by The Wine Guys, Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr
Some of the best values in France are from the Cotes-du-Rhone, a vast wine region that accounts for nearly half of the wine production in the Rhone Valley. Anyone looking for a good bargain in red wine would be a fool to ignore this region.
More than 20 grape varieties are allowed in Cotes-du-Rhone wines. Grenache, syrah and cinsault dominate the red blends but it’s not unusual to find viognier or carignane in the mix. Roussanne, marsanne, clairette are popular varieties in white blends.
We enjoy the red blends with barbecue fare, such as ribs, hamburgers and sausages. There is good acidity, soft tannins and generous berry fruit to balance these dishes, especially if a red sauce is involved.
Most of the simple Cotes-du-Rhones sell for under $20. If you step up to a cru, prices can escalate to $25 or more – still a bargain when compared to higher-priced Chateauneuf-du-Papes.
Here are several we recently discovered:
Louis Bernard Cotes-du-Rhone Villages 2017 ($16). This blend of grenache and syrah has good body for the price with generous plum and ripe dark berry flavors with a dose of anise.
Stephane Ogier Le Temps est Venu Cotes-du-Rhone 2017 ($18). Mostly grenache with some syrah and mourvedre, this delightful wine has ripe and expansive red fruit character in a garrigue envelope.
Domaine de la Janasse Reserve Cotes-du-Rhone 2019 ($15). Medium body with loads of plump red berry fruit and silky tannins. It is a blend of mourvedre, syrah, cinsault and carignane.
Domaine de la Janasse Terres d’Argile Cotes-du-Rhone 2018 ($22). For a few bucks more, you get greater complexity in this blend of grenache, syrah and cinsault from Coudoulet. Black raspberry and earthy notes with hints of licorice.
J.L. Chave Selection Mon Coeur Cotes-du-Rhone 2018 ($25). A blend of grapes from four distinct terroirs, this negociant wine is a near split of syrah and grenache. Violet aromas give way to beautiful dark berry fruit with supple tannins, a dash of black pepper and good texture.
Chateau La Nerthe Les Cassagnes de la Nerthe Cotes-du-Rhone Village 2018 ($15). We have fond memories of this chateau after a visit with the wonderful family who makes these wines. One of the oldest producers known for its Chateauneuf du Pape, its simple Cotes du Rhone is often forgotten. Using grenache, syrah and mourvedre grapes from old vines, La Nerthe offers an intensely aromatic wine. Blackberry and cassis notes with a soft mouthfeel.
Given the struggles of the small businessman, it’s more important now than ever to buy wines locally. And we do. But on occasion there is a special wine made in small quantities that can be purchased only on line.
These are often wine whose productions are less than 1,000 cases – too small to distribute nationally to stores and too small for many distributors to carry. Many are ultra-luxury wines that cost more than $200 a bottle, but once in a while we come across one that is reasonably priced. Such is the case with Alma Rosa Winery, a boutique producer located in the Sta. Rita Hills appellation of Santa Barbara County.
Alma Rosa was founded in 2005 by Richard Sanford, the first to plant pinot noir in the Central Coast. The property was purchased by Bob and Barb Zorich in 2014. The current winemaker is Samra Morris who interned at the University of Sarajevo and spent time at St. Supery and Michael Mondavi Family Estate before joining the Alma Rosa team. These are the native Bosnian’s first wines.
Two rosés were particularly noteworthy. The 2020 estate Vin Gris of Pinot Noir Rosé ($35) is loaded with fresh strawberry aromas and grapefruit, apricot flavors with a hint of spice and salt. The 2020 Alma Rosa Grenache Rosé ($30) has floral aromas and tropical fruit flavors with a dash of mineral.
We were particularly impressed with the 2019 Alma Rosa La Encantada Pinot Blanc ($35), an expressive wine with fresh acidity and tropical fruit notes. Similarly, the Alma Rosa La Encantada Pinot Gris ($32) is surprisingly full bodied yet round in the mouth and long in the finish. Ripe white peach and melon notes.
Twenty-five years ago, Robert Mondavi formed a partnership with Vittorio Frescobaldi to make a super-Tuscan wine in Montalcino that merged merlot with the region’s native sangiovese. You could say both the friendship and the blend were marriages made in heaven.
Tenuta Luce has a lot to celebrate for its silver anniversary.
The property is now managed by Lamberto Frescobaldi. Winemaker Alessandro Marini, who worked in Bordeaux before joining Luce in 2018, said, “I’m proud of what we have accomplished.”
The 2018 La Vite Lucente ($30), an even blend of merlot and sangiovese, is a great value and meant for current drinking. Fermented in stainless steel, it has fresh black fruit notes, soft tannins and a long finish.
The pride of the portfolio is the 2017 Luce ($110), also a blend of merlot and sangiovese, that is fermented in cement containers and aged for 24 months in French oak barrels – 80 percent of which is new oak. The result is a richer and more full-bodied wine with big yet fine tannins. It’s an elegant but complex wine that will improve with a decade of cellaring.
Both wines are special anniversary limited editions.
Kosta Brown Keefer Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2018 ($165). There are few pinot noir producers who have been awarded the reverence of Kosta Brown. Its reputation was built over two decades of refinement in both the vineyards and at the winery. Today it uses only the best sources and a combination of fermentation vessels to achieve a complexity and luxurious elegance few others have been able to achieve in this cool portion of the Russian River Valley. Three types of fermentation vessels were used in the Keefer Ranch pinot noir made up of seven different clones. Red berry flavors, effusive aromas, layers of red berry and spice flavors with soft tannins and balanced acidity.
Badia a Coltibuono “Cultus Boni” RS Chianti Classico DOCG 2018 ($25). Eight other varieties comprise 20 percent of this largely sangiovese blend. Bright red berry fruit with medium body and long finish.