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What's new in iJamming!...
Fri, Apr 29, 2005
iJamming! Wino/Muso:
JOHN ACQUAVIVA
"New world wines are just too techno for me."
Featured wine region 3:
SOUTHERN RHÔNE WHITES
Featured wine region 4:
SOUTHERN RHÔNE ROSÉS
This week's FEATURED WINE
Previously...
FEATURED Wines 3
FEATURED Wines 2
FEATURED Wines 1
Featured wine region 2:
CÔTES DU RHÔNE VILLAGES
The Geography
The Villages
Featured vine:
VIOGNIER:
Finally, a worthy rival to Chardonnay.

Now with updated reviews
Featured wine region 1:
CÔTES DU RHÔNE
Featured wine web site:
HONIG
WINE AND MUSIC:
What wine fans and music devotees have in common.
Featured wino: TIMO MAAS
Featured party wine:
CLINE's Cotes d'Oakley
And how Cline does it
Featured wine web site: VIGNOBLES BRUNIER
The full iJamming! Contents
the iJammming! featured wine region:
Côtes du Rhône
A treasure trove of inexpensive excellence
PART 2 PART 1
There are several hundred different bottles of Côtes du Rhône available out there, which makes any kind of conclusive tasting near impossible. (Though it might be good fun!) So while I do have some personal favorites to recommend, the following suggested steps are intended to steer you, wherever you may live, towards finding the better examples of one of the wine word's most superb bargains. (See Part 2 for the 'Do's )
DON'T. . .
6) . . . Check the Côtes du Rhônes in your store against reviews in the wine press.
For one thing, there are too many Côtes du Rhônes out there for the press to cover them all, and for another, there are too many Côtes du Rhônes out there for the press to cover them accurately. I respect Robert Parker's comments as he's a Rhône fanatic, but his newsletter is mail-order only and mainly reviews the more exclusive examples. And the Wine Spectator, the one easy source for info on the web and sadly treated as a bible of authority, gets it wrong as often as they get it right. Two glaring examples: their slating of Guigal's 98 with a sub-standard rating of 79pts, whereas everyone I know agrees that the Guigal is a textbook example of flavorful and powerful Côtes du Rhône. And their 'Best Buy' 87pt recommendation for Caves des Papes' Heritage. Which leads me to the following: Don't. . .

7) . . . Buy odd-shaped bottles.
Although I understand that Côtes du Rhône originally came in a bottom-heavy bottle, the vast majority are sold these days in the sloping shouldered Burgundy bottle style. I don't see any producers of note experimenting with this winning formula - and yet your local store will almost inevitably have one or two in a shape that invites the description "jug." Usually these are priced too low to tempt me and besides, I can never find any reference to the producers in any of my source materials. For the sake of this story I tried a couple anyway. The Heritage des Caves des Papes bottle was a tall and lean shape, with a chateau embossed on the glass, an individual number on the label (which with 30,000 cases will rise to a very unindividual 360,000 numbers) and a wide top around the neck, all of which intimated an awkard and confused wine. Fortunately it wasn' that bad, but it was certainly bland, especially for the $9 tag, and no way worthy of its high WS rating. I also splashed for a bulging-shaped Chateau de Beaulieu at a local store, which at $10 I assumed would prove my inherent prejudice wrong. It didn't. It was coarse, flat, totally devoid of character or substance, perhaps the only genuinely bad bottle I've had from '98. And studying both these back labels leads me to this 'don't....

Above: Whacky bottle shape, whack wine.

8) . . . Be fooled by too much 'vague' English.
A Côtes du Rhône is a Côtes du Rhône. It's near enough a brand name. If the label needs to tell you a more than the fact that it's 'Red Rhône Wine' in English without getting specific, it might be because it thinks you're dumb. The back label of the Chateau de Beaulieu sort of told me where the wine hailed from, and what I might want to eat with it, but it didn't let on the blend of grapes, the age of the vines, the name of the wine maker, whether the wine was oak-aged, bottled filtered/unfiltered or anything else of substance. In other words, it was aiming below my radar to a casual buyer who just wanted words of comfort. Many Côtes du Rhônes do share info about blends and bottling - check the Coudoulet de Beaucastel below right - but if they don't offer so much as a single word in English (beyond the obligatory 'Product of France'), it's likely because of their quiet confidence that the wine speaks for itself.


Above: The Beaulieu label says nothing of substance about the wine, the Beaucastel says everything.
9) . . . Ask your store for a recommendation.
Because if that's all you were going to do to enjoy wine, you wouldn't be reading this, would you?
MAYBE. . .
10). . . Splurge.
A handful of top Rhône estates produce Côtes du Rhônes that are considered classics in their own right. In the north, the most illustrious are Auguste Clape from Cornas and Jean-Louis Chave ("Mon Coeur") from Hermitage, whose 100% Syrah bottlings are above the $20 mark. (The Clape '99 is attractive and spicy, the Chave '98 rather lean and subtle; they are very different wines from their southern counterparts.) In the south, the most renowned examples herald, unsurprisingly, from the top Châteauneuf du Pape producers. Château de Beaucastel produces a Coudoulet de Beaucastel which has an usually high percentage (30%) of Mourvèdre and which retails for around $25, the same as many a mid-range Châteauneuf du Pape. Its reputation appears to justify the price, however, and it's widely available; and while it has cellaring potential for up to a decade, you can drink it now with some breathing. The wines of Château de Fonsalette are also made in Châteauneuf du Pape, at parent winery Château Rayas; there's a red blend with a large dose of Cinsult that you may come across, and there's a 100% Syrah which is of legendary status but costs a good $75 - assuming you can find it. At these prices, we are moving way beyond the underlying attraction of the Côtes du Rhône - its exceptional quality-price-ratio - but we are perhaps proving the existence within this enormous, and supposedly homogenous, appellation of world class wines.

Right: The benchmark for high-end Côtes du Rhône: Château de Beaucastel's Coudoulet de Beaucastel.
THE BOTTLES. . .

Finally, of all those that I know to be currently available, the following are class acts guaranteed not to disappoint.
1) Of the négociants, Guigal's Côtes du Rhone 1998 for the reasons listed above.
2) Of the Co-Ops, Domaine D'Andézon's Vieilles Vignes Unfiltered 1999, again as explained above.
3) Of the estate 1998s, Château Mont-Redon if you can find it, a wonderfully subtle and velvety example from a vintage that occasionally bludgeoned; Domaine Les Goubert if you want a rustic winter wine that will improve for years to come, or Domaine Grand Veneur for richness, spice, good fruit and balance. All purchased between September and December 2000 at around $12.
4) Of the estate 1999s, these two:
Château Saint-Cosme 1999, $11 (left). In '98, this 100% Syrah was a big black bruiser, an intimidatingly fat and thick wine topping out at 14% alcohol, almost a meal in itself. The '99 is down a notch on all levels (13.5% alcohol, deep purple rather than big black, grilled meat on the nose rather than burnt ox!) and all the better for it. In fact, it's a star. The Gigondas-based domaine's growing reputation and this wine's high points across the board mean it's selling fast, so if you see it, act on it.
Domaine de la Monardière, 1999, $12 (right). From an up-and-coming Vacqueyras producer, selected for the States by the exceedingly reliable Vineyard Expressions, this is the best '99 blend I've yet tasted. Lively garrigue aromas, rich and smooth in the mouth, with that spicy velvet texture one hopes for in a Grenache-based blend, and a lovely long finish, a wine to slurp around in the mouth for the hedonistic pleasure of it. Tasted better the following day from a stoppered half-bottle and even better the day after that, always a good sign. In fact, it's actually a better wine than Monardière's highly regarded 1998 Vacqueyras at $18, confirming my belief in the quality of the wines at the bottom of the region's pyramid. An archetypal example of the beauty to be found in an expensive bottle of Côtes du Rhône.

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