I’m a huge fan of the French Rhone wines, which is a problem these days. First off, the good stuff has gotten terribly expensive. Things like Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas, and even Vacqueyras now . . . and I’m not even going to mention the Northern Rhone. After a few flashy reviews by the world-renowned wine guys, a bottle I could take home 10 years ago for $25, I now have to pay $80-$200. And when I say “have to pay”, I really mean “can’t” and “won’t”, since I just don’t take home those bottles any more.
A second issue I find with the Rhone is what I feel is a somewhat misleading classification system. Not misleading in the way the regions and laws are set up, but mostly in practice. This is most likely my own personal issue, perhaps compounded by decisions by importers of which wines make it to market. To make it simple for this particular argument, there are the premium regions, the AOC regions, like the aforementioned Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Lirac, and so on. Pretty spectacular wines, in my opinion. But also expensive, by the name.
Next up in the designation hierarchy is the Cotes du Rhone Villages (followed by the village name – Ex. ‘Cotes du Rhone Villages Rasteau’). There are some 20-odd villages in that designation, and it is meant to be an intermediary step from generic Cotes du Rhone to AOC status. In theory this should make them better than regular Cotes du Rhone, but in practice, at least my experience, I’ve found the Cotes du Rhone wines more pleasing overall.
Now I am loath to generalize anything in the wine world, since there are so few certainties, being an ever-evolving, living, breathing thing (metaphorically, of course). And what you may have found a known fact one day is a falsehood the next. That being said, I’ll take a regular Cotes du Rhone over a “Villages” any day of the week. Prove me wrong.
Back to this wine in question, this Domaine Paul Autard, had me intrigued. Interest piqued. It boasted the price of $10.95. I hadn’t seen a Cotes du Rhone that
cheap ‘inexpensive’ for a long time. Remember that before the economy starting failing as badly as it has, it was ailing before that. (We just added an ‘F’, is all). For a couple years we watched the Euro gaining over the Dollar, and the price of European imports showing the discrepancy. And so, this pushed the cost of my beloved Rhone wines, even the cheap ones, into the not-so-cheap territory.
So an $11 Cotes du Rhone had me concerned. It seemed implausible for a Cotes du Rhone to be that inexpensive, yet not be the bargain-bin close-out wine used for cooking or ending parties. But I have to say, for that little cost, this thing delivers!
The wine had a deep ruby color, and a relatively intense nose with aromas of blueberries (albeit slightly under-ripe blueberries), hints of licorice and anise. Flavors on the palate included black cherries, regular ol’ cherries, those blueberries we discussed earlier, some good black pepper and spice. The tannin was there and the acid was there but lacked a bit in fruit, weakening the impact of the overall body of the wine. But really, it was pretty exciting, for Eleven bucks.
As fate would have it, I found the same selection at a wine bar a few days later and had a second taste. Somehow it even seemed better than before. Maybe it was the different glasses. Maybe it had been open for a day and mellowed. Maybe it was the food. Or lighting. Or music. Because you know, if the wine isn’t tasty enough – change the music.