It is a strange truth that one of the most famous, popular and sought after French wines is usually pretty disappointing – unless you spend a great deal of money. Many of you will instantly know that I am talking about Châteauneuf-du-Pape the French classic that everyone seems to know about, even of they have never heard of any other French wines.
Which is the nub of the problem really. That very popularity makes them sought after, but of course most people drink the cheaper versions, which are a mere shadow of what Châteauneuf can be. I say cheaper, but I tasted a pretty ropey one the other day and that retailed for nearly £25!
I have said it before on these pages, but it seems to me that if you like the style of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines, but do not want to pay a fortune, then you often get better wines and much better value by buying a good Côtes du Rhône.
This is especially true of two types of wine: The Crus and the Côte du Rhône-Villages that can also put the particular village name on the label. A Cru in French wine parlance is a specific wine, sometimes a particular vineyard, but more commonly it refers to a village. So Châteuneuf-du-Pape is a Cru of the Southern Rhône, but there are others that offer much better value, Lirac, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Rasteau and Vinsobres are all well worth trying.
In theory the Crus should be better wines than my next category, but that is not always the case. This is the top tier of Côte du Rhône-Villages, the ones that can addd the name of their village to the label.
The hierarchy goes: Côtes du Rhône as the basic level.
Then Côte du Rhône-Villages, which is thought to be better and certainly the regulations are stricter and yields are lower.
Even better still are the Côte du Rhône-Villages wines that have their village name on the label as well. Again the regulations are stricter and the yields smaller. There are 18 such villages at present, although that does change as some get promoted to Cru status from time to time. Some of them are much better known than others, here is the list; Rousset-les-Vignes, Saint-Pantaléon-les-Vignes, Valréas, Visan, Saint-Maurice, Rochegude, Roaix, Séguret, Sablét, Saint-Gervais, Chusclan, Laudun, Gadagne, Massif d’Uchaux, Plan de Dieu, Puyméras, Signargues and most famously Cairanne – which is set to become a Cru itself very soon.
Well the other day I tasted a Cairanne that was quite superb, much better than that ropey, but much more expensive Châteauneuf-du-Pape. In fact it was so good I have made it my Wine of the Week.
This is a you might expect this is mainly Grenache with some Syrah and a little Mourvèdre and Carignan – a classic Southern Rhône blend just as you find in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The vines are pretty old and sit on a slope overlooking Cairanne Church, the soil is the classic stony soils of the region that absorb heat and reflect light into the vines. It was fermented using just the wild yeasts, which makes for more complex flavours and textures in the wine. The wine aged for 24 months in used ( second and third fill) French oak barrels and 600 litre vats.
This is a rich looking, opaque wine that reeks of rich cherry, deep plum, spices and wild herbs. The palate is opulent, rich and mouth filling with sweet ripe red fruit layered with spices, herbs, savoury meaty, mushroom flavours and seductive fine grain, supple tannins and mocha infused oak. This never falls into the trap of being gloopy, over alcoholic or clumsy. Actually it is focussed and elegant with great balance between the fruit and the power and the tannins and oak that give it structure and tension. The finish is long and deeply satisfying, what a wine – 91/100 points.
This really is a stunner and so easy to match with food, shepherd’s pie, sausage and mash would go perfectly, but so would roast lamb and cassoulet and it is fine enough to grace any table anywhere.
I have just discovered that they make magnums of this – available here – how good would that be for Christmas?
Available in the UK for around £13-£15 per bottle, from Wine Poole (2011), The Oxford Wine Company, All About Wine, The Ram’s Head at Denshaw, D&D, The Secret Cellar, Rannoch Scott Wines, Great Grog, Chester Beer & Wine, Blacker Hall Farm Shop Wakefield, Davis Bell McCraith Wines.
For US stockists of the equally excellent 2011 vintage, click here.