A Rhone bargain
The Côtes-du-Rhône - "the hillsides of the Rhone," pronounced "Coat duh Rone" - incorporates a sizable wine region along both sides of the Rhone river valley north of the historic city of Avignon in Southern France.
Following the inevitable progression that the marketplace imposes on fine wines, the "better" wines of this region move upscale into bottles labeled with more specific geographical appellations: Chateauneuf-du-Pape and specific villages such as Gigondas and Vacqueyras - which may use the village name standing alone on the label - as well as villages like Cairanne and Rasteau, which may use the village name on the label with "Côtes-du-Rhône."
Meanwhile, the wines that don't qualify for the more specific appellations often don't get much respect. Labeled as generic Côtes-du-Rhône, they're generally sold at budget prices and often presented anonymously in restaurants by the pitcher or carafe.
But veteran seekers of value wines will recognize an opportunity here: Often the best wine bargains are to be found by "cherry picking" wines within low-price categories that don't attract cult-followers or ratings-point seekers.
Today's tasting offers a fine example: A simple, generic Côtes-du-Rhône, it's sold under the name of its producer, Alain Jaume, who reserves the name of his historic Rhone property - Domaine Grand Veneur - for his Chateauneuf-du-Pape and other more pricey bottlings.
A blend of 80 percent Grenache and 20 percent Syrah, Jaume's Côtes-du-Rhône shows the character that I love in good red Rhones: Lots of plummy fruit structured with snappy acidity to make a fine, full-bodied food wine, with the fragrant black-pepper scent of Syrah to add pleasant complexity.
This wine is well worth seeking out (try the winery and importer links below to look for sources). Also, in your quest for value, consider this broader principle: If you've found a producer whose higher-end wines you enjoy, check his portfolio for less pricey bottlings, which may share some of their siblings' quality for a fraction of the price.
MORE RHONE: If you would like to see pictures and tasting reports from my 2002 tour of southern Rhone and Provence, you're welcome to visit my Rhone/Provence Diary 2002,
Alain Jaume 2001 Côtes-du-Rhône ($9.99)
Very dark garnet in color, this excellent wine shows the full and appetizing aromas characteristic of red Rhones: Plums, berries and fragrant black pepper. The scent promises more than one might expect of a $10 wine, and the flavor delivers: Ripe black fruit well balanced with firm and cleansing acidity and accented with peppery spice. It's not overly long in the finish, but that's a minor quibble in an exceptionally tasty table wine of excellent value. U.S. importer: Kysela Pere et Fils Ltd., Winchester, Va. (Aug. 6, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Fine with any grilled red meat; it was perfect with fresh local lamb chops pan-seared with garlic and rosemary.
VALUE: An exceptional value at the $10 point.
WHEN TO DRINK: Although the conventional wisdom holds that Cotes-du-Rhone isn't a wine for aging, this one might surprise in the cellar. If it follows the pattern of more traditionally ageworthy red Rhones, though, it may "close down" over the next few years before starting to show the benefits of bottle age around its seventh or eighth birthday.
WEB LINK: The winery Website is available in French and English. For the English pages, click,
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Friday, Aug. 8, 2003