The fall chill in the evening air has turned our attention from the crisp whites and light-bodied reds we’ve been shopping lately to richer red wines from the most reliable sources of great value: Southern France, Spain and South America.
We’ve noted before that one of the best importers of such wines is local, Fran Kysela of Kysela Pere et Fils, Ltd out of Winchester, VA, whose wines are sprinkled all over our Top 5 Value Wines lists. A perennial favorite among our Top 5 French Red Wine Values is a Kysela wine from the Castelmaure cooperative in Corbières, a district within the larger Languedoc region that produces an ocean of both red and white wine values. Both the $9 Castelmaure Col des Vents Corbières, and its richer, pricier big brother Castelmaure Grand Cuvèe at $15 a bottle, are great values.
We tasted (and bought) an even pricier Castelmaure bottle, the 2008 Pompadour, for $17 at The Bottle Shop in Rockville last week that underscored out enthusiasm both for the Castelmaure co-op and the wines of Corbières. The region was only granted status as its own distinct winemaking district – known as an AOC, short for “appellation d’origine controlee” under French wine regulations – in 1985.
“Powerful aromas of red fruits and blackberry, spices and garrigue,” is how the February issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine described the 2008 Pompadour, awarding it 91 points. “Round and ample in the mouth, a silky texture, ripe flavors and vanilla notes. Great length.”
The Rhône-style red blend made from 50 percent carignan, 30 percent syrah and 20 percent grenache – a blend almost identical to the $9 Col des Vents – is a bit expensive for everyday drinking, but especially at its more typical price of about $15 a bottle ($14.99 at Calvert Wine and Spirits in the Hunt Valley Towne Centre, for example), it’s a worthwhile splurge.
The $15 Castelmaure Grand Cuvèe, also a worthy splurge, was among the half dozen Langeudoc wines featured in an August tasting conducted in honor of the 99th Tour de France – which had two of its stages end and begin on the outskirts of the Langeudoc region. The “virtual tasting,” sponsored by the French trade group Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Languedoc (CIVL), featured several outstanding reds from Corbières, including the new 2010 vintage of a red we recommended in both the 2005 vintage and again earlier this year when the 2008 was part of a LivingSocial six-bottle deal.
As we noted in February, Domaine Sainte-Eugenie Corbieres Rouge nearly made the cut for our Top 5 French Red Wine Values list, but didn’t quite have the necessary track record of solid reviews from the critics in consecutive vintages. Our sampling of the 2010s for both the regular Corbieres Rouge ($9 a bottle at Montgomery County Liquor stores) and the slightly more expensive La Réserve ($13) gave every indication that it’s just a matter of time before Domaine Sainte-Eugenie demonstrates the type of consistency we look for in a Top 5 Value.
“This crisp red features red berry and cherry flavors that are accented by slate notes,” wrote Kim Marcus of Wine Spectator, awarding the Domaine Sainte-Eugenie Corbières 85 points. “White pepper accents mark the finish.”
“Rich and muscular, with graphite and spice notes to the dried red fruit flavors,” is his description of the 89-point Corbières La Réserve 2010. “Well-sculpted, with dark chocolate on the long, cream- and jam-filled finish.”
Marcus liked the La Réserve at $18 a bottle, but it’s just $12.99 at MacArthur Beverages in the District and just $13.05 a bottle in Montgomery County. When we tasted these rich reds in August, it didn’t seem the right time of year to recommend them, in midst of one of the hottest summers on record in and around Washington. (We did taste one white as part of the “Tour de Languedoc” – the newest vintage of a perpetual favorite, Picpoul de Pinet Cave de Pomerols, which tops our Top 5 French White Wine Values list. But its crisp refreshingness just didn’t seem newsworthy.)
Now is a good time to start squirrelling away a few bottles of these tasty and affordable wines from Corbières for the Autumn chill that is beginning to show up this time of year.
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