An email from my local grocer, D&W Fresh Markets, confirmed what I had always suspected about Domaine du Grand Prieur: this wonderful little wine is not the product of a superstar winemaker with a bag of tricks but rather of very special vineyards owned by Bertin Gras. Actually, the wine is made by the Vacqueyras Growers' Cooperative, one of several very good coops in the Southern Rhone. Recognizing the quality of Gras' vineyards, the coop makes the "little guy's" grapes into a separate wine with its own label rather than blending it with grapes of other growers. As the email pointed out, Bertin Gras is the "Prieur" pictured on the label.
Like most of my favorite wines, Domaine du Grand Prieur is a discovery of Robert Mayberry, author of the excellent book, "Wines of the Rhone Valley: A Guide to Origins." Roz Mayberry, Robert's wife and an excellent judge of wines herself, is the wine director of D&W Fresh Markets.
A new shipment of the 2006 Grand Prieur arrived this week, and, while I regret the higher price ($11.29), I appreciate that the wine is still a bargain. Fortunately, I still have a good supply of the 2006 and decided tonight to dip into the 2005 while it is still drinking so beautifully.
It's medium deep with a crimson color indicative of the 75% Grenache in the blend. Although it takes a few minutes to open up, the aroma is still redolent of fresh blueberries, Provencal herbs and flowers. The initial impression on the palate is pepper and spice, then the fruit flavors start to take over and grow with each sip. The wine has all the charm of a young Cotes du Rhone plus the structure and depth that you might expect from a Vacqueyras. Pepper and spice upfront, melting into lovely ripe fruit flavors on the finish.
On the second night, the wine was even better--an elegant, complete Southern Rhone with the qualities of a very good Vacqueyras or Gigondas. The 2005 vintage is special and 2006 not far behind.
I have been drinking Domaine du Grand Prieur every vintage for about 20 years and have never had a disappointing bottle. Congratulations to Bertin Gras for producing the grapes; to the Vacqueyras Cooperative for recognizing the special qualities; and to Robert and Roz Mayberry for making the wine available to those of us in Southwest Michigan.