Sunday, March 8, 2009

2007 Southern Rhones To Consider

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.


  1. I'm enjoying a bottle of the La Milliere CdR, as well as a bottle of Clos du Caillou Reserve, and CdC V.V.

    Outstanding jamminess when first opened, then attenuates a bit with oxygen. I'm definitely going to hunt out some of your recommendations.

    All three are 2006. My name is actually Eric, Fred, I'm just too lazy to log in.

  2. Hi Eric,

    Those wines don't usually make it to my market. I did buy several bottles of the 1998 Clos du Caillou VV in Chicago. That was probably when it first hit the market in the US and it was very cheap--about $10, I think. I thought it was great--a baby Chateauneuf--and went back for more. I talked to the clerk at Sam's, and he agree that it would probably age similar to a Chateauneuf. So I still have a couple of bottles of the 1998 that I plan to bring out later this year, so we'll see how it does with time in the bottle. The old vines intensity was remarkable. I'll post a note when I open one, of course. Unfortunately, I don't think this wine will ever be available for $10 again.

    Some wines I forgot to mention are Vieux Chene. Most of these are Cotes du Rhone rather than CDR Villages, but they age pretty well over three to five years. The 2004 and 2005 were very ripe and luscious. In Chicago, I've seen these (at Sam's and at Whole Foods) for about $10 a bottle.

    In the past, I've enjoyed the Valreas Val du Roi of Romain Bouchard, and I just bought half a case of the 2004. I will be on the lookout for the 2007. Bouchard has some Gamay in his vineyards and it's easy to take the wine for granted when it's young. It's subtle and delicate like a good Burgundy. But there is a lot to like when it's young, and it ages very well. I bought some from the 1985 vintage that was very good through the mid-1990s. The cooperative Valreas sold at Trader Joe's is also pretty good, particularly considering the $5.99 price tag! The 2007 is on the shelves now.

    Domaine la Garrigue makes a Vacqueyras and a Gigondas (I believe) in addition to their very good CDR.