The best wines almost jump out at you — no need to think about them very much or overanalyze them. You know almost instantly when they have the right stuff — balance, elegance, good fruit but not too much alcohol, decent acidity. Wines like these are a pleasure to drink and, more often than not, match easily with food, seeming to carry on a dialogue with it, rather than overpowering or clashing with it. They invite you back for sip after sip.
After an hour of tasting and spitting out various reds the other night (yes, that’s the way it’s done), I found one of these wines — the newly released 2006 Côtes du Rhône from Paul Jeune’s Domaine Monpertuis, a producer in France’s southern Rhône Valley known for its interpretations of the area’s greatest wine, Châteauneuf du Pape. Fortunately for us, the domaine also makes some excellent, less expensive wines that I’ve enjoyed and recommended over the years, including the Côtes du Rhône and a Vin de Pays made entirely from the lesser-known, expressive counoise grape.
As I’ve noted before, Côtes du Rhône, which is the name of the largest southern Rhône appellation, remains a top value. I remember being introduced to it years ago by a salesman who could tell that I was trying to expand my wine horizons and pointed me to a Côtes du Rhône that was about $7 or $8 at the time. I was hooked.
Fast-forward to 2008. I paid $15 for Domaine Monpertuis’ Côtes du Rhône, which is the same price it was a few years ago and is made almost entirely from grenache, the southern Rhône’s dominant grape, with a little syrah and cinsault in the blend.
On first impression the wine displays a slight spiciness, which is typical of grenache; then the fruit notes kick in — raspberry, cherry, a little blueberry — framed by refreshing acidity and punctuated by a bit of earth. It’s refreshing to drink now and will soften a bit over the next year. I enjoyed it the other night with a simple dinner — a little hunk of grilled organic shell steak, a few roasted fingerling potatoes with red onions and some sautéed broccoli rabe.
The 2006 is lighter in style than some recent vintages, especially 2005, and I liked its leanness. Neal Rosenthal, the importer, noted a “stark contrast” between the two years and said, “You can smell it, see it and taste it.” While 2005 was extremely hot in the Rhône, leading to a bigger, richer, more concentrated wine, 2006 had a longer, cooler growing season, which produced greater acidity and “more finesse and elegance,” as Rosenthal described it. “It’s a more flexible wine at the table,” he told me.
This reminded me of a notion that is often lost these days as some winemakers — and critics — continue to worship a bigger-is-better philosophy of powerful and highly concentrated wines that, while perhaps impressive to some on their own, will often clash with food or drown it out. Domaine Monpertuis’ Côtes du Rhône, on the other hand, is a classy everyday wine for food. And for $15, that is exactly what I want.
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