The first of a series of articles on wine by a newly arrived wine expert; enjoy
Hallo! And welcome to Bin Ends, you're hopefully useful, possibly informative and if nothing else free guide to the world of wine. My name is Giles and to give you some idea of who I am, I make half of the new occupants of the Old School in Boughton and over the last fifteen years I spent the majority of my time, when not drinking it, selling, buying, marketing and writing about things wine. Over the coming months I will take you through what I think are some of the best buys around, both locally and from the mail-order chappies, tips on wine investment (2005 Bordeaux? It's Klondike time!), news from around the tasting table and, should you require it, offer you one to one wine advice by e-mail. But enough promises, time to deliver the goods....
As a new resident in the village (cue link so tenuous that it would make a children's TV presenter squirm) I thought I would kick off with a round up of villages wines, specifically, some rather fine reds from the Rhone valley. The epithet 'villages' be they from here or Beaujolais, Maconnais or wherever, signifies that the wine has attained a higher grade than the basic and is, theoretically at least, of better quality. In the Rhone this is often particularly true and often makes for wines that are well worth seeking out, as we shall see.
This part of south-eastern France has long suffered from something of an identity crisis with the great British wine drinker. For decades we have been delighted to guzzle bottle after bottle of Cotes du Rhone, wines that have always been affordable, reliable and moderately interesting in a rather simplistic sort of way. I can still remember those heady days of the mid-seventies my father 'stocking up' for Christmas with half a dozen bottles of Sainsbury's Cotes du Rhone, proudly telling my sherry-totalling mother that he had graduated from fiascos of Chianti (that really is the name of those wicker covered flasks, I kid you not!). This cheerful acceptance of these moderate little wines has not, until incredibly recently, been reflected in the demand for the regions finest wines. Even as recently as the late 1940's, the very best wines from Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Hermitage were of such low commercial value that it was un-economic to bottle them separately and the best vineyards found their produce either being poured into the generic wines or worse being surreptitiously blended with wines from Algeria to make cheap, tooth-looseningly powerful blend for domestic consumption. It seemed that whenever the price got above the bargain basement level we would sail north to Burgundy or slip west to Bordeaux. Happily in the last few years this has changed and the likes of Beaucastel, Rayas, La Chapelle and the other superstars are now getting the attention they deserve, this in turn has attracted great interest in the wines of the region as a whole, allowing, and in some cases forcing, producers to create better and better wines farther and farther down the pecking order. Things have got so good that these days the combination of lower yields, better winery hygiene and a flurry of superb, sun-kissed years has meant the average Cotes du Rhone is better than at any time since the appellations 1937 creation...and I have the wines to prove it!
If there were an award for 'Giles' most drunk wine' of last year the Les Trois Mas 2003 from Jaboulet (£5.99 Majestic Wine Warehouses, maybe on to the 2004 by now) would probably get the gong. When I first tasted this gem of a wine at a tasting way back in January 2005 it wasn't far from the cask and still showed, on the nose in particular, an excess of that un-baked bread aroma that is the signature sniff of un-integrated oak. This is not a bad thing, just something that needs time to shake off, and shake it off it did. Next time I saw it was when I bought a case and having eagerly got one open I was utterly gob-smacked by it. Not only did have the most attractive blue-black purple robe and an exciting bouquet of crushed blackcurrants, black cherries and vanilla, in the mouth it was just glorious. A rich, powerful wine, it came rammed to the rafters with black skinned berry fruits, touches of raspberries and a fresh, tangy cranberry acidity. Best of all though, I failed to finish the second bottle and having another look at it the next evening it was even better, even richer, and more approachable. This is a wine that will get better and better as time goes on, I mean don't get me wrong it's terrific now - the case I wanted to lay down has long gone - but if you'll be patient you'll be richly rewarded.
Next up and rather less interstellar in it' greatness is the humble sounding Tesco Cotes du Rhone Villages 2004 (£4.99). This is a genuine find; a supermarket own-label wine that is of genuine merit. Unlike the Les Trois Mas this is all about drinking now. The blend here (cepage if you want to be winey about it) is typical of the Southern Rhone (for reasons of nothing other than Frenchness the Rhone Valley is split into North and South in wine terms) and is made up predominantly of the softhearted Grenache grape with admirable support and colour from the rather heftier Syrah. The result is a wine that is smooth, complex and velvety, with good dollops of black cherry, blackberry and raspberry fruit and a touch of game to the aftertaste. This is the perfect wine to take you right through a Sunday lunch or dinner party, being just at home with roasted meat or strong, biting cheeses (with roasted goats' cheese and tomato chutney...happy days!)
Next up is a wine from Waitrose, the Chateau Saint Maurice Les Coteaux 2004. Again this is a Grenache dominated wine so it is ready to drink now, is full, fruity and gives you one hell of a lot of wine for your money. Somewhat heavier than the Tesco wine, it has a slightly roasted flavour to it, something I suspect is the result of a hot vintage, and again is a wine that has the oomph to stand up to most foods. Last night it, with a little help from a couple of its brothers, went down a storm with the chilli sausage casserole, but as a soloist it would make a fine accompaniment to a spring evening in.
Last, but by no means least another Waitrose wine, this time their own Cotes du Rhone Villages (£4.99) This shows the diversity that is available in this massive and complicated region, for rather than another powerhouse, this is a far lighter, far more subtle bottle, so gentle is it that you might mistake it for a wine from farther north. Raspberries and strawberries rule the roost here and from its pretty red-pink colour to its delicate flavourings, this is one firmly for drinking on its own.
Well, I hope you've found this of some interest, but if you have any wine related queries or comments (particularly ones relating as to whether I would like to share a glass of you're 1961 Latour with you!) then please e-mail me on email@example.com and I will do my best to help.