Say Hello to Some Good Buys

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It’s back to the sunny South of France this week, for a couple of contrasting reds, both good in their different ways. Most of the bargains tend to hail from the Languedoc-Roussillon area, which at one time was merely associated with cheap plonk. But times have changed dramatically and there are some splendid wines coming out the region. But let’s start with a fairly typical red from the Rhône area, a little further to the north-east.

Côtes du Vivarais 2009 (red), France. (Foodland Bt. 399)

The Côtes du Vivarais (koht deu vee-vah-RAY) vineyards are on either side of the famous Gorges de l’Ardèche, to the west of the River Rhône. They’ve been making wine in the Ardèche for centuries. The wines are rich and dry, with aromas of black fruits and spices. These robust wines, with their characteristic tannins are usually blends of southern Grenache with northern Syrah (it’s the same as Shiraz). So successful have these wines become in recent years, that in 1999 they were upgraded to Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée status, which puts them a cut above the ordinary Vin de Pays.

The wine is an appealing dark red, with flecks of purple and there’s an attractive aroma that reminds me of freshly ground pepper. This incidentally, is a characteristic of Syrah and Grenache grapes. But there’s fruit on the aroma too and I picked up the smell of black cherries with, in the background, a lovely dusty, earthy smell of dry herbs. These enticing aromas don’t leap out of the glass; you have to give them time. And it’s worth it, believe me. I seem to go on a lot about aromas. Perhaps I am becoming a kind of smell-freak. I’m convinced that in a previous life, I was a dog. So that may account for it.

But I digress. On the palate, the wine is soft and seductive with plenty of fruit. It’s a heady 13.5% alcohol and as dry as they come, with a pleasing (but not excessive) foundation of tannin. There’s a long and satisfying dry finish too. Oh yes, the bottle has a rather classy-looking label, so it would look quite impressive on your dinner table. Try it with a casserole or really full-flavoured cheeses. The makers suggest that you serve the wine at around 16° Celsius, so in this climate it’ll need a short session in the fridge. Take the cork out first.

Louis Eschenaur Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (red), France. (Foodland Bt. 299)

If you prefer something a little less robust and a hundred baht cheaper, here’s an alternative. It’s about as cheap as they come too, but it’s a jolly good little easy-drinker. The wine is a Vin de Pays d’Oc (“Country wine from the South of France”) and hails from the Languedoc-Roussillon region. It looks lovely too; a deep, oily dark-red; hints of purple and thick legs clinging to the inside of the glass. There’s red fruit on the aroma, especially black cherries, a suggestion of brambles, sweet herbs and fresh ground pepper. I think there’s a very subtle dash of mint too. It looks and smells a lot more expensive than it actually is.

The wine has an exceptionally silky-soft mouth-feel; plenty of fruit up-front, very light tannins and a heady 13% of alcohol. With a light to medium body, it’s as dry a bone and fairly typical of the good Cabernet Sauvignons coming from this region. There’s a long dry finish too, with a pleasing balance of tannin. At this price, the wine would be great for any social gathering. It’s interesting enough to talk about and light enough to go it alone, especially if you serve it slightly chilled.

This is a really attractive little glugger and a great bargain, so I’m going to go and buy some more. But if it’s all gone by the time I get back to the shop, I shall never speak to you again.