It's hard to imagine a red wine with more inside the bottle for $15. Even the name is a mouthful: Foncalieu La Reserve de Crouzau St. Gervais Cotes du Rhone-Villages 2007 ($14.95, product No. 142943). A full-bodied red from France's southern Rhone valley, it could easily pass for a $30 Gigondas from more prestigious vineyards nearby. How's that for a post-recession value? Twice the wine for the money.
It makes its debut in Vintages stores in Ontario this morning and I expect many who try it once will return for a case. (It does not yet appear to be available in other provinces.) Voluptuous and crowd-pleasing, it's brimming with European-style elegance and balance that should appeal to connoisseurs - the oenological equivalent of pop art.
One peek at the alcohol declaration, a mind-bending 15 per cent, and you can tell the grapes soaked up the persistent sunshine of the great 2007 growing season in the southern Rhone. Ripeness means high sugar yield and high alcohol, and alcohol imparts body.
There's a truckload of dark-skinned fruit flavour here plus typical Rhone savoury notes of licorice and lavender. Too many New World wines at these alcohol altitudes, notably from Australia, can seem flabby and cloying, in part because alcohol itself reads sweetly on the tongue. Or they can taste hot and bitter. This nimbly steers clear of both fates, with a good dose of crisp acidity to keep things food-friendly and lively. The St. Gervais would be a good partner for braised red-meat dishes, such as lamb shanks.
Speaking of big wines, the new vintage has landed of a wine I recommended last year, Dark Side of the Moon Shiraz 2008 ($25.95, No. 72652). It's not cheap but the price represents a reduction from $29.95 last year. It is, indeed, named after the landmark Pink Floyd album of 1973, one of the bestselling pop-art works ever. The wine, from Australia's Clare Valley, is another "high-alcotude" whopper, pushing 15.5-per-cent on the ethanol scale by volume, and is almost as black as the cover of its namesake album.
Velvety and voluptuous, it's almost too easy to drink, stacked with flavours of black-skinned fruits, dark chocolate and spice. But it's not just a fruit bomb; there's good balance and harmony here.
Today's Vintages release also features a few worthy red Bordeaux from the 2006 vintage, a tannic harvest that yielded many cellar-worthy wines, at least from the better estates.
The highlights in my order of preference are as follows. Clos du Marquis 2006 from the Saint-Julien commune ($65, No. 564740) is cloaked in herbs and flowers. I love the bouquet, which is echoed on the palate, supported by ripe blackberry fruit and a tight tannic pull on the slightly astringent finish. This should age nicely for 10 to 15 years, possibly more.
Château Beychevelle 2006 ($65, No. 564294; it also is listed under several other product numbers) also hails from Saint-Julien. Relatively accessible now, it shows ripe fruit and fine tannins and a succulent profile with hints of roast beef and tobacco. Cellar it for up to 15 years.
Château Calon-Ségur 2006 ($85, No. 564153 and other product numbers) and Château Branaire-Ducru 2006 ($79, No. 564625 and other product numbers) also are worthy of attention. The Calon-Ségur is more tannic and a better candidate for cellaring up to 15 years.
And the humbler-label gem in the Bordeaux lot is Château Saint-Nicolas 2006 ($18.95, No. 138602). More ripe fruit, beef and tobacco in this accessible, well-structured red.
The domestic standout in today's Ontario release is Lailey Vineyard Cabernet Merlot 2007 ($25, No. 591420), showing ample ripeness typical of the warm 2007 harvest, with pronounced dark-skinned fruit, slightly dusty-dry tannins and a hint of menthol.
I've already had my haggis quota this year for Robbie Burns day (documented in my Decanter wine-pairing column of last Wednesday). But I'll be pouring myself a Scotch in the poet's honour. This would be tantalizing choice: Caol Ila 12 Year Old Islay Single Malt 1997 ($89.95, No. 157990). Deceptively subtle on the nose, this beauty explodes with smoke on the palate and follows up with subtler flavours of honey and heather. Big flavour but not overly heavy.
Picks of the week
Caol Ila 12 Years Old Islay Single Malt 1997 ($89.95,No. 157990) explodes with smoke on the palate and follows up with subtler notes of honey and heather. The flavour is big but not overly heavy.
Foncalieu La Reserve de Crouzau St. Gervais Cotes du Rhone-Villages 2007 ($14.95, product No. 142943) contains a mind-bending 15 per cent alcohol. You can tell that the grapes soaked up the persistent sunshine of the great 2007 growing season in the southern Rhone valley.
The domestic standout in today's Ontario release is Lailey Vineyard Cabernet Merlot 2007 ($25, No. 591420), which shows ample ripeness typical of the warm 2007 harvest. It has slightly dusty-dry tannins and a hint of menthol.