Grenache


Today we look at seven wines chosen to satisfy the sense of freshness and renewal that comes — or should come — with Spring. In fact, it’s gently raining in my neck o’ the woods at this moment, and all the shades of green in the backyard are pulsing with color. These are mainly delicate wines made for sipping or matching with food more refined that we consumed in Winter, what we had of that season, anyway. There’s a delightful Moscato d’Asti, two wines made in different fashions from the torrontés grape — and I deplore that fact that almost all importers have dropped the accent from torrontés — a robust little Côtes du Rhône red for when you decide to grill burgers, and so on. (I also deplore the fact that WordPress will not allow me to post Macon with a circumflex.) As usual with Friday Wine Sips, I include no technical or historical or geographical data; the idea is incisive notices designed to get at the heart of the wine quickly. The order is by ascending price. With one exception, these were samples for review.
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Callia Alta Torrontes 2011, Valle de Tulum, San Juan, Argentina. 13.5% alc. Not as shamelessly floral as many torrontés wines are, a little more restrained, even slightly astringent; but refreshing, cleansing, chaste, also quite spicy and savory; hints of lemon and lemongrass, zinging acidity and flint-like mineral elements. Screw-cap. Very Good+. About $9, a Raving Great Bargain.
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Trumpeter Torrontes 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. (Rutini Wines) 13.5% alc. Heady jasmine and honeysuckle, orange rind and lemon zest, mango and hints of tarragon and leafy fig; very spicy, very lively, lush texture balanced by crisp acidity; the finish dry, spare, focused. Very Good+. About $13, a Real Value.
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Michel Torino Malbec Rosé 2011, Calchaque Valley, Argentina. 13.5% alc. A beguiling rosy-light ruby color; strawberry and red cherry with touches of peach and rose petal; a darker note of mulberry; bright acidity with a crystalline mineral background; delightful and a little robust for a rosé, try with charcuterie or fried chicken. Very Good+. About $13, representing Good Value.
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La Petite Fontaine 2010, Côtes du Rhône, France. 14% alc. 60% grenache, 20% syrah, 15% cinsault, 5% carignan. Dark ruby color; fleshy, spiced and macerated blackberries, black currants and plums; smoke, briers and brambles, plush but somewhat rustic tannins, very earthy and minerally. Simple and direct, tasty; for burgers, grilled sausages and the like. Screw-cap. Very Good. About $13.
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Luca Bosio Moscato d’Asti 2010, Piedmont, Italy. 5.5% alc. Exactly what you want Moscato d’Asti to be: clean, fresh and lively, with notes of apple, orange and orange blossom and a hint of lime peel; mildly but persistently effervescent, a winsomely soft, cloud-like texture balanced by fleet acidity; initial sweetness that dissolves through a dry, limestone-laced finish. Truly charming. Very Good+. About $17
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Verget Terres de Pierres Macon-Village 2010, Maconnais, France. 13% alc. A lovely expression of the chardonnay grape; fresh and appealing, pineapple and grapefruit laced with jasmine and cloves, quince and ginger; very dry but juicy, sleek and svelte, borne on a tide of limestone and shale; makes you happy to be drinking it. A great choice for your house chardonnay. Very Good+. About $18. (Not a sample; I paid $22 in Memphis.)
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Trimbach Riesling 2009, Alsace, France. 13% alc. Pale straw-yellow; apple, fig and lychee, camellia, hints of pear and petrol; brings up a bit of peach and almond skin; very spicy, crisp and lively, svelte and elegant, nothing flamboyant or over-ripe; delicate flavors of roasted lemon and baked pears; long limestone-infused finish with a touch of grapefruit bitterness. Excellent. About $25.
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Purely by coincidence, wines sometimes come to my door in pairs, like animals entering the Ark, or I encounter a pair of wines at a tasting event that naturally fall together. Such was the case with the duos of wines that I will be writing about over the next few weeks, each from the same winery or estate. You could say that such a categorization is artificial, but so is the allocation of wine into cases of 12 bottles or, for that matter, the divisions of time into seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years. Don’t forget that September is not the seventh month, nor is October the eighth month; how arbitrary is that? What I’m saying is that reviewing pairs of wines together may be whimsical, but it’s fun and convenient and educational, and besides, this is my blog.

The first pair is from Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe in Chateaunef-du-Pape. The estate is named for a late 18th Century communications tower that stood on a nearby hilltop and aided in the transmission of semaphore signals from Marseilles to Paris. The property was established in 1898 by Hippolyte Brunian; since 1988, his great-grandsons Daniel and Frédérick have run the estate, which is somewhat larger than it was more than a 100 years ago. Of the property’s 173 acres, 65 are devoted to red grapes and 5 to white.

Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, California. Tasted at a wholesaler trade event. Image from wineblog.goedhuis.com.
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“Télégramme” is the second label for Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe and is typically made from vines that are 25 years old or less, primarily being between 20 and 25 years. Télégramme tends to consist mainly of grenache grapes with up to 10 percent mourvèdre, but for 2009 it’s 100 percent grenache. The wine ages 10 months in concrete cuves and 6 months in foudres, that is large oak barrels of varying size; the point is that the wine does not age in small barriques and sees no new oak. The color is dark ruby-purple with a hint of violet-magenta at the rim. The bouquet is extraordinary, ravishing, beguiling, a finely-knit amalgam of crushed violets, potpourri, smoke, cloves and sandalwood, with a wild, unfettered strain of ripe and roasted black currants, blackberries and plums; give this a few minutes in the glass and notes of mulberry, blueberry and fruitcake emerge; a few more minutes and you sense a vast undertow of dusty tannins and graphite-like minerality, a profound character that anchors the wine to your palate from start to finish, because these tannins are gigantic, formidable, dense, chewy, leaning toward austerity but always keeping a foothold in the wine’s deep, spicy, fathomless fruity nature. 14.5 percent alcohol. Great stuff for drinking 2013 or ’14 through 2019 to ’24 with roasts, braised meats or, um, pork belly tacos. Excellent. About $35.
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So, could the Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2009, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, be better than Télégramme ’09? “Better” is not precisely the word; how about even more profound, denser, darker, deeper, more intense and concentrated, even more tannic, more powerfully permeated by sleek and finely-sifted mineral qualities? Yet, despite the air of Stygian depth and vast dimension, the wine is hypnotically beautiful because every element is precisely focused and exquisitely balanced; the bouquet is practically deliriously seductive. The blend is 65 percent grenache, 15 percent each mourvèdre and syrah and 5 percent cinsault, clairette and other permitted grapes; it aged 10 months in cuves and 12 months in foudres. The plateau of La Crau is where Hippolyte Brunian planted vines 114 years ago; the designation “La Crau” on the label does not indicate a special cuvée or grande marque, since all the grapes for this wine and Télégramme derive from the vineyard, some parts of which now go back 65 years. Rather, Télégramme exists to draw away the younger grapes from the primary wine, while certainly, as far as I’m concerned, asserting its own pronounced and complex character. It will take a decade for the brooding, austere Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2009 to unfurl its more beneficent nature and company manners; try from 2016 to ’18 through 2024 to ’30. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Excellent. About $85.
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The Wine of the Week doesn’t always have to be a bargain; that’s not the point. Today, however, we definitely have a terrific value. This is the Chateau des Rozets 2009, Coteaux du Tricastin, from a region in the southern Rhone Valley east of the Rhone River and directly north of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Avignon. In this red wine area, the Bernard family, producers of Domaine des Rozets, has been cultivating vines since 1794, and, yeah, I’m a sucker for that kind of longevity and dedication. The wine is a blend of 65 percent grenache grapes, 35 percent syrah and 5 percent cinsault; it’s made completely in stainless steel tanks, so what you smell and taste are pure fruit and its attendant characteristics. Heady aromas of black currants, blackberries and plums are woven with notes of briers and brambles, cloves and back-notes of violets and tar, and I mean tar in the very best sense. Chateau de Rozets 2009 is robust but not rustic, with vivid black and blue fruit flavors, a mildly earthy-leathery nature and slightly grainy tannins, all supported by clean, bright acidity. Nothing earthshaking, but boy how satisfying it was with a roasted Cornish hen. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $12.

Imported by Chloé Wines, Seattle, Wash.


We made a quick trip to New York — up Friday morning, back Sunday afternoon — to celebrate a friend’s birthday with other friends we had not seen in three or four years. Naturally the festivities included a great deal of eating and drinking, as in a small dinner Friday, a large birthday bash dinner Saturday and brunch on Sunday. Here are notes, some brief and some not so brief, on the wines we tried.

Image of NYC skyline in the 1950s from airninja.com.
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This was a hit. For dinner we were having a casserole of chicken and sausage and onions and fresh herbs — which was deeply flavorful and delicious — at the B’day Girl’s place, and I thought “Something Côtes du Rhône-ish is called for.” She is fortunate enough to live right around the block from Le Dû’s Wines, the store of Jean-Luc Le Dû, former sommelier for Restaurant Daniel, and we traipsed over to see what was available. She wanted to buy a mixed case of wines, and I wanted to pick up a bottle of Champagne and whatever else piqued my interest.

l’Apostrophe 2009, Vin de Pays Méditerranée, caught my eye. The wine is made by Chante Cigale, a noted producer of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a pedigree that reveals itself in its full-bodied, rustic savory qualities. A blend of 70 percent grenache, 20 percent cinsault and 10 percent syrah and made all in stainless steel, the wine sports a dark ruby-purple hue and burgeoning aromas of spiced and macerated blackberries, red and black currants and plums. Black and blue fruit flavors are potently spicy and lavish, wrapped in smoky, fleshy, meaty elements and bolstered by a lithe, muscular texture and underlying mossy, briery and graphite qualities. I mean, hell, yes! This was great with the chicken and sausage casserole. Drink through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $15-$16, representing Real Value.

Imported by David Bowler Wine, New York. (The label image is one vintage behind.)
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Also at Le Dû’s Wines, I gave the nod to Domaine de Fontenille 2009, Côtes du Luberon, a blend of 70 percent grenache and 30 percent syrah produced by brothers Jean and Pierre Leveque. Côtes du Luberon lies east of the city of Avignon in the Southern Rhone region. This wine was a tad simpler than l’Apostrophe 2009, yet it packed the same sort of spicy, savory, meaty, fleshy wallop of macerated black and blue fruit scents and flavors ensconced in the earthy loaminess and soft but firm tannins of briers and brambles and underbrush. Now that prices for Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône-Villages have edged above $20 (and $30 even), wines such as Domaine de Fontenille and l’Apostrophe offer reasonable and authentic alternatives. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $14-$15.

Imported by Peter Weygandt, Washington D.C. (The label image is many vintages laggard but it’s what I could find.)
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With poached fennel-stuffed salmon, we drank the At Riesling 2009, Colli Orientale del Friuli, from Aquila dei Torre — eagle of the tower — which at two years old is as clean as a whistle, fresh and lively, and gently permeated by notes of spiced peach, pear and quince with a background of lychee, lime peel and limestone; there’s a hint of petrol or rubber eraser in the bouquet and a touch of jasmine. Made in stainless steel and spending nine months in tanks, At Riesling 09 offers crisp acidity and a texture cannily poised between ripe, talc-like softness and brisk, bracing, slightly austere spareness; the finish focuses on scintillating minerality in the limestone-slate range. The designation means “the eastern hills of Friuli.” Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $22.

Domenico Selections, New York.
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We drank the Campo San Vito 2004, Valpolicella Classico Superiori Ripasso, with roast beef at the B’Day Girl’s Big Dinner Bash. I first reviewed the wine in July 2009; here are the notes:

For wine, I opened the Campo San Vito Valpolicella 2004, Classico Superiore Ripasso, a wine that also conveyed a sense of intensity and concentration. Ripasso is a method in which certain Valpolicella wines are “refermented,” in the March after harvest, on the lees of Amarone wines; the process lends these wines added richness and depth. The color here is almost motor-oil black, with a glowing blue/purple rim; the bouquet is minty and meaty, bursting with cassis, Damson plums, smoke, licorice and lavender and a whole boxful of dried spices. Yes, this is so exotic that it’s close to pornographic, but the wine is not too easy, on the one hand, or overbearing, on the other, because it possesses the acid and tannic structure, as well as two years in oak, to express its purposeful nature and rigorous underpinnings. Flavors of black currant and plum, with a touch of mulberry, are permeated by spice, potpourri and granite, as if all ground together in a mortar; the finish, increasingly austere, gathers more dust and minerals. Quite an experience and really good with our dinner. Limited availability in the Northeast. Excellent. About $25.

What was the wine like two years later, at the age of seven? A lovely and beguiling expression of its grapes — corvina, molinara, rondinella — still holding its dark ruby hue and all violets and rose petals, tar and black tea and lavender, stewed plums and blueberries with an almost eloquent sense of firmness, mellow, gently tucked-in tannins and vivid acidity, but after 30 or 40 minutes, it began to show signs of coming apart at the seams, with acid taking ascendancy. Drink now. Very Good+ and showing its age, but everyone should hope to do so in such graceful manner.

Imported by Domenico Selections, New York.
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And two rosé wines:

The house of Couly-Dutheil produces one of my favorite Loire Valley rosés, so it’s not surprising that I found the Couly-Dutheil “René Couly” Chinon Rosé 2010 to be very attractive. This is 100 percent cabernet franc, sporting a classic pale onion skin hue with a blush of copper; so damned pretty, with its notes of dried strawberries and red currants over earthy layers of damp ash and loam and a bright undertone of spiced peach, all resolving to red currant and orange rind flavors and shades of rhubarb and limestone. Dry, crisp and frankly delightful. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through Spring 2012. Very Good+. About $19.

Imported by Cynthia Hurley, West Newton, Mass.

Ah, but here comes what could be the best rosé wine I have tasted. O.K., not to be extreme, one of the best rosés I have ever tasted.

L’audacieuse 2010, Coteaux de l’Ardeche, comes in a Big Deal heavy bottle with a deep punt (the indentation at the bottom); instead of being in a clear bottle, to show off the pretty rosé color, L’audacieuse 2010 is contained within a bottle of serious dark green glass. The producers of this prodigy, a blend of 50 percent syrah, 30 percent grenache and 20 percent cinsault, are Benoit and Florence Chazallon. The estate centers around the Chateau de la Selve, a fortified house built in the 13th Century. The grapes for L’audacieuse 2010 are grown under organic methods and fermented with natural yeasts, 1/2 in barriques and 1/2 in concrete vats; it aged six months in barriques. The color is pale but radiant onion skin or what the French call “eye of the partridge.” An enchanting yet slightly reticent bouquet of apples, lemon rind, orange zest and dried red currants wafts from the glass; in the mouth, well, the wine feels as if you were sipping liquid limestone suffused with some grapey-citrus-red fruit essence, enlivened by striking acidity and dry as a sun-bleached bone. While that description may make the wine sound formidable, especially for a rosé — and it is as audacious as its name — its real character embodies elegance and sophistication, integration and balance of all elements, but with something ineffably wild and plangent about it. This is, in a word, a great rosé. 13 percent alcohol. Production was all of 2,100 bottles and 80 magnums. Drink through Summer 2012. Excellent. About $30 and Worth a Search.

Imported by Metrowine Distribution Co., Stamford, Conn.
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I bought the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé so LL and I could toast our friend Saturday evening before going to her Big B’Day Bash. The house was founded in 1818, but the Billecart family has roots in Champagne going back to the 16th Century. According to Tom Stevenson, in the revised and updated edition of World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine (Wine Appreciation Guild, 2003, and really needing another revision and updating), the blend of the Brut Rosé is 35 percent each pinot noir and pinot meunier and 30 percent chardonnay. What can I say? This is a bountifully effervescent rosé Champagne of the utmost refinement, elegance and finesse, yet its ethereal nature is bolstered by an earthy quality that encompasses notes of limestone and shale and by a dose of subtle nuttiness and toffee, while exquisite tendrils of orange rind, roasted lemon and red currants are threaded through it; zesty acidity keeps it fresh and lively. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. I paid $78; prices around the country vary from about $75 to $90.

Imported by T. Edward Wines, New York.
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The stores are closed today, being Labor Day, but labor always persists for freelance writers and bloggers, and since today is Monday, federal holiday or nor, a Wine of the Week is due. So be it.

With our pizza Saturday night, we sipped Bonny Doon’s Clos de Gilroy Grenache 2010, Central Coast, a blend of 75 percent grenache grapes — barely qualifying it for a varietal label — with 13 percent cinsault and 12 percent syrah; seeing no oak barrels, you may think of it as a very pretty and highly drinkable version of a Côtes-du-Rhône. The color is brilliant ruby-cerise with a pale violet/magenta rim; aromas of pure black raspberries and red cherries are wreathed with cloves and sandalwood as well as lovely touches of roses, potpourri and that trademark grenache hint of Bazooka Bubble Gum. There’s a beguiling air of exoticism about this wine, though it also keeps itself firmly anchored in its essential straightforward rusticity. Flavors of spicy black and red currants, cherries and plums carry some notion of dusty briers and brambles for a slight earthy aspect, while tingling acidity keeps the wine almost quenchingly appealing. Tasty and delightful. Winemaker was, of course, the indefatigable Randall Grahm. 13.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012. Very Good+. About $18.

A sample for review.

Oh, why the hell not! I was cooking dinner last night and sipping from a glass of the Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2010, Central Coast, and I thought, “This deserves to be a Wine of the Week, but I don’t want to wait until next week, because it would be great for this Memorial Day weekend.” So here goes.

The problem with rosé wines like the Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2010 is that they’re chilly, tasty and delectable, so we tend to knock them back thoughtlessly instead of taking a bit of time to study them. That proposition presents a paradox: Can a wine be too good for itself? Well, let’s not knot our synapses into an existential conundrum about that idea; let’s just (thoughtfully) enjoy. The wine is blended from 71 percent grenache and 2 percent mourvèdre grapes, which are red, and then a combination of 16 percent roussanne and 11 percent grenache blanc, which are white; these four grape varieties are traditional to the lower Rhone Valley and the South of France. The wine undergoes no oak aging. The color is the classic pale tawny topaz called “onion skin,” hence vin gris in French, “gray wine.” Scents of strawberries and dried red currants are infused with myriad mineral elements — shale, chalk, limestone — and etched with notes of sprightly lime peel and dusty orange rind; give this a few minutes in the glass (but not letting it get over-warm) and you detect a faint aroma of shy musky rose. Flavors of melon and red currants (with hints of thyme and sage) are ensconced in a lovely silky texture sliced by scintillating acidity and a burgeoning limestone character, leaving a finish that’s high-toned, elegant and a little austere. All this, and you can still drink it with cold roasted chicken, deviled eggs, cucumber sandwiches and potato salad. The alcohol content is a sensible 12.8 percent. Now through the end of 2011. Excellent. About $15.

A sample for review.

I thought the 2008 version of Tardieu Laurent’s Les Becs Fins Côtes-du-Rhône Villages was terrific, and I feel the same way about the rendition for 2009. The wine is a blend of 60 percent grenache grapes, from a 60-year-old vineyard, and 40 percent syrah, from 20-year-old vines. Les Becs Fins 09 was made all in stainless steel tanks; there’s no oak influence. The color is deep ruby with a faint bluish/magenta rim; pure aromas of ripe black currants and plums are permeated by notes of black olives, dried thyme, smoke, ash, leather and a bit of syrah’s signature wet fur element, all making for a bouquet that while fresh and brisk is a little funkier and earthier than the bouquet of the 2008. The earthy and leathery aspects translate into the mouth, where a dense, chewy texture, freighted with dusty graphite, fine-grained tannins and pinpoint acidity, supports spicy and luscious (but not opulent or jammy) black and blue fruit flavors. This is, in other words, textbook Côtes-du-Rhône Villages that displays real varietal and regional personality and offers a huge amount of pleasure, now through 2014 or ’15. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Excellent. About $22.
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The Tardieu Laurent “Guy Louis” Côtes-du-Rhône 2008 is excellent in a different manner than its cousin, Les Becs Fins 2009. It, too, is composed of 60 percent grenache and 40 percent syrah, the former from 50-year-old vines, the latter from 35-year-old vines. One difference is that this wine matures in new and one-year-old French oak barrels rather than stainless steel; another is that the color is a shadowy shade darker. The emphasis here is on a combination of rustic power and sleek stylishness (not the same as elegance), on intensity and concentration; in the mouth, one immediately notices the presence of considerable tannins that are supple, lithe and dry. Still there’s black and blue fruit a-plenty here, with a deeply spicy, dried floral quality and a top-note of sweet ripeness, all imbued with smoke and lavender, cedar and juniper. Loads of character married to granite-and-loam-like minerality that ties the wine to the earth. 14 percent alcohol. 200 six-bottles cases imported, yes, that’s 1,200 bottles for the U.S.A. Drink now, with roasted or grilled meat, through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $28.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ If you’re looking for a white wine that melds high-toned elegance and austerity with lovely sensual appeal, try the Tardieu Laurent “Guy Louis Blanc” Côtes-du-Rhône 2009. Matured in new and one-year-old French oak, the wine is a blend of 60 percent marsanne grapes, 15 percent roussanne, 15 percent viognier and 10 percent grenache blanc. In fact the wine’s steel-edged and chalk-and-limestone-laced minerality feel, at first, as if you’re drinking the White Cliffs of Dover. A few minutes in the glass, however, bring in whiffs of jasmine and camellia, peach and nectarine and notes of bee’s-wax and dried thyme. This is a clean, crisp savory white wine whose stone fruit flavors are tinged with sage, ginger and quince, all backed by scintillating acidity for liveliness and freshness and that unassailable minerality. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. 250 six-bottle cases imported, that’s right, 1,500 bottles for the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. If I were compiling a restaurant wine list, though, I would want a few bottles of this wine. Excellent. About $28.
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Here’s another rosé wine on another gloomy day in Memphis, Tennessee, where the water’s still high as an elephant’s eye. Last week we had the air conditioner on; today I had to turn on the heat. Nothing like a great rosé, then, to lift the spirits. Oops, wait, a bulletin from the Great Outdoors; the sun is shining, rather fitfully, it’s true, but that’s something anyway.

Tavel in the southern Rhone Valley has a centuries-old reputation for rosé wines, a reputation too often merely rested upon than reasonably proved. Fine models exist, however, and some of the finest are produced by the Prieuré de Montèzargues, pictured here. The original priory was established in 1119; grapes have been grown on the property and wine made since sometime shortly after 1300. Winemaker in the present manifestation of the estate — it long-since ceased its function as a religious house, the Revolution looking unkindly on monastic sinecures — is Guillaume Dugas. Grapes grown at Prieuré de Montèzargues are grenache, cinsault, syrah, mourvèdre and carignan for red and clairette, picpoul and bourboulenc for white, all the typical southern Rhône or Provençal varieties. The intriguing blend for the Prieuré de Montèzargues 2010, Tavel, is 55 percent red and white grenache; 30 percent cinsault, 13 percent clairette and 2 percent of mere dollops of syrah, mourvèdre, carignan and bourboulenc. I don’t know about you, but I picture Monsieur Dugas poised over the vats with an eye-dropper, administering impossibly minute quantities of wine.

The wine is fermented in stainless steel and then aged briefly in concrete vats. The entrancing color is radiant light melon with a slightly tawny topaz cast, as if lit from within; aromas of lightly macerated strawberries, raspberries and red currants are grounded in earthy elements that reminded me of sun-warmed rocks and damp, dusty roof tiles, yeah, all quite Provençal, and boy, do I wish I had a little plate with some rabbit terrine and a basket of crusty bread. Flavors tend toward melon and peach permeated by touches of dried thyme and lavender and a distinct slatey quality that runs like a taut thread through the finish. Bright acidity and a moderately lush texture offer gratifying balance in a way that seems sweetly competitive and cooperative; all great wines are about tension and resolution. The Prieuré de Montèzargues 2010 is ultimately spare and bone-dry, even a bit austere in the finish, as we expect from well-made rosé from the southern Rhône Valley, though the hauteur doesn’t detract one whit from the delightful fruity/floral character. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012. Excellent. About $24.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y. A sample for review.

Wouldn’t you know it! No sooner do I review two wines from France’s Côtes du Roussillon Villages appellation, up in the valley of the Agly river, than two more show up at my threshold. These are produced by the venerable M. Chapoutier, one of the most highly respected estates in the Northern Rhone Valley; Roussillon is pretty far to the west, almost to Spain. The label is Vignes de Bila-Haut and the wines are charming, tasty and versatile. Both are blends of syrah, grenache and carignan grapes. As is the case with all wines from M. Chapoutier, the label includes Braille script for the sight-impaired.

These are R. Shack — Radio Shack??? — Selections for HB Wine Merchants, New York. Samples for review.
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The Bila Haut 2009, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, which we drank with a dinner of ham and cheese strata — a casserole that’s sort of like eating breakfast at night because it has bread and eggs — is a creature of dusty graphite-like minerality, dusty herbs, dusty red and black currants and plums imbued with spice, potpourri and leather and undertones of briers and brambles. It’s robust, a little rustic and countrified, and it brings up earthy elements with black olives and smoky oolong tea that permeate the black fruit flavors. The wine sees no oak, maturing, instead, in concrete vats. Drink now through 2013. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $13.50.
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For three and a half dollars more, you get, in the Bila-Haut L’esquera 2008, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Lesquerda, a far more sleek and polished wine that features full-blown scents and flavors of roasted, meaty and fleshy, spiced and macerated red and black currants with high notes of blueberries and mulberries and heaps of smoky, dried thyme and other dusty wild herbs and flowers. A few minutes in the glass unfurl notes of graphite and mineral-laced tannins and deeper tones of potpourri and violets. The wine bears little oak influence; 80 percent rests in cement vats, with 20 percent in 600-liter barrels. Not quite sophisticated or elegant, Bila-Haut L’esquera 2008 is lively with vibrant acidity and firm with a fairly dense chewy, slightly velvety texture. Boy, did this wine ever put me in mind of lamb chops grilled with garlic and rosemary! Drink now through 2014. Very Good+, and Great Value at about $18. A no-brainer for bistro-style restaurants.
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As is the case with many European countries, modern France is composed of disparate regions that for centuries retained their independence and social and historic identity. Just as Bordeaux, for example, was once part of England –because of the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry II — so the southwest part of France, now called Roussillon, was ruled from Majorca and Aragon, and even now the population identifies itself more closely with the Catalan culture of Spain than with the dominant “French” culture. (Though bull-fighting is officially banned in France, the sport is allowing where it is considered an essential part of local tradition; usually bloodless for the animal as practiced here, bull-fighting can be found from Nimes and Arles west to the Spanish border and across to the Atlantic.) Winemaking has flourished in the sunny (the sunniest vineyard region in France), dry and windy eastern foothills of the Pyrenees mountains since ancient times, when the Greeks introduced vines and then the Romans began cultivating extensive vineyards. Côtes du Roussillon received AOC designation in 1977. A slightly more limited designation, Côtes du Roussillon-Villages, is theoretically superior, as in the model of Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages. The permitted grapes, for red wines, are the Rhone Valley varieties: syrah, grenache, mourvèdre and carignan, with the stipulation that syrah or mourvèdre (or a combination of the two) makes up at least 20 percent of the blend. The area is in the extreme southwest of France, where the coast finishes a great curve in a head-long run at the Spanish border; the Mediterranean is actually east of Roussillon. As you can see in the accompanying image (cavepartdesanges.com), the inland regions can be picturesque and forbidding.
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Chateau de Jau, built in 1792, lies smack in the middle of the Côtes du Roussillon-Villages region, on the river Agly. Owned now by the Daure family, which extensively rebuilt the vineyards, the property also produces the well-known Le Jaja de Jau brand. Winemaker is Estelle Daure. The blend for the Chateau de Jau Côtes du Roussillon-Villages 2008 is syrah, 45 percent; mourvèdre, 30 percent, carignan, 15 percent; and grenache, 10 percent, so the proportion of syrah and mourvèdre is much higher than is required by law. The wine receives no oak-aging, retaining an attractive sense of freshness and immediate appeal. The effect is pungently grapy, with full-blown scents of black currants and plums infused with lavender and rose petal, touches of dried spices and flowers and darker, spicier underpinnings. The plum aspect, with shadings of black and blue, intensifies in the mouth, with a richer, deeper aspect, while tannins are moderately grainy and chewy; the wine is supported by vibrant acidity and a hint of graphite-like minerality in the background. A really enjoyable pasta, pizza and burger wine — or to be French about it, try with a rabbit terrine, whole-grain mustard and crusty bread — to drink through 2012. Alcohol content is 13 percent. Very Good+. About $14, a Great Bargain.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y. A sample for review.
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Gregory Hecht and François Bannier founded their negociant house in 2002 to seek out appropriate vineyards and then “elevate” — the process of treating wine in a winery by a negociant is called elevage — the wine to produce authentic renditions of the wines of Roussillon. The H & B Côtes du Roussillon-Villages 2008 is composed of 55 percent grenache, 25 percent syrah, 15 percent mourvèdre and 5 percent carignan; the wine ages in a combination of old demi-muids of 600 liters, neutral concrete vats and 20 percent new oak. The first impression is of roses and violets woven with meaty and fleshy red and black currants that quickly develop a sense of being spiced and macerated. This wine is vividly lively, imbued with acidity of almost poignant vivacity and wrapped in granite-laced tannins that feel broad and generous on the palate; it’s deeply flavorful, earthy and minerally, bringing into the finish notes of smoke, briers and brambles. Charming, yes, but with real stuffing and character. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $28 in my neck o’ the woods; starts at about $20 and goes up nationally.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York. Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.
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