Domaine de Durban Cru Beaumes de Venise Cuvée Prestige 2006

There’s no sense in beating about the bush here: this is one of the best wines I’ve drunk so far this year. I had to look this one up: Beaumes-de-Venise is an AOC in the southern Rhône that is primarily known for a VDN/fortified sweet white wine; until this bottle showed up at the house last week (as part of a special offer mixed dozen from Kermit Lynch in Berkeley), I had no idea that they made red wine there as well.This is in a sense your bog standard southern Rhône: it’s mostly grenache, there’s some syrah, and just a little bit of mataro there as well. The strange thing here is this: at first, this seemed to behave like a fairly typical New World fake Rhône: the nose was wonderfully rich, promising cherries and leather and rich, easy-drinking fruit. However, it also suggested caramelized sugars, still-drying tobacco, and medium-dark molasses as well; it was frankly fascinating.Things really kick into high gear once you get a taste of this wine, though, because it quickly morphs from New World fruit fiesta into a very, very traditional French wine, with thick, assertive tannins quickly demanding attention combined with that peculiarly French minerality that shows up in kind of a nearly-harsh, high-toned, almost-sour character that dominates the finish. It’s like sucking freshly pressed raspberries through finely crushed gravel in a Kentucky tobacco drying shed. All of it put together is utterly entrancing; I wish I’d ordered more than just the one bottle of this.Domaine de Durban
Price: $20
Closure: Cork

Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2005

What with a couple of Barossa Grenache/Shiraz blends under my belt in the last few days, I thought it was time to return to the source with this reasonably priced wine. For a large production wine, the Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rouge seems to attract its fair share of enthusiasts’ attention. It has a reputation for over-delivering at its price point, and of responding well to some bottle age.

I tasted over two nights, as it was somewhat impenetrable initially and remained so through the first evening. Tonight, it’s still quite dense and brooding, but is revealing enough of its character to facilitate enjoyment and, more pertinently for me, explication. A nose that is both floral and inky, with black fruits, some very ripe black pepper and prickly, appealing minerality or perhaps tar. It’s all very tight and coiled, yet seems to me well balanced (for what it is).

The palate initially promises more generosity, and in a sense delivers this, but fundamentally remains quite tight. Wisps of sweet black fruit escape the wine’s predominantly savoury flavour profile before being dragged back into a mêlée of tar, pepper and puckeringly dry tannin. Before the tannin takes over, though, a silky smooth mouthfeel briefly registers and promises fine textural development. Flavour is reassuringly intense, and the structure seems especially well sorted, with good continuity throughout the wine’s line, and a lengthy, dry finish.

Despite its youth, I’m enjoying the quality and elusiveness of this wine and am contemplating the purchase of a few bottles to cellar over the medium (to perhaps long?) term. I want to see what unfolds with the persuasiveness of time.

E. Guigal
Price: $A19
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: October 2008

Le Vieux Mas de Papes Red 2001

Yesterday, after a trip to the recyclers’ to rid ourselves of the accumulated shippers and empty cases that built up over the winter, my partner and I headed to downtown San Diego to pick up a dozen or so cases of wine. Having just moved here last July, I’ve been without access to most of my wines until just this month; we finally cleared out enough space in the garage to install a modest refrigerated cabinet, and now it’s time to begin hauling the thirty or so cases in storage back home.There are only twenty cases left in storage at this point: all of the Riesling and most of the Rhône type stuff are now safely home. To celebrate progress, I picked the ugliest bottle I could from the cellar: a generic Châteauneuf-du-Pape that I don’t remember buying (perhaps it was a gift?) with a washed out yellowish label and absolutely nothing interesting on the front of it.I poured a couple of glasses, noticed that the wine looked as washed out as the label, and steeled myself for watery disappointment. Instead, I found myself enjoying one of the best bottles I’ve had in weeks. The nose of the wine eventually reminded me of French sunflower honey, all summer sunlight with notes of hay and dried herbs. Distinctly acidic, the wine offered up smokey gravel, dried Montmorency cherries, dust, dirt, and something like ocean breezes washing across cool ocean meadows and onto hot sand. The smokey note reasserted itself on the finish, with a decidedly sweet (and I mean in the sense of sucrosité, not California super-ripe sweetness) finish trailing off into lazy trails of autumn hay.What an incredible wine, and what a wonderful reminder that restraint often pays incredible dividends. We finished the bottle over a course of several hours, unwilling to put a stop to the experience; at first, the acidity was unsettling, but it settled down with some air. All in all, this was as wonderful as a walk through the redwoods here in California: cool, majestic, quiet.Vignobles BrunierPrice: likely around US $25Closure: CorkDate tasted: March 2008

Château de Montfaucon Baron Louis Côtes du Rhône 2004

I like a good Côtes du Rhône and, of all French wines, they are often the best QPR option if you are looking for something Old World to add variety to your choice of local quaffers. This one is an excellent example of the genre.Transparent ruby with purple edges, moderate density. The nose here is really interesting. It’s pretty but also rustic and savoury in character. Licorice allsorts, clean raspberry, dried herbs, pepper and earth wrapped in a subtle but enticing package. There’s a lot going on in here and it’s quite seamless and lightfooted. There’s good depth of flavour, which is increasing the longer the wine sits in glass, but it’s not a forbidding wine by any means. The other half suggested a bit of mould/wet hessian character that I wasn’t picking up. The entry has good impact, with flavour kicking in towards the front of the tongue and spreading sideways to coat generously. The mid-palate reveals a medium bodied wine of gentle acid and real generosity of flavour. Here’s a trick: the wine is full of flavour, yet balanced and easygoing too, with genuine complexity. Notes on the palate are very similar to the nose, with the red fruit asserting itself more prominently, and the pepper gaining impact via very fine yet drying tannins that kick in quite early on. There’s also a bit of coffee/vanilla oak that subtly supports the fruit flavour. The wine’s structure is nicely sorted, with the acid dovetailing into the tannins very elegantly and creating an excellent frame for the fruit. The after palate becomes progressively more spicy, and ends in a drying finish of good length. What a lovely wine. It’s exotic and reminds me of warm turned earth and flowers. We had this wine with barbecued meats and it was an excellent match. A very good value for what it is. It’s drinking well now but I’m going to leave the remaining bottles for a few years to see how the wine shows with softer, more integrated tannins.Château de MontfauconPrice: $A28Closure: CorkDate tasted: January 2008

MonRedon Côtes du Rhône 2003

Generic Côtes du Rhône reds can often make a nice change to the usual mid-week wines. Here’s one from the problematic 2003 vintage, coming in at the $A20 mark.

A transparent garnet, bright, attractive, with some signs of bricking at the rim. The nose is extroverted and fruit driven, if a bit simple. Bright, somewhat confected red fruits and floral notes are the dominant theme, with some  gamey, meaty characters adding complexity.

The entry is a little weak and it’s only on the middle palate that flavours really expand and become generous. The wine is medium to light bodied, again with bright, sweet and slightly confected fruit flavours. Mouthfeel is soft and easy, with enough structure to keep the wine from lapsing into flabbiness, but only just. Alcohol heat pokes out a bit. The after palate thins out fairly quickly, and the wine’s finish is not truncated, but neither is it remarkable.

This wine’s a bit middling in most respects, but it’s also flavourful and very easy to drink. Value for money is always a bit hard when it comes to wine, as it can be difficult to put a price on variety and difference. If you’re bored of local quaffers and would like a change, this certainly fits the bill at a reasonable price. In absolute quality terms, though, there are any number of local wines that beat the pants of this wine at the same price point.

Château Mont-Redon
Price: $A20
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: November 2007