This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Friday, Nov. 9, 2007 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20071109.php.
Vacqueyras, big and bold
Let's wrap up the week with another chapter in this month's "Wine Focus" on the wine villages of the Côtes-du-Rhône, as we make a virtual visit to Vacqueyras ("Vah-keh-rahss").
Vacqueyras is located toward the southern end of the string of Rhône villages, just north of the southernmost, Beaumes-de-Venise. The village and the vineyards around it are situated just below the craggy granite peaks of the "Dentelles de Montmirail" ("Montmirail's Lace"), a distinctive feature on the Southern Rhône horizon. Here's a picture of the peaks seen from Vacqueyras on a blustery mistral day during my June 2002 visit.
Here's why Vacqueyras stands out from a wine-lover's viewpoint: It is one of the five Rhône villages whose wines are considered so good that it has graduated from the generic appellation and owns the right to bear its own name standing alone on the label. It gained this status in 1990 (following its neighbor Gigondas), and like Gigondas, it earned the distinction because its hillside glacial soils and hot, dry climate produce dense, tannic and concentrated wines.
Like Gigondas, the wines of Vacqueyras bear fair comparison with the Southern Rhône standard-bearer, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Its regulations regarding alcohol and vineyard yield are similar to Châteauneuf, and - like all Southern Rhône reds, it may use any of the 13 grape varieties permitted in the region. Typically, Vacqueyras must be at least 50 percent Grenache, with 20 percent each of Syrah and Mourvèdre, plus some Cinsaut, usually; the other regional varieties are rare, and Carignan is at least technically forbidden.
A tiny amount of white and rosé Vacqueyras is produced, but if you see a bottle on the shelf, you're generally safe in assuming that it's a red.
Today's featured wine is something of an oddity, with a potentially confusing producer name: Domaine Chapelle St.-Joseph 2003 Vacqueyras is not to be confused with the Northern Rhône appellation St.-Joseph, which only by coincidence shares the name of a popular saint.
Brought to the U.S. by International Vineyard Products of Columbus, Ohio, a firm that I'm unable to locate in reference books or in a quick Google search, it appears to be only sporadically available, with only a single hit on Wine-Searcher.com, all of which makes me wonder how a good supply of it turned up at retail in Louisville, Ky.
That being said, don't cry too many bitter tears: A frooty and rather hotly alcoholic potation from the torrid vintage of 2003, it's an okay wine with rare red meat, and its concentrated fruit and power make it a decent illustration of Vacqueyras character for this article. But you'll be just as well off to seek more characteristic Vacqueyras from more normal vintages (try 2004 or 2005) from other producers. Domaine le Sang des Cailloux from Kermit Lynch is a perennial favorite.
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Domaine Chapelle St.-Joseph 2003 Vacqueyras ($20.99)
Clear, dark garnet. Raspberries and cherry liqueur and a subtle earthy whiff of "forest floor." Mouth-filling and ripe, earthy cherry-berry flavors reflect the nose. A good backbone of acidity, just a hint of tannic astringency, and a bit of alcoholic warmth in the finish that tastes hotter than the label's 14% statement suggests. Still, it's well balanced and full, clearly a cousin of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and substantiates the premise that the Southern Rhone handled the super-hot vintage of 2003 with more style than many of their more northerly neighbors. U.S. importer: International Vineyard Products Ltd., Columbus, Ohio. (Nov. 3, 2007)
FOOD MATCH: A wine that needs, and rewards, a pairing with rare red meat; it was fine with pepper-crusted, pan-seared, local grass-fed rib eyes.
VALUE: It's hard to quibble with a $20-range price, with the caveat that its ripe, concentrated and fruit-forward style may not please those with more "Old World" tastes.
WHEN TO DRINK: Quite palatable now, but it should cellar well for a decade, with a possible "dumb stage" coming up during which it may not not show as well; drink soon, or hold under good cellar conditions until after 2010.
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