Right now my cellar is well stocked with Domaine Sainte Anne wines from all of the good vintages since 1998. And that makes me happy. None of these wines is ready to fall off the edge--even the 1998s (especially the 1998s, I should say!)--and the range of vintages gives me a good feeling for how these wines develop. It's the lower-priced bottlings--the Cotes du Rhone and the Cotes du Rhone Villages--that interest me most at the moment because I know the high-end Notre Dame and Saint Gervais are good for the long haul.
The Cotes du Rhone ($8 to $10) comes from younger vines (averaging 15 years) and is the least complex and resistant to change. This 2004 shows a bit more tannin than it did a couple of years ago...and a bit more than the 1998 and 2000. But it still has all the trademark elements--frank, open blueberry fruit with flowers, Provencal herbs and a very ripe finish. The trademark for me is a vanilla/honey/resin character that does not come from new oak barrels. (Sainte Anne wines are all produced in a reductive environment with stainless steel and concrete.) The stems and skins provide excellent structure, but they're ripe and round with no hard edges. And, as always, there is that strong core of berry fruit.
For my taste, the vanilla/honey element is a bit too prominent and one-dimensional, but that's part of the Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone personality. The Cotes du Rhone Villages, which comes from older vines and sells for a couple dollars more, is more elegant with less vanilla and more crushed berry smells and flavors. I love both of them. But serious drinking starts with the Notre Dame and the Saint Gervais.