No matter how much you enjoy wine and no matter how deep your disposable income, you appreciate a good deal, right? We’re not talking about those unpopular wines that end up in a basket at the checkout counter. We’re talking about discovering reliable wines from reputable producers who deliver good values year after year.
Knowing the wine regions that deliver good value is critical when you are scanning a restaurant wine list of pricey Bordeaux or cult California cabernet sauvignons. With markups as high as 400 percent, you probably cringe at the thought of ordering a wine that cost half as much in a retail store.
That’s why we like the Cotes du Rhone, the second largest AOC in France that delivers values often eclipsing their reasonable prices of $15 to $20. Even with restaurant markups, Cotes du Rhone represent good values across the board.
Although 22 grapes varieties are allowed in the region’s red, white, and rosé wines, most common are the grenache, syrah, cinsault and mourvedre grapes. These grapes are blended in most of Cotes du Rhone’s red wines and provide the dimension and character we like so much. The terroir in this region provide a “garrigue” quality associated with Provencal herbs – lavender, rosemary and bay leaf -- common to more expensive wines from Northern Rhone.
Combined with forward raspberry and strawberry flavors and good acidity, these elements make for a dynamic wine at prices hard to beat anywhere else.
Here are several versions we recently discovered:
Esprit du Rhone 2015 ($17). Grenache, carignan, syrah and cinsault combine to deliver a dark and rich blend with fresh raspberry aromas and a touch of licorice. Fine tannins and a sweet finish make for an elegant yet pronounced character.
Les Dauphins Organic Cotes du Rhone Villages 2015 ($15). Full bodied with concentrated raspberry and strawberry flavors. Grenache dominates the blend, but includes syrah, mourvedre, and carignan.
Cachette Cotes du Rhone 2015 ($15). Lighter in style, the profile is aromatic and spicy with medium body and fresh red fruit flavors.
St. Cosme Cotes du Rhone 2015 ($15). A favorite year to year, this all-syrah delight has a floral bouquet with a dash of licorice, and bright red currant and raspberry flavors.
Ferraton Pere & Fils Samorens Cotes du Rhone 2015 ($14). Simple blend of grenache, syrah and cinsault from biodynamic-farmed vineyards, this wine has extracted red fruit character and medium body.
E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone Rouge 2013 ($15). Guigal is unique in that it ages its wines two years in bottle before release. This gives the wine a broader, accessible profile. The blend of 50 percent syrah, 45 percent grenache and 5 percent mourvedre is effusive in ripe plum and blackberry fruit with a dash of black olives. This has always been one of our perennial favorites since we started to write this column.
E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone Rosé 2016 ($15). One of the best and most consistent rosés on the market, this refreshing wine shows off raspberry and orange peel flavors. Balanced acidity and long finish.
There are other regions that grow the same grapes that are common to the Cotes du Rhone. Many of these wines are crisp, zesty white wines. Here are some red and white wines using Rhone grape varieties:
Cline Roussanne Marsanne North Coast 2016 ($24). Fred Cline is a pioneer in growing Rhone grape varieties in California and year-after-year we have enjoyed his adventuresome red and white blends. This white version – 64 percent roussanne and 36 percent marsanne – is a lively wine with bracing acidity, bright citrus flavors and hints of honey and mineral. Very intense aromas and simple but refreshing flavors.
Bonterra The Butler Mendocino County Red Blend 2013 ($50). This complex and ridiculously delicious blend of syrah, mourvedre, grenache and zinfandel knocks it out of the ballpark. Deep inky color, intense blackberry and mocha aromas, with plum and blackberry flavors, aggressive tannins and long finish. The name comes from the organic Butler Ranch Vineyard that supplies the grapes for this colossal wine.
M. Chapoutier Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Blanc Cotes du Roussillon Villages 2016 ($15). This genius from the Rhone Valley has a smashing hit with this wine from the Roussillon region of southern France. Chapoutier bought the property in 1999. It's a scrappy estate close to the Spanish border where the ground seems unsuitable to vineyards. Leave it to Chapoutier to find the spirit to farm this terrain and make a great wine. The white is very unique – a blend of grenache blanc, grenache gris, vermentino, and macabeo – with melon, honeysuckle, fresh grapefruit, and citrus notes cloaked in crisp acidity.
La Grange de Quatre Sous e Jeu du Mail 2014 ($20). This Vin de Pay D'oc from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France is extraordinary. The 55 percent viognier gives it beautiful aromatics and the marsanne from 18 to 20-year-old vines provides the juicy stone fruit and herbal flavors. It has a lush texture that gives it length on the palate. Other wines from this great producer are equally great in value.
Priest Ranch Grenache Blanc 2016 ($22). A pleasant alternative to sauvignon blanc, this spritely white grenache offers crisp acidity and mineral notes with generous white peach aromas and stone fruit, melon flavors.
Donelan Cuvee Moriah 2014 ($50). This beautiful, well-integrated blend of grenache (84 percent) and mourvedre makes for a killer wine. The partial carbonic maceration and the good dose of mourvedre enhances the tantalizing floral and cassis aromas. Forward flavors are redolent of pomegranate and blueberries. Soft mouthfeel and long in the finish.
Qupé Bien Nacido Hillside Estate Roussanne 2013 ($40). The malolactic fermentation and sur lies aging rounds off the often bracing acidity of roussanne. Aged 18 months in neutral oak, it has a rich texture and layers of fruit. Pineapple, spice, vanilla aromas are followed by lush apple and citrus flavors. Because these late-ripening grapes are vulnerable to rot, the yield of surviving grapes is low – hence the price.
Qupé Sawyer Lindquist Grenache 2014 ($35). From the cool Edna Valley, this killer grenache attacks the palate with juicy strawberry flavors and floral, violet aromas. A very pretty wine with a dash of cloves and a long finish. We loved it.
Peachy Canyon Concrete Blanc Paso Robles 2016 ($25). Made entirely from viognier grapes, this delicious quaff has round, rich flavors of ripe mango and peach. We bet you can't stop at one glass. It's fermented in concrete tanks, hence the name.