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Monsieur Touton Selection
By Wine columnist
TODAY
updated 9/25/2008 4:21:31 PM ET 2008-09-25T20:21:31

It’s really too bad, I was thinking the other night, that wine critics can’t put away most of the bottles that come their way for a couple of years or so, then dig them out for review once they’ve developed a little maturity. The industry demands almost instant assessments, well before the wines, especially the reds but also some of the whites, are anywhere near their prime drinking ages.

Two recent experiences make a compelling case for this. When a friend and I went out to dinner not long ago at a neighborhood bistro, we were both in a carnivorous mood; we ordered a couple of thick sirloin steaks and a 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape that was on the wine list for $56. Châteauneuf, which is named after the town of the same name, is the most famous red wine from the southern Rhône region of France and is made from grenache blended with many other varieties, depending on the producer.

When the waiter came back, he dutifully showed me the bottle and, lo and behold, it was a 2004 wine from a different producer. Wrong vintage, wrong wine. Awkward pause. I knew that 2005 was an extraordinary year in France and felt slightly annoyed that, once again, a restaurant, intentionally or not, was trying to pass off a different wine from the one ordered. I said to myself, “For 56 bucks, couldn’t you at least be a man and fess up? Tell me something like, ‘I’m sorry, sir, there are no more 2005s, but we do have an ’04. Would you like to try it?’ ” Uh-uh. I had to tell the guy that he had brought me the wrong wine. And to please go back and check to see if there were any ’05s left. He did. All gone. OK, fine. We’ll go with the ’04.

Well, to my surprise, the ’04 Châteauneuf, which we had opened and let breathe for 20 minutes or so at our table while we started with a glass of white, was a gorgeous wine. As I poured it — the waiter was AWOL when we were ready to switch to the red — I noticed that the color was no longer the pure purple of young red wine, but had a slight brick hue along the rim, a sign of aging. As my friend and I tasted it we agreed that it was a winner — big and complex with ripe up-front fruit and nice complexity — and perfect with our steaks.

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The wine was the 2004 Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Chapelle-St. Arnoux, a label of Maison Arnoux, a large southern Rhône domaine that produces wines from its own vineyards and also offers “negociant” wines from other vineyards that it bottles under the Arnoux name. The Châteauneuf falls into the later category, which is probably why it is an excellent value (although $56 in the restaurant, I saw it for around $20 retail on the Web). I’m not sure you’ll find this specific wine, but the lesson here is to go for a wine with a little time on its hands. (Imported by Monsieur Touton, New York.)

I had a similar experience with another wine, the 2004 Don Camillo Farnese Sangiovese from the rugged Abruzzo region of central Italy. This one had probably sat in my cellar for a couple of years and it turned out to be a fantastic wine with a pasta and sauce of fresh tomatoes and sweet and hot sausage. With notes of deep blackberry, black cherry and espresso, it had an impressively long finish with smooth tannins. Again, it had lost the rough edges that it would have showed in its youth. The wine is billed by the importer, Empson USA, as Abruzzo’s answer to a so-called super-Tuscan, with its blend of 85 percent sangiovese (Tuscany’s signature grape and not common in Abruzzo) and 15 percent cabernet sauvignon.

And who says a wine with this kind of character can’t be cheap? Some trolling around the Web revealed that the ’05 and ’06 vintages of this wine are selling for $10 to $15. At those prices, this is one to buy by the case, put away for a year or two and then enjoy the beauty that comes with a little age.

Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at edwarddeitch@hotmail.com

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