Featured Wine: Côtes du Rhône 2005
DOMAINE PAUL AUTARD CÔTES DU RHÔNE 2005 RED, $14
E. GUIGAL CÔTES DU RHÔNE 2005 RED, $12
Glance back through my featured wine reviews and you’ll know that I’m a wine slut – I’ll drink anything. (Once.) But read enough of my wine musings and you’ll know that I keep coming back to the love of my wine life: the Rhône. Those fine wines of Côte Rôtie, Hermitage, Condrieu, St-Joseph, Châteauneuf du Pape andGigondas? I’ll take as many as you can give me, thank you… And when it comes to spending my own money on an everyday glass of wine, I’ll almost always fall back on the generic appellation that supplies almost 90% of the region’s wine: that good old Côtes du Rhône .
Last weekend I played particularly safe, opening one white and one red from well-known producers, each in the $12-$15 price range, both from the very hot 2005 vintage. They confirmed that my loyalty remains well-placed.
First up was the red wine, a Domaine Paul Autard Côtes du Rhône 2005. The color was what I call “classic deep purple” (no ‘Smoke on the Water’ jokes, please), with a ruby rim running round the edge. A swirl in the glass revealed what I already suspected from the vintage: the long legs of high alcohol. As for the nose… much though I love southern Rhône blends (this one is supposedly 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% each Counoise and Muscadin), I find it incredibly hard to describe their aroma. These are not particularly fruity wines – though at a pinch, you could lay claim to the usual deep red wine suspects like ‘black cherry’ and ‘blackberries.’ What they exude is more of an earthy texture that warrants non-fruit definitions like ‘licorice’ and ‘spice’ and that truly regional concept, herbs de Provence. For all this evident weight, the best wines – like this Paul Autard – offer up a juicy, mouth-puckering acidity that emphasizes the wine’s limited fruits before the tannins settle in on the cheeks and the spice lingers around at the back of the throat. They’re gorgeous to drink on their own, and they’re one of the easiest matches for a wide range of food.
Only when photographing the label did I see that the Autard is a whopping 14.5% alcohol. This is frightening: when I started buying Southern Rhône wines with the 1998 vintage, itself considered a torrid year, only the most serious Châteauneuf du Papes cuvees weighed in that high. As negociant Eric Texier wrote after harvesting the equally hot 2006 vintage, “Maybe we will end up having to plant Grenache in Côte Rôtie before too long. Syrah will move up to Burgundy and Pinot Noir to Scotland.” Fortunately, Paul Autard knows what he’s doing and his red Côtes du Rhône 2005 is extremely well-balanced. It’s hard to find fault with it.
White wines have a much tougher time of it in the Southern Rhône sunshine, and those that push above 14% alcohol are often undrinkable. That’s why you might want to rely on a large producer like Guigal, whose single vineyard Côte Rôties are the most expensive wines in the Rhône, but whose negociant bottlings can be among the most reliable and best value in the world. The Guigal Côtes du Rhône 2005 is particularly recommended. A clear gold in the glass, It has an unusually high percentage of Viognier for the appellation, which gives it a seductive peachy-apricot allure rather than the heavy oiliness of your usual Bourboulenc-Grenache Blanc co-op wine. In the mouth it’s well-balanced, none too dense, pleasantly fruity, and though, as typical of Rhône whites and especially so of the Viognier grape, there’s not much by way of acidity, it’s refreshing none the less. It’s also labeled a manageable 13%, though I suspect the alcohol may run a little higher. Philippe Guigal lets his Côtes du Rhônes linger longer in tank and barrel than most other producers in the region, so while many a white Côtes du Rhône 2006 will soon be showing up on the shelves, expect Guigal’s 2005s to be drinking well throughout the current year. I know I won’t say no to a refill.