This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, Nov. 10, 2008 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20081110.php.
Affordable goodie from Catalan
Let's keep on with our small effort to fight the recession by finding wines that offer real flavor interest for as close to 10 bucks as we can get: Today we celebrate an affordable red blend from the Côtes Catalanes, the southwestern corner of France's Roussillon that locals like to call "the other Priorat" because of its viticultural and cultural connections with Catalunya just across the national border in Spain.
You may be thinking that nobody ever heard of Côtes Catalanes, and even Roussillon isn't a hosuehold word among many wine lovers. But this - and Catalanes' s status as a mere Vin de Pays ("Wine of the country") - works to hold down prices because, at this point, these wines aren't in great demand.
Like Priorat, Côtes Catalanes is a dramatically scenic region of steep hillsides; it boasts an ancient wine tradition that goes back to the Romans.
Young wine maker Marc Lafage, who also makes the popular "Las Rocas" Garnacha (Grenache) on the Spanish side of the border, here turns out a rustic but appealing red with real complexity and flavor interest, a blend of the traditional Grenache and Syrah with a splash of more modern Cabernet Sauvignon.
Lafage resists the temptation to leverage the region's hot climate in a high-alcohol, fat-fruit blockbuster, producing instead a wine that's rustic but complex and that speaks of the soil, made at a rational 13.5 percent alcohol. Available in some places for as little as $10, it's an excellent buy, worth picking up by the case. My tasting notes are below.
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Maison Lafage 2006 "Côte Sud" Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes ($12.99)
Very dark reddish-purple with a clear garnet edge. Plums, cherries and berries with a whiff of black pepper on the nose. Fresh, not overwhelming cherry-berry fruit on the palate with a touch of red-clay minerality and good acidity for balance; tannins are substantial but smooth, making no interference with a wine that's a bit rustic but plenty enjoyable at the table. An old-and-new blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon in undisclosed proportions, it's made at a rational 13.5% alcohol. U.S. importer: European Cellars LLC, Charlotte, N.C.; An Eric Solomon Selection. (Oct. 1, 2008)
FOOD MATCH: Good with poultry, veal or beef. It was excellent with free-range chicken bites sauteed with onions and garlic, then braised in a little broth with fresh sage, served over short pasta.
VALUE: Good value in this range, but shopping may pay off for those in states where direct shipping is allowed, as U.S. retail prices vary widely from under $10 to $15.
WHEN TO DRINK: With its good balance and soft tannins, it will keep for several years, but I'd consider it a wine to be enjoyed over the next year or two while its fruit is fresh, not cellared away.
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