This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, Nov. 12, 2007 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20071112.php.
Can Cotes-du-Rhone age?
Contrary to the traditional image of a wine collector fondling dusty, decades-old bottles in a cobweb-festooned cellar, the lion's share of all the world's wine is not meant for aging. Only a tiny fraction of wine (though generally the best fraction) is designed to benefit from cellar time.
By and large, the basic red Côtes-du-Rhône - the Grenache-heavy blend from the Southern Rhone that's often served in pitchers in French bistros and cafés - falls into the do-not-age category. Hearty, fruity and acidic, it's fine right off the merchant's shelf and won't go around the bend for a year or even a few. But it gains nothing from careful aging, eventually losing its fruit without gaining any of the subtle, complex "tertiary" flavors that elevate more ageworthy wines.
But how about the Côtes-du-Rhône Villages wines that we're featuring in this month's Wine Focus?
Certainly at the level of the wines entitled to carry their own village name on the label, either standing alone (Gigondas, Vacqueyras and three others) or following the regional designation (Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Rasteau, Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Cairanne, and many more), we're talking about wines that bear more than a passing resemblance to the local flagship appellation, Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
There's no real question that Chateauneuf-du-Pape is an ager: A good one will be drinkable, although perhaps rough with tannic astringency, for four or five years after the vintage. Then it typically goes through a "dumb stage" until around its eighth birthday, whereupon - assuming careful cellaring at cool, constant temperatures - it goes into a long plateau of maturity and may last until 15 to 20 years after the vintage or more, depending on your tolerance for earthy, oxidizing funk in older reds.
As you might expect, quality Côtes-du-Rhône Villages rarely last that long (although Gigondas can come close); but good ones, starting from a base of concentrated fruit and good acid balance, can certainly emulate the aging profile of Chateauneuf on a somewhat more accelerated time scale.
Digging through my small collection of dusty bottles in search of something to test this premise, I ran across just the thing, a gift from a wine-loving friend a while back (thanks, Bob!): Two bottles of 1999 Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Saint-Maurice, a small, less-well-known village in the Drôme, a stretch of the Rhone Valley hills a bit north of the Vaucluse region around Mont Ventoux that's been the center of attention in my other Côtes-du-Rhône articles this month. Saint-Maurice is just south of Vinsobres, a commune that only recently graduated to named-village status.
Both wines proved to be holding up very well, normally full under tight, sound corks. Both were certainly showing earthy signs of maturity, but ample fruit remained, and little or no hint of geriatric status in either color or aroma and flavor.
WEB LINKS: For a good discussion of the Drôme villages, including Saint-Maurice, check this link on Tony Fletcher's well-done iJamming.com site:
To visit the Wine Focus section of WineLovers Discussion Group, click:
Domaine Viret 1999 Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Saint-Maurice "Maréotis"
Inky blackish-purple; garnet-pink at the edge. Black raspberries, not overly fruit-forward but fresh and true; distinctly earthy aroma back notes, more mineral than barnyard. Mouth-filling flavors follow the nose, berries and earth, mouth-watering acidity and soft tannins. Seems just a bit more youthful than its sibling, fruit and earth and crisp acidity in good balance, drinking well and showing no symptoms of an impending fade. U.S. importer: LDM Wines Inc., NYC; Louis/Dressner Selections. (Nov. 10, 2001)
FOOD MATCH: Fine with a lightly spicy variation on the chicken "paprikash pilaf" featured in the Nov. 1, 2007 Wine Advisor FoodLetter.
Domaine Viret 1999 Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Saint-Maurice "Renaissance"
Very dark purple, garnet edge; no real sign of brown at the clear edge. Black fruit and an edge of "horsey" barnyard, brett definitely present but appropriate for the wine and its age, not out of control. Flavors consistent, dark-berry fruit and earth, structural acidity and still a bit on the tannic side. Plenty of life left, good complexity, and an appealing wine assuming you like that earthy-barnyard Old World style. U.S. importer: LDM Wines Inc., NYC; Louis/Dressner Selections. (Nov. 10, 2001)
FOOD MATCH: Pizza with toppings chosen to match, arugula and goat cheese with a bit of chopped Canadian bacon.
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Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Vacqueyras, big and bold (Nov. 9, 2007)
Farewell to a friend (Nov. 7, 2007)
Wine Focus - Rhone Villages (Nov. 5, 2007)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Spaghetti and meatballs (Nov. 8, 2007)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive: