and Henri Bours, this 247 acre Domain produces terroir-driven distinctive bottlings that, year after year, win the Bacchus d’ Or. "The what?", you ask? THE important Tricastin-wide competition that determines which wine will wear the gold medal for "best in show".
When I spoke this morning to Hiram Simon, Grangenueve’s impeccable importer, we talked about the remarkable value of these wines compared to their new world counterparts. Amazing. For example, the 1999 Truffière, a 90%-10% Syrah-Grenache blend that WILL IMPROVE with a few years in the cellar. A cellar wine for $17.00? You bet. This saturated, complex, meat and iodine barn-bomb is one of the finest examples of Syrah IN THE STORE. Dig that. Drink it now (with thirty minutes air-time) to see where it is for your palate, then stash a few bottles away for 3 or 4 years.
The other equally sublime values are the 1999 Cuvée Vieilles Vignes (old vines) and the 1999 Fûts de Chêne, both 50%-50% blends of Syrah and Grenache. Astonishingly complex wines for $9.99 and $16.00 respectively. The Fûts-de-Chêne sees 12 months of 25-40% new oak to add a tasty layer of complexity and richness. It is not, however, a so-called "New World" wine. The Fûts-de-Chêne is a spinemelter, you know, the kind of wine that makes any chair comfortable. So pick up a bottle with the knowledge that you can drink it ANYWHERE.
The production of these wines is tiny, 2-3,000 cases annually, but Hiram takes care of us at Paul Marcus Wines, so we should have them around for a little while at any rate. Suffice it to say that if you see Hiram’s WINEWISE import sticker you are guaranteed excellent quality and geographic authenticity, perhaps the most important aspect of any wine.
One last thing: "With food?" Duh. Fire up the grill, pop a few bottles, and see for yourself. It really can be enlightening as well as some damn good drinking.
Definitioning Some Things That Need Definition
by Chad H. ArnoldWine
The first category of wines are typically characterized by a sinister reliability which can be loosely equated with Hollywood, and further that these wines have been measured to the last drop for profitability and durability and perhaps toxicity. Think of linoleum. Indoor wines are most often only tasted rather that drunk. The scientologists who build these wines have likely never SEEN the plot of land, let alone helped with the harvest. They usually have very high production levels and often equally high prices. So why drink them? A good question deserves an equally good answer: Don’t.
The second category of wines, OH the second category of wines. Is surprisingly large. There is a LOT of truly great wine out there. As you may imagine, I have enough opinions to go around about which wines are allowed in this most esteemed group. These are artisanal wines, handmade. Farmed by folks who touch the earth. Folks who get dirty. These are wines that are made in the vineyard, not at the University. These are wines made by people who can TASTE quality. These wines have geographic authenticity and accuracy. They are accountable to the particular vineyard or house style. Dig what I’m saying?
But how can you tell an indoor wine from an OUTDOOR wine? This reeks of motivation for the next PMW newsletter...