Following my post about 2007 Chateaneuf du Pape, "Anonymous" asked for recommendations about Cotes du Rhone Villages wines. Rather than answering in a comment, I'll do so here. Please bear in mind that my recommendations are based mainly on 1) wines that have been available to me in my market, 2) my own biases and 3) price. I have always been value conscious in my wine buying, and that may at times shut me out of some of the best wines. Please feel free to comment and add your own recommendations and experiences.
A good vintage is basically a year when growing conditions were such that grapes ripened to perfection. I would say that a good grower or wine maker will recognize a great vintage right away. However, as they say, at least about French vignerons, the best vintage is always the one you're selling. The inside word they give to critics and importers cannot always be trusted, although I have found that most of them are pretty open when talking to individuals who come to their tasting rooms. I tend to trust the word I'm given in tasting rooms more than I trust my own palate. Wines from a ripe vintage are always going to taste good; I loved the early 2003 Rhones but found within a year or two that they were too ripe for their own good.
So far, I have loved every 2007 Southern Rhone I've tasted, but they were lesser wines, released early and to be consumed at a relatively young age. In the past, I've tended to stash away these early wines from a highly touted vintage, but I've learned it's best to drink as many as possible while they're still flush with lovely fruit. That way I also get an opinion of the vintage while deciding whether to buy the more expensive wines in quantity.
One Cotes du Rhone Villages wine I always buy is Domaine Sainte Anne. Frankly, I don't think there is such a thing as a bad vintage here; even 1996 and 1997 were beautiful. The straight CDR Villages (about $12) is very good, but the Notre Dame des Cellettes ($16) and the Saint Gervais ($18) can be spectacular after eight to ten years of age.
As for wines that resemble a Chateauneuf du Pape, the Cotes du Rhone from Domaine la Garrigue ($14) has many of those qualities (it reminds me of Bois du Boursan), but the 2007 has been hyped on the Parker message board so it may be difficult to find at a good price. Past vintages of the Chaume-Arnaud Vinsobres have reminded me of Bois du Boursan, so I will be on the lookout for it when it comes on the market.
I love Cairanne, and I'm sure there will be many very good wines from there in 2007. My favorite is Domaine l'Oratoire Saint Martin. The Reserve sells for about $18, the Prestige for more than $20, but these wines are worth it. Even the Cairanne cooperative (Camille Cayran) can make a pretty fine wine.
Monardiere has several cuvees of Vacqueyras. I usually go for the lowest priced one: Les Calades. The others are over $20 a bottle and I'm sure they are worth it. But again, I am a value buyer. I am also a fan of Couroulu, but I was disappointed in the 1998; I'll look more carefully before buying the 2007. I've liked Montvac in the past, and I've read good things about Grand Prieur, l'Espigouette and Mas de Bouquet.
In Gigondas, I usually go for Font Sane, Tourelles and Tourade--mostly because they are good values. In the 1980s, I bought most vintages of Les Cayrons and have no regrets. This is really a very fine, ageworthy wine (I enjoyed the 1980 last year), but it's above my price range right now. I think it would be my No. 1 pick for Gigondas, all other things being equal.
I'm not as enamoured of Rasteau but have enjoyed Queyrades, Girasol, Beau Mistral and Soumade. And I really should buy more Lirac; it's very under-rated. Segries and Mordoree are the ones I've enjoyed in the past. Mordoree has become a cult wine and is now out of my price range. (I noticed, however, some neglected bottles of Mordoree from 1998 in my cellar that I will be bringing out very soon.)
That's just a quick list. I'm anxious to hear suggestions from elsewhere.