The Opposite of Simple

In ranging across the world of red blends, if Ménage à Trois Midnight—a one-note wine lacking nuance—sits at one end of the spectrum, then I propose a candidate for the opposite end: Château Cabrières Côtes du Rhône Villages 2012.

51 - Chateau Cabrieres Cotes du Rhone Villages

I single out this wine because I tried it recently, and was duly impressed. But any of a wide selection of Côtes du Rhône Villages would suffice to demonstrate my point.

Côtes du Rhône Villages is a mid-point category, in terms of price and quality, in the southern portion of France’s Rhône region—a step above wines labeled simply Côtes du Rhône and below those from specific vineyards or vineyard areas (e.g., Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Gigondas). Wines in the Villages category generally offer superior power and complexity for the price (many in the $14 to $18 range).

This wine from Château Cabrières, a producer perhaps best known for its Châteauneuf-du-Pape, stayed interesting and delightful from first sniff to last sip, which in my case covered something like a 10-day period. (Oddly, the chateau’s website does not promote its Côtes du Rhône Villages bottlings.)

From the initial pour, my nose picked up chocolate while I tasted dark berries overlaid with, I swear, sausage and oregano pizza! Some ash, some earth emerged as I drunk my way happily through the bottle.

The flavors evolved continuously. If you enjoy conjuring up aroma and flavor analogues to what you’re drinking, this wine—a 50/50 blend of Grenache and Syrah—will keep you busy. While I don’t recommend keeping a bottle open (even in the fridge, even VacuVin’d) as long as I did, I must admit that my last glass remained fresh and unoxidized.

I’ve found similar complexity in other Côtes du Rhône Villages. For two years I’ve been working down a multi-bottle stock of Domaine de l’Obrieu’s 2009 Cuvée les Antonins Visan* Côtes du Rhône Villages (*Of the 95 towns or communes in the southern Rhône eligible for the Villages designation, Visan is one of only 16 that can include their name on the label.) It’s going on six years of age—time to drink it up, the wine charts say—but I can report that, so far, the Visan’s body and distinctive flavors have yet to flag.

Recently red: Côtes du Rhône

Yes, it’s still summer but that fact hasn’t stopped me from drinking Côtes du Rhône. I’ve happened to open two bottles of Côtes du Rhône Villages over the past week, one a revisiting of a supply I purchased during the colder months, the other a new discovery. They’re both from the 2009 vintage and great values for their quality.

Domaine de L’Obrieu Côtes du Rhône Villages, Cuvee les Antonins, Visan, 2009 – I found this wine at Sherry-Lehmann, lured by the price (around $15/bottle at the time, based on a case purchase) and Sherry’s enthusiastic description: “more structure and darker flavors (think black currant and really dark cherries) than most Rhônes . . . Stunning value from the excellent 2009 vintage.”

Dom de L'Obrieu Cotes du Rhone Vill

Indeed, this wine tastes as dark as its hue. The flavor is dense and earthy; there is no mistaking that you’re imbibing the terroir.

The wine is a blend of Grenache (90%) and Syrah (10%). The label indicates that all grapes hail from the commune of Visan, a distinct Côtes du Rhône Villages appellation.

Beyond its beautiful expression of the earth and the vines, this wine offers another promising story of a youthful winemaking couple, carrying on a family tradition. Ownership of Domaine de L’Obrieu passed from father to son last year, and Jean-Yves Perez and wife Cecile will be able to claim full credit for their 2012 vintage. I look forward to trying it!

If supplies last, this wine is on offer by the case at Sherry-Lehmann through Aug. 31, 2013, for an unbelievable $144.

La Grand Ribe Côtes du Rhône Villages, 2009 – I found this wine in the “Robert Parker Recommends” area of Buy-Rite in Jersey City. The $9.95 price was an irresistible invitation to try it. Now I’m sorry I didn’t buy more, as it seems to be sold out at that store – although an online search indicates it’s readily available elsewhere.

La Grand Ribe Cotes du Rhone Vill

La Grand Ribe, a small producer, grows its grapes organically, and indicates that this wine contains a minimum of 50% Grenache and 20% Syrah and/or Mourvèdre, and a maximum of 20% other grape varieties.

Compared to the L’Obrieu, this wine is less dark and intense, but its Côtes du Rhône pedigree is equally undeniable. The flavors suggest dark fruit, smoke and herbs.

I looked up Parker’s review, which was a rave, calling the wine a “sensational effort” and giving it 91-93 points. Absolutely worth seeking this one out.