A wallet-friendly tour of French wines
Looking for affordable French reds? Search for Costieres de Nimes region of the Southern Rhone. One is Michel Gassier’s Nostre Pais Rouge 2014, 90 McD, findable $16-$18. A well-made blend of Grenache, Carignan, Mourvedre, Cinsault and Syrah. Gassier is best known for Chateau des Nages. The Nostre Pais Rouge has rated 88-90 points McD since 2005. The 2014 is dark purple with a red rim. Bouquet of blackberry, currant, cherry, some herbs and anis. On the palate, look for juicy fruit, cocoa and more dry herbs. Nice acidity, a touch of minerality and ripe tannins support all. WA said 91 points. Chateau Vessiere Costieres de Nimes is 50 percent each Syrah and Grenache; it won Gold Medal Paris 2016 and Gold Medal Concours d’Orange 2016. Medium body with bright acidity, announced by a pretty bouquet of roses, wet earth and pomegranate. On the palate, blueberry, black cherries and a hint of cardamom are supported by dusty mild tannins. This is a very good value wine; 2 price points under $15. These folks also make a nice white priced under $12. The 2016, 87 McD, with a bouquet of orange blossom, lemon and passionfruit, was particularly appealing. A dry, fruity, white wine that supports chicken and white fish such as flounder, rock or black sea bass.
Ferraton Pere & Fils Cotes du Rhone Plan de Dieu 2017 should be hitting area shelves soon. Hearty stews and roasts will love this wine, and your wallet will also. Blended of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Carignan, this fruit-forward lovely is very dark ruby-colored with an aromatic bouquet of plums, raspberries, violets and a hint of anis. (I don’t like licorice as an aroma descriptor; I use it for flavor.) This is full-bodied with average acidity and slightly elevated tannin. On the palate, raspberry repeats with a smidgen of smokiness. Long, palate-cleansing finish, 89 points under $19. Ferraton also produces Samorens Blanc, which I have reviewed in previous vintages. It’s another consistent label that shows the winemakers’ art at Ferraton. Although the winery is owned by one of my favs, Michel Chapoutier, the winemaker is Damien Brisset. Can be found under $15. The last five vintages are 88-89 points. I think the ‘14, ‘15 and ‘16 are ready now. A year or two improves these whites. The 2017 is made of 60 percent Grenache Blanc and Clairette. Pale gold with white floral nose and white peach flavors, good balance and crisp, clean finish.
Brisset also makes a very lovely Samorens dry Rosé. Stainless steel cool fermentation keeps the 2017 crisp and dry, and allows the fruit to shine. In this copper-rose-colored blend of 75 percent Syrah and Cinsault, look for strawberry-cherry-raspberry bouquet. On the crisp, medium-bodied palate, berries repeat with peachy citrus hints. The long, clean finish shows mineral notes. Good with salmon, tuna, sword, it is also a delightful summer sipper. If you enjoy big Syrah, check out Ferraton Saint-Joseph La Source Rouge 2015, 93 McD, around $32, terrific QPR. It could use a few in your cellar. Dark purple, blackberry, cassis, pencil shaving, damp earth and vanilla bouquet. Big, full-bodied, sweet tannins, will cellar easily through 2030. If you wish to go big, take a look at their Ermitage Le Meal, but do some shopping, both the 2015 at $135 and the 2009 at $570/6-pak, which won huge kudos mid-90s. The ‘09 is perfect now and will last another 20 years. I’ll bet your local wine shoppe pal could get you a mixed case of 2009, ‘12 and ‘15 for a fair price if you are patient.
The Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-Haut Cotes du Roussillon Villages Occultum Lapidem, France, 2016 new release is on my list again. It is a perennial high-flyer QPR at 88-90 points McD. Another blend of Syrah, Carignan and Grenache this usually comes in cheaply and pops on reviews. The ‘16 came in at $15, now $25, and the ‘15 at $14, now $29. Be careful! The highly touted 2010, RP 95-97, came in at $30, popped to $55 and has backslid to $40. Pay attention to drinking windows on these. The 2015 is ready. It is a complex, dark reddish-garnet beauty wafting a mixed bouquet of black fruit and black pepper, followed by a lip-smacking mouthful of black cherries and cassis with hints of tea and chocolate finishing note. Still a bit tannic, but color tells me Occultum will continue to improve. Great with venison.