On the other hand: 2002 Rhone
Monday, celebrating the arrival of one of the first wines of the 2003 vintage in the Southern Rhone, we compared that hot season to the region's terrible, stormy summer of the previous year. Today, let's mix things up a bit by going back to the Rhone for a look at the way one prominent American wine importer dealt with the challenge of '02.
As background, first let's run through a quick refresher course in the broad outlines of French wine classification. At the top level we find wines labeled "Appellation Controllée," bearing on the label specific geographical terms that may range from the broad ("Bordeaux") to the narrow ("Haut-Médoc") to the very narrow indeed ("Chateau-Grillet"). Under the law, these wines, often abbreviated "AOC," must adhere to specific regulations governing the grape varieties used, vinification, even such minutiae as vineyard yield and percent of alcohol. AOC wines represent only a fraction of all the wine produced in France, but they dominate the "fine wine" market and probably represent more than 90 percent of the wines you'll see reviewed here and in other wine-hobbyist publications. Other European wine-producing countries have similar systems, including the Italian "Denominazione di Origine Controllata" ("DOC") and the Spanish "Denominaciòn de Origen" ("DO").
A step lower in the hierarchy is "Vin de Pays" ("Wine of the Country"), wines that carry usually broad geographical designations ("Vin de Pays d'Oc," for instance, covers the entire Languedoc) and come under similar if simpler rules governing grape content and vineyard and winery procedures.
Below that level we find "Vin de Table" ("Table Wine"), the least restrictive category. Vin de Table may or may not bear a regional designation on the label, and makes little claim for the contents beyond that it's wine made from grapes grown in France.
Wine "geeks" sometimes tend to look down on these "lesser" categories, particularly the all-but-anonymous Vin de Table. But faced with the dismal harvest in 2002 in the Southern Rhone, the U.S. importer Kermit Lynch apparently followed the ancient wisdom, "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade." Or Vin de Table, anyway.
Today's wine, which bears Lynch's familiar medieval-ship logo on the label with the language "Cuvée Sélectionné par Kermit Lynch," is a Vin de Table from Vaucluse, made for Lynch by the producer Leydier et Fils in the Rhone village Beaumes-de-Venise.
It's a table wine made from an undisclosed blend of grapes that may have been grown anywhere in the Vaucluse - the French department (a governmental district roughly equivalent to an American county) that incorporates the southern half of the Southern Rhone, a broad zone of flatland and hillside vineyards on the Rhone's eastern bank that takes in Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas, the Cotes du Ventoux and Cotes du Luberon, a swath of the Cotes-du-Rhone and, for that matter, the city of Avignon.
I'm pretty sure there's some Syrah in it, signaled by a burst of fragrant black pepper on the palate. What else? Who knows? Who needs to know? In an age where many enthusiasts clamor for technical details about what's in our wine, this bottle harks back to a simpler time, when a respected producer or shipper simply said, "This is my wine. Drink it. You'll like it."
Sometimes this is not a bad thing. This wine may lack the warmth and almost New World-style fruit of the Domaine Réméjeanne 2003 Chevrefeuilles Côtes du Rhône we reviewed on Monday. But it's lean and structured, with plenty of fruit and good acid balance, fine with food (as the name "table wine" implies), demonstrating that even the most notoriously poor vintages can produce, well, lemonade.
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Kermit Lynch 2002 Vin de Table du Vaucluse ($9.99)
This very dark reddish-purple wine presents pleasant, typical Rhone aromas of black plums and spice, with a whiff of smoke and a hint of caramel in the background. Lean and tart, black fruit is joined by distinct black pepper on the palate with a distant hint of tannins. Not overly long, but clean and fresh, a good job of putting together a presentable wine in a "difficult" vintage. U.S. importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, Calif. (Sept. 29, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Straightforward fruit and tangy acidity made it a natural with a simple omelet stuffed with prosciutto and cheese. Fine, too, with any red meat from burgers to steaks.
VALUE: In an idealized world, it would be nice to be able to pick up a simple little "table wine" for three or four bucks to quaff with dinner. In the real world, this one's competitive at the $10 point.
WHEN TO DRINK: Drink up. It won't improve with age.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: This wine is distributed only by Kermit Lynch, whose imports are widely available in the U.S. Check local retailers or try a search on Wine-Searcher.com:
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Friday, Oct. 1, 2004