But this year one of our New Year’s resolutions is to venture more regularly outside our $10-and-under comfort zone. That’s not to say we’re abandoning our core value sensibilities. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is the golden age of inexpensive wine, when, as the Curmudgeon points out, there are more bottles than ever of delicious whites, reds and rosès available for $10 or less. Everyday wine drinking – a responsible and healthy glass or two daily – doesn’t have to cost more than $2 to $4 a day; half the cost and immeasurably better for you as a pack-a-day cigarette habit.
Yet a $10-a-bottle threshold seems a bit too confining these days, when we’re awash in delicious wine that’s so affordably priced. Enjoying the occasional $12 to $13 bottle, or breaking out a $15 bottle for a nice Saturday night steak dinner isn’t exactly going to break the bank. A $12 bottle only adds about 40 cents to the cost of a glass of wine, compared with a $10 bottle, while a $15 bottle still yields a $3 glass of wine; hardly an extravagance every now and then.
These wines are made from the same types of grapes – principally grenache and syrah, but also mourvèdre and cinsaut (also spelled "cinsault") generally as bit players – grown in similarly situated vineyards and sometimes made by the same winemakers as their more prestigious and costly cousins. The best of them are sometimes described as “mini Chateauneuf du Papes” by the critics, yet they can cost $10 to $18 a bottle, compared to $40 to $200 for a bottle with Chateauneuf du Pape actually on the label.
Such is the case with La Grand Ribe Cotes du Rhone Villages “Centenaire” 2009, which is widely available in the District for as little as $12 a bottle.
“The blockbuster 2009 Cotes du Rhone-Villages Centenaire tastes more like a Chateauneuf du Pape than a Cotes du Rhone,” wrote influential wine critic Robert Parker of the Wine Advocate in the October 2010 issue. The grenache-dominated blend, “possesses great intensity, a terrific texture, full-bodied power, and wonderful purity and Provencal typicity,” meaning it tastes like a wine from the south of France is supposed to taste. “This sensational effort is filled with red and black fruit, roasted herb, barbecue smoke, meat juice and bouquet garni characteristics.”
Assuming you know what “garni characteristics” are, Parker thinks you can enjoy this wine over the next 7-8 years or longer.
If $12 to $15 is too rich for your blood, La Grand Ribe makes less expensive Cotes du Rhone Villages (the “Villages” on the label is supposed to denote a slight step up in quality from a regular Cotes du Rhone) that’s on sale at CW for just $8.99 a bottle.
“The 2009 Cotes du Rhone-Villages exhibits lots of kirsch, garrigue, lavender and pepper notes as well as a big, full-bodied, dense, quintessentially Provencal style,” Parker wrote in that same 2010 issue. “These are the first wines I have tasted from this small estate in the village of Sainte-Cecile des Vignes. La Grand Ribe has turned out two fabulous sleepers of the vintage.”
There are also several of our usual suspects on sale around town, notably Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone, one of the best $8 wines around, and a member of our Top 5 French red wine values and Top 5 French white wine values lists. Both the red and white are on sale at Chevy Chase Wine for $7.99 a bottle, and for $8.99 at MacArthur and at Total Wine stores in Maryland. In Virginia they cost $9.99 at Total Wine, still a bargain.
The regular Cotes du Rhone Reserve is a blend of 70 percent grenache , 20 percnet syrah and 10 percent cinsaut, that Parker called “outstanding” and “a winner that will drink well for 4-5 years.
“Dense purple, with notes of roasted meats, black raspberries, blackberries, licorice and lavender, this wine is just terrific,” he wrote in the June 2012 Wine Advocate. “Medium to full-bodied, rich and certainly far deeper and more concentrated than one has any reason to expect from a wine that sells for $15 (the taste is more like one for $35 to $50).”
The 2010 Les Champauvins is made in smaller quantities largely from grenache (70 percent) and the rest syrah and mourvedre grown all at the same vineyard, and thus said to be better due to the greater control the winemaker has over the growing and selection of grapes. This wine also offers “notes of garrigue, lavender, black cherry jam, licorice, and a hint of blacker fruits,” according to Parker. “Rich, full-bodied, ripe, with sweet tannin and lots of concentration, this is a beauty to drink over the next 8-10 years – it is that rich and concentrated.”
James Molesworthy, of Wine Spectator, doesn’t necessarily agree, recommending that you drink the 2010 Les Champauvins now.
“This shows a polished edge to its plum, anise and blackberry fruit, backed by a light toasty vanilla edge,” he wrote in the August 31, 2012 issue. “A bit obvious in style, but a real crowd-pleaser.”
Though it will never make the $10 Hall of Fame, at $16 a bottle it’s worth picking up a few for a special occasion or sumptuous dinner, or just to hold for a few years to see who was right about how long it will last.
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