2002 Rhone: Lemonade from lemons?
For all the romance that many of us attach to the vineyard and the winery scene, life often brings harsh reminders that the world of wine is ultimately about the gritty, hands-on reality of farming. So it was across much of Europe in 2002, when hailstorms cut a swath across Northern Italy while severe flooding ravaged France, Germany and Eastern Europe.
Few wine-producing regions suffered more than the Southern Rhone, where the stony vineyards of Chateauneuf-du-Pape were briefly navigable by rowboat after September storms, and many producers wrote off the vintage entirely.
But some Rhone producers salvaged grapes, and - for better or for worse - a few vintage 2002 wines of the region are now coming into the marketplace. Should canny consumers pass them by?
Not necessarily. Discretion is warranted in individual buying decisions, as is a quick check of published critics and comparing notes among wine-loving friends. (I can tell you that I, for one, will not be sampling any of the Vieux-Télégraphe white Chateauneuf-du-Pape that turned up recently at a local shop for a cool $50.)
But my early sampling of more affordable 2002 Cotes-du-Rhones suggests that, if they're on the light side in both color and body compared with their cousins from other recent vintages, they can be drinkable and appealing, and good with food.
Today's tasting, from the usually reliable Chateau de Ségriès, offers a good example. This producer, located in Lirac (across the Rhone from Avignon), makes an excellent Lirac red and white as well as this Cotes-du-Rhone. It's idiosyncratic by typical red Rhone standards - almost as if the rainy vintage pulled back the usual curtain of robust, peppery, "grapey" fruit to reveal more subtle undertones that usually go unnoticed in the region's wines. Redolent of rose potpourri and pink grapefruit in a tart, palate-cleansing wine, it's an appealing change of pace if you can find it for $10 or less.
HAVE YOU TRIED 2002 RHONES?
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Chateau de Ségriès 2002 Côtes-du-Rhone ($9.99)
This clear, reddish-purple wine is not overly dark, consistent with the other 2002 Southern Rhone reds I've seen so far. Its aromas are intriguing, red-berry fruit with distinct notes of brown spices and dried rose petals, a combination that strongly evokes old-fashioned rose potpourri. A pretty, floral quality of roses fills the palate along with tart, simple red-berry fruit, seguing into a tangy pink-grapefruit character in the finish. It's light, not overly long, but intriguing complexity - perhaps borne on subtleties masked by more forward fruit in "better" vintages - makes it a pleasant attention-getter, and its zippy acidity makes it a fine food companion. U.S. importer: Kysela Pere et Fils Ltd., Winchester, Va. (Feb. 16, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Its fresh fruit and palate-cleansing acidity made it a winner with a hearty, earthy simple pasta dish of sauteed free-range chicken livers in a light tomato sauce scented with rosemary and garlic.
VALUE: Complexity and flavor interest make it a good buy at $10; but it may pay to shop around, as Wine-Searcher.com reveals many U.S. retailers offering it for a few dollars less.
WHEN TO DRINK: Very nice right now, but its Rube Goldberg collection of disparate parts strongly suggests drinking it up expeditiously while it stays that way.
WEB LINK: The importer has a somewhat outdated page on Ségriès (still featuring the 2000 vintage red) at
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Find vendors and compare prices on Ségriès at Wine-Searcher.com:
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Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2004