Wine column no. 41: Time for lighter reds

There are wines you drink with a carefully prepared red meat meal. And then there are wines you just pop open to pair with pizza.
Thankfully, red Cotes du Rhone (meaning slopes of the Rhone, in France) is comfortable with both.
Case in point: The 2006 J. Vidal-Fleury Cotes du Rhone from Varsity Liquors, which for about $15 brings you full-on red fruit flavor and tannins -- perfect for a sausage and pepperoni pizza that took you 20 minutes to bake in the oven, or for a beef roast thick with juice and fat that's spent a full day in your Mom's crock pot. It wasn't listed on the label, but another blogger a http://jasonswineblog.com wrote importer W.J. Deutsch and Sons to find out that the blend is 50
percent Grenache, 30 percent Syrah, 10 percent Mourvedre and 10 percent other.
J. Vidal-Fleury is a negociant, which means it gathers the produce of smaller growers and winemakers and sells the wine under its own name.
According to the International Wine Review blog, J. Vidal-Fleury is "the Rhône Valley’s oldest continuously operating winery, grower and negociant," having been founded in Ampuis by Joseph Vidal-Fleury. That website went on to say that the winery hosted Thomas Jefferson in 1787 when he learned about wines and winemaking and, therefore, was the winery's first contact with the burgeoning United States. The company was purchased by E. Guigal in the mid-1980s but is operated as a separate business.
Then there's the 2007 Paul Jaboulet Aine Parallel 45 Cotes du Rhone at Winetree. For less than $10, this Frenchman offers you red fruits and black pepper and a mouth full of tannins, so it'd be perfect with a fatty meal -- like cheesy pizza, or a heavy beef entree.
The Parallel 45 is 60 percent Grenache and 40 percent Syrah, made by a company that's existed for more than 175 years in the Rhone Valley of France. Antoine Jaboulet started working the land in 1834 before his sons, Paul and Henri, followed him into the business. Maison Paul Jaboulet Aine was purchased by the Frey family (which also owns Chateau La Lagune in Bordeaux) in 2006, according to the Paul Jaboulet Aine website and importer Frederick Wildman and Sons Ltd.
So why the focus on Cotes du Rhone? We blame the weather. With summer officially out the door, reds are once again hitting the scene, and Cotes du Rhone -- at least the ones we can find in the Tri-state area -- offer body and pronounced flavor without weighing down the meal.
But it's more than that. There's an earthiness to this blend, which is usually comprised of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Carignane, Counoise and Mourvedre grapes. This wine isn't sweet like a California
Zinfandel. And it's not always smooth like your softest, most elite California Cabernet Sauvignon.
No. These Cotes du Rhone are more in the area of workhorse wines. They make you feel like you deserve them, like they know what it means to sweat, to labor.
In other words, they offer substance, not subtlety. They will make you remember them -- and not just because of their low price.
Contrast this with a Bordeaux blend we bought at Winetree for less than $10. The 2008 Chateau Saint-Sulpice (also imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons) is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, and when I first opened it, I got flavors of barnyard, and iron. Greg hadn't tried it yet, so I remained silent. He took a sip and said it wasn't bad. But I wasn't sold. I put it aside; I said I wasn't going to have any more. I figured it was a bad bottle. Then Greg brought out our aerator, and in one swift pour, the wine had made a transformation. To me, the sharp edges that had made it unlikable were suddenly softened; this was a wine that had first tasted divided, but that was now all of one. And not just that: It was stronger, more balanced, more resolute. Paired with some leftover beef roast, it was even better.
Yet this isn't a wine you'd want to drink on its own. Don't serve this wine at a dinner party before you've brought out the main course, because by itself, it feels weak, unremarkable.
But the above-mentioned bottles of Cotes du Rhone? Even alone in a wine glass, they'll make an impression. Absolutely.


2010 The Seeker Cabernet Sauvignon: Sweeter than expected

oct. 12, 2012: steak called my name tonight, and i answered with a $13 bottle of cabernet sauvignon from winetree. the 2010 the seeker is a chilean, and it's the first time i'd ever had this. our grill was acting up, but about an hour later, with greg's help, i got it working again, and delmonico steak is definitely memorable. this cab, for the price, isn't bad, either, though it's sweeter than i expected. i got a blackberry and vanilla nose, tannins, a good amount of blackberry flavors. 13.5 percent alcohol. it's a flavorful wine for the price but i think it's too sweet for my tastes.