France’s “G” Spot

cotes-du-rhone-vineyard

No less an authority than Jancis Robinson christened Grenache “…an unlikely hero of a grape,” due mostly to widespread planting that made it the world’s most prolific red varietal in the 1970s. The last thirty years have not been as kind, with reduced plantings due in some measure to the EU’s vine pull initiative. Yet it remains the fifth most planted red grape, with over 450,000 acres scattered around the globe, a little over half of them in France.

In Languedoc-Roussillon, more land is planted with Grenache than other native varietals. If there is, however, a sweet spot for the grape on the French viticultural map it would be the southern Rhone Valley, where it reigns supreme. There, in the Cotes du Rhone (CDR) and the Cotes du Rhone Villages appellations, Grenache is the foundation for Mediterranean climate reds that are fruity, generally uncomplicated and have more in common with other southern tier regions than with those of the northern reaches of the valley.

There are far too many examples of mediocre, poorly made Rhone wines to be had. In contrast, the quintet reviewed here may not be blockbusters but represent above average QPR — quality-price ratio.

domaine-le-colombier-vacqueyrasJean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles de Colombo Cotes du Rhone 2011 ($11.99)
There’s a solid concentration of raspberry, cranberry and other red fruit in this 60-30-10 GSM, but it’s not overbearing in ripeness, drinking to the lighter side. Light to medium body like most CDR, it flows easily with no distractions from the tannins or well integrated barrel influences. Also available from Wine Works in Marlton, NJ.

Domaine Le Colombier Tradition Vacqueyras 2011 ($17.99)
A 70-20-10 GSM, a CDR Villages. The first sip has a stony-chalky aftertaste which soon settles into layers of fresh cherry, raspberry and red currants with a spicy lift from the preponderance of Grenache. Consistent from start to the finish, which is crisp, somewhat savory, but could do with some length. Overall, well balanced and representative of the uncommon weight and density associated with this commune. Available at Total Wine, NJ.

Caves de Rasteau Ortas Prestige 2012 ($14.99)
Another CDR Villages with the same blend and proportions as the Vacqueyras. Soft and smooth but not bland, mild tannins provide structure. Peppery red fruit, mostly cherry and plum, lingers on the palate along with a spiciness that exerts a grip thanks to a faintly dry finish. This may be a bit monotone, with no corners or edges, but it’s not boring or insipid. Like most Rhone reds it’s clean and goes down easily. 2007 vintage available from PLCB. 2012 Available at Total Wine, NJ;

Domaine d’Andezon Cotes du Rhone 2012 ($10.98)
There are critics who think a 90-10 old vines Syrah- Grenache makes no sense for a CDR, that it’s a misplaced southern version of Cornas dressed down in a warm macroclimate. You do get considerably darker cherry and currant on the nose along with layers of black olives, meat and game. But it’s stays true to the medium body of the region even with the predominance of Syrah, and there’s enough acidity to keep it lively and cut any density and tannic dryness. Picks up some minerals (Grenache) and burnt tobacco (Syrah) as it moves from mid-palate to finish. This is comparable to similar bottles two to three times the price. Available at Wine Works.

Domaine Galevan Esprit du Rhone Cotes du Rhone 2011 ($18)
Intense and loaded with minerals, A Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre blend (GSM) with a quirky roasted, toasted nose of spices and red berries. Fuller bodied than many CDR, heftier on the palate. An even keeled texture with smoothly gliding tannins and a level of acidity that keeps it fresh and inviting. Herbs and a fleeting sensation of loamy soil buttress fruit flavors that maintain the initial intensity. Purchased at Wine Works, NJ.

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