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Thirsty Thursdays: 2007 Côtes du Rhône

cdr_square_1I have a really hard time answering the question “what’s your favorite wine?” Not only are there just so many amazing wines out there that it’s impossible to pick just one, but my palate is constantly changing and evolving. Even if I could answer the question today, I’d probably give you a different response tomorrow. An easier and more relevant question to deal with is “what are you drinking?”  The clear answer to that right now is 2007 Côtes du Rhône.

2007 was a banner year in southern France’s Rhône Valley – the ancestral home of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre – and you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy it.  The entry level “Côtes du Rhône” labeled wines are primarily under $15 per bottle (upgrade to “Côtes du Rhône-Villages” if you’re feeling frisky) and are generally medium bodied with ample acid and earthy tones. These qualities make them ideal for pairing witha wide variety of meals, but especially roasted or grilled chicken with squashes or root vegetables.

cdr_square_2The best part for you the wine drinker is that because of the supreme quality of the vintage across the board, almost any of the 2007 Côtes du Rhône reds you find at your local wine shop or grocery store will be outstanding values. The wines from widely available producers such as E. Guigal, M. Chapoutier or Perrin & Fils are always dependable, but here are some other gems to look out for:

2007 Louis Bernard Côtes du Rhône – Rich blackberries pair with persistent graphite. Not an overly complex wine, but it is silky smooth and an amazing value. $9.

2007 Delas Frères Côtes du Rhône “St. Esprit” – Slightly lighter bodied than some of its brethren, it offers pure black cherry and plum flavors, subtle spice, clean minerals and gripping acidity. $10.

2007 Domaine de Piaugier Côtes du Rhône “La Grange de Piaugier” – This has a seductive nose of ripe bing cherry, while the palate is in perfect balance with fruit, minerals, and spice all weighing in equally. $10.

2007 Domaine des Escaravailles Côtes du Rhône “Les Sablieres” – A much earthier wine with some smoke on the nose. Faint raspberry is overpowered by high acid, pepper and clove on the palate.  Definitely an old world wine to be paired with hearty meat dishes. $13.

2007 Montirius Côtes du Rhône – Strawberry, raspberry and a bit of gaminess on the nose suggest a wine of intriguing depth. It has a much bigger tannin structure than the rest of the lot, but still finishes velvety and long with candied cherries and wintergreen, not unlike a Luden’s cough drop. $15.

2007 Domaine Grand Nicolet Côtes du Rhône – An explosive nose of crystal clear black raspberry and boysenberry lead to succulent tastes of pure sweet cherries and red licorice on the palate.  This compares favorably to wines from Priorat that are two to three times the price. $16.

Thirsty Thursdays: Charles Smith Wines

charles_smith_winesMany casual wine drinkers, when faced with a dizzying array of options at their local grocer or wine shop, will tend to choose the bottle with the most eye-catching label. As a general rule, I would discourage this method because in most cases, you’re paying more for the marketing than you are for the juice. However, as with almost everything in the wonderful world of wine, there are exceptions to this rule – the libations offered by Charles Smith Wines are prime examples.

In their striking black and white, punk pop-art labels, the wines from industry rock star Charles Smith’s self-described “modernist project,” live up to the standout appearance of the packaging. While his high-end, single vineyard reds from K Vintners run mostly in excess of $40 per bottle, the value-minded Charles Smith Wines label products are all under $20, with many priced at a recession friendly $12. They are crafted to drink early and often—no delayed gratification necessary.

At a recent tasting of Pacific Northwest wines, I had the pleasure of meeting Smith and tasting through a range of his wines. With his Sideshow Bob-esque gray mane and heavy metal roadie demeanor, Smith is not your typical wine nerd. Among the wines he poured were:

2008 Kung Fu Girl Riesling – $12 – A ripping good wine with lively acid, refreshing minerality, tropical fruit flavors like pineapple, and just a hint of sweetness. It rivals anything from Germany or the Alsace in the price range and would be great as an aperitif or paired with take-out Chinese food. Smith says he dubbed the wine Kung Fu Girl “because Riesling and girls kick ass.”

2008 Charles & Charles Rosé of Syrah – $12 – I find many rosés to be either dull or sickeningly sweet, but this wine was neither. It surprised me with it’s zippy mouthfeel and fresh flavors of raspberry and even watermelon. A true bargain, I’d enjoy it on a sunny afternoon with my favorite salad – mixed greens, grilled chicken, sliced apples, walnuts, and blue cheese with raspberry vinaigrette. Smith makes this wine in tandem with Charles Bieler of Three Thieves.

2006 Holy Cow Merlot – $12 – On the nose, this wine offers mixed berries with hints of vanilla. These flavors carry through on the palate along with an intriguing mix of coffee and cinnamon, as well as a pleasant creaminess from just the right amount of oak. The finish is silky smooth. I challenge you to find a more complex wine at this price point.

2006 Chateau Smith Cabernet Sauvignon.- $18 – A bright nose of blackberry and graphite leads to a palate that mingles cranberry with more vegetal notes. It has solid acid, fine tannins and a long, deliciously juicy finish. Most impressive, when compared to many similarly priced cabs, is the lack of overpowering oak—the fruit is allowed to speak for itself and the wine is easily approachable. As Smith himself says about this wine, “You’re not going to have to work at drinking it. You just sit back and enjoy it.”

2005 Old Bones Syrah – $100 – Near the end of the tasting, I heard from across the room that Smith had opened a bottle of this outrageously expensive wine, which had recently been rated 99 points by wine deity Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. As I approached his table, I watched in horror as Smith lifted the bottle straight to his lips and began to chug. When he was finished, there was but an ounce left at the bottom. With no hesitation, I happily held out my glass for the last small taste of the winemaker’s most exalted wine, which by this time as he remarked, was mostly “99 point backwash.” It was fantastic…

Other current releases from Charles Smith Wines:

2007 Eve Chardonnay – $12

2007 Velvet Devil Merlot – $15

2007 BOOM BOOM! Syrah – $15