Tag Archives: Rhone wine

Wine of the week: Little James’ Basket Press NV

This bottle could well be the future of the much-troubled French wine business. If so, the future may not be as dire as so many fear.

The Little James ($12, purchased) is a red blend made by Chateau de Saint-Cosme, a 450-year-old Rhone producer whose offerings include several $100, high-score wines. It’s not exactly like Silver Oak or Screaming Eagle doing a $12 wine, but it’s close enough.

How do they do it? By mixing current vintage wine with older wine, which is less expensive than using all current vintage juice. This version of the Little James is about half from 2011, and the rest comes from wine as old as the 1999 vintage.

Why do they do it? Because the French wine market, save for the most expensive wines, has been slowly vanishing for the past two decades. There are dozens of reasons, but the main one is that the rest of the world makes cheap wine just as well, if not better, than the French, and their unsold wine sits on store shelves or in warehouse vats until it’s thrown out.

The Little James is part of the attempt to recapture that market. It’s 100 percent grenache, a sturdy Rhone grape, and it smells and tastes of the Rhone. There is barnyard and bacon fat on the nose, and earthy, black fruit that gives way to a darkish finish. All in all, it’s an impressive effort that would pair with pizza, roast chicken, and almost anything with roasted mushrooms. It’s certainly not what I expected given the cutesy label and name (and a tip o’ the Curmudgeon’s fedora to Eddie Eakin at Dallas’ Veritas, who told me about this).

One caveat: Prices for the Little James are all over the place; I’ve seen it for as little as $10, and as much as $17. At $17, it’s not that great a value, and I suspect those retailers are trying to capitalize on St. Cosme’s reputation.

Wine of the week: Dauvergne Ranvier Vin Gourmand 2010

Dauvergne Ranvier Vin GourmandTotal Wine, a large regional chain, is supposed to open in Dallas shortly. Throw in Trader Joe's, which is supposed to open this fall, and Spec's, Texas' largest chain, which opened at the end of last year (as well as all of the current retailers), and we have an abundance of wine choices — not just more than we've ever had, but lots and lots more.

Which will not only drive the retailers crazy (and probably put a couple out of business), but give consumers more choice and lower prices. How can the Wine Curmudgeon argue with that?

Case in point is the Vin Gourmand ($13, purchased), a white Rhone blend. It's a style of wine not much sold here; Dallas is an oaky California chardonnay kind of town. And, when you do find a white Rhone, it's usually a couple of dollars more than in the rest of the country. So, when I saw the Gourmand and for less than elsewhere, you can imagine how quickly I scooped it up.

My enthusiasm was amply rewarded. This is quality wine at a terrific price — a blend of grenache, roussane and viognier that is fresh and clean, with lime and apricot fruit (the latter from the viognier). It's not overly complex, but it's not lacking in a middle or finish, either, and even has a bit of stoniness on the end. This is perfect warm weather wine that will pair with almost any kind of summer food. Given that we've already been in the 90s here, this is a a welcome addition. Highly recommended. 

Mini-reviews 18: Torino rose, Grgich merlot, Carobelle, Jaja de Jau

Reviews of wines that don't need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month.

Michel Torino Malbec Rosé 2009 ($12, sample): Surprisingly disappointing, given how well-made so many Argentine wines are at this price. There's nothing especially wrong with it; rather, it doesn't deliver anything that most $8 or $10 roses don't.

Grgich Hills Estate Grown Merlot 2006 ($42, sample): The kind of red wine that helped California establish its reputation as one of the world's great wine regions — and, best yet, it's not overpriced. Holiday gift? It's still young, with cherry fruit in the middle, but a mushroomy nose and lots of finish. Should improve with age.

Domaine de Carobelle Gigondas 2008 ($20, purchased): A terrific value at $15 and an excellent example of the Rhone's Gigondas region, with dark fruit and pepper. But the weak dollar (or a greedy retailer?) has done this red wine in, given that one can buy really nice wine for $20.

Le Jaja de Jau 2007 ($11, purchased): This red is New World-style wine wine in Old World clothing, with a lot of fruit and not much subtlety. It's not bad, just not what it was when it was one of the world's great cheap wines (and it's also twice the price).

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