February 14: Game of Rhônes, Stage Play Goes “Sideways,” and Carignan: The Come-Back

TASTING NOTES
Each week I review a wine with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation. All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.
Oh, Faithful Readers – I’ve lapsed in my resolution! This week I’m reviewing French wines again. I know I promised to be more adventurous in my selections this year, but I couldn’t help myself as two of the Côtes du Rhônes below were in the “Clearance” section of the LCBO. Have I ever resisted a sale?
Skip It!
Parallèle 45, Côtes du Rhône AOC, Paul Jaboulet 2013

LCBO #: 332304 | 750 mL bottle | $12.25 (Discounted)
Alcohol: 13.5%
Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: Red
Rating: 

Break my heart! This Grenache-Syrah blend excited me beyond description as I poured it into my tasting glass. Deep ruby red with hints of violet around the meniscus, I was tickled pink by the aromas of bright red fruits, including mouth-watering hits of raspberry and cherry, offset by a slight smokiness, charcoal, and the comforting smell of toasted wood. But, oh, the disappointment! A little too acidic, a little too short on the finish, and muted herbaceous notes all made for an underwhelming wine that just seemed too young for my taste buds. This was crushing because Maison Paul Jaboulet makes some of the most incredible wines. (Hermitage La Chapelle, hello!!) In the end, I used it in my chicken cacciatore.

About the Wine: Jaboulet is one of the Rhône Valley’s most reliable wine-makers, and has been producing wine since 1834. With vineyards spanning over 25 appellations in Hermitage, Crozes Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, Cornas, Saint-Péray, and Côte Rôtie, according to Berry Bros. & Rudd, “the wine regularly rivals Bordeaux 1st Growths for its array of flavours – fruity and enticing when young but acquiring complex leathery and gamey overtones with age.”

Sip It!
La Domelière Rasteau 2013

LCBO #: 358960 | 750 mL bottle | $15.95
Alcohol: 14.0%
Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: Red
Rating: 

In contrast to the Jaboulet, this is a definite sipper. The GSM-blend is well-balanced, medium-bodied, with a lovely silky mouth feel. Although the finish isn’t as long as I’d like, the powerful notes of green bell pepper, dewy cut grass, and forest floor nicely offset a perceptible sweetness of ripe red fruit notes. I enjoyed the mild astringency, and the complex bouquet of stewed red plums, and cocoa. Overall, this was a deeper, richer alternative to the above. Worth the price tag.

About the Wine: According to Winesearcher.com, Rasteau is a parish in the southern Rhône Valley, a stone’s-throw from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. “The village and its vineyards are perhaps best known for their sweet red vin doux naturel, but they also produce dry wine (red, rosé and white). For a long time, the parish’s dry wines were made under the Cotes du Rhone Villages Rasteau appellation but these highly regarded wines were promoted to full, independent AOC status in July 2010 and are now also sold as ‘Rasteau.'”

Sip It!
Perrin Nature Côtes du Rhône 2014

LCBO #: 10363 | 375 mL bottle | $9.95
Alcohol: 13.0%
Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: Red
Rating: 

Hands down, the best of the bunch! The Grenache is the obvious star of this blend, but strongly supported by a powerful, peppery Syrah. A beautiful bouquet of sweet summer plums, spicy anise, licorice, and herbaceous aromas translate to the palate in a subtle, yet rich way. The wine isn’t powerful so much as it is elegant, with firm tannins, and a bright acidity that lends balance to the velvety texture. The finish is slightly astringent, spicy, and underpinned by a fleeting alcohol burn. The half-bottle was perfect for a single Sunday-night serving. I can see this working impeccably well with braised lamb or roasted root vegetables.

About Famille Perrin: According to Berry Bros. & Rudd, Domaine Perrin is a négociant brand created in 1997 by François Perrin and his brother Jean-Pierre. The Perrin family own the famous (and outrageously pricey) Châteauneuf-du-Pape estate Château de Beaucastel. “Entry-level wines,” including some of the La Vieille Ferme label (you’ve probably seen it in the LCBO — it’s got a pair of roosters on the label) are typically quite good for the price point. All the wines are made from appellations next to CdP, like Vacqueyras and Gigondas, and are all based on the typical Southern Rhône blends. Worth picking up a bottle.


WINE LINES

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MEET MR. GRAPE
A monthly focus on a wine grape variety.

THIS WEEK: CARIGNAN…MAKING A COMEBACK!

I have been trying to find more Carignan blends for the last little while aside from the exceptional La Clape I reviewed last year, but haven’t had much success. According to Jancis Robinson, it can be a “pretty tough” wine, with “rough tannins” and an acidity that she finds produces a “rank bitterness in many…red blends too dependent on high-yielding Carignan.” One of the Telegraph‘s wine critics writes:

Carignan is a red grape with a lowly reputation. No, I’ll go further and say that carignan is usually spoken of as though it were a smelly guard dog that makes a lot of noise and takes a lot of clearing up after, but whose company is tolerated because it performs a useful task, rather than as a vine of any great note. It has a tendency to bitterness and even nice Oz Clarke in his Pocket Wine Book concedes that carignan is “responsible for much boring, cheap, harsh wine”.

What a recommendation, eh? Unfortunately, I haven’t had much exposure to bad blends– the Gérard Bertrand alone would be my basis for recommending that everyone try Carignan — but, thankfully, it isn’t all bad press for this finicky grape. In Languedoc-Roussillon where it has previously been used to churn out pretty awful bulk wine, wine-makers are diligently working to “reclaim the joy of old-vine carignan” as they “[rediscover] the gnarled old vines, with their more concentrated, complex fruit flavour…” In the New World, Chilean wine-makers in Maule are rescuing old-vine Carignan from farms that produced the grapes for low-quality jug wines. But what gives Carignan such a bad rep?

Also known as Mazuelo, Bovale Grande, Cariñena, Samsó, and Carignane, depending on where it’s grown, Carignan is rarely made as a single varietal wine for all the reasons Jancis and Oz already mentioned. It’s thick, dark skins, and tendency towards high tannins and high acidity, can be a welcome addition to aromatic wines lacking body and depth of colour, but only if well-made. Jancis Robinson cites its high yields as the reason for its ubiquity in the South of France (Carignan pops out up to four times more hl/ha than a decent Cab Sauv), and, in California’s Central Valley, Carignan has been the backbone of considerable jug wine production. These are not the characteristics of a respectable pedigree. In Spain, where Carignan’s lineage can be traced to Aragon, Carignan goes by the name Cariñena (both a grape and an appellation!) in the Priorat region, and Mazuelo in Rioja (which you should read all about in my post last month), where it is used to add complexity to blends of Garnacha and Tempranillo. In Sardinia, it’s also widely planted, and is the second most important red variety grown on the island.

Old-vine Carignan is really the key: the grape is something of a late-bloomer, imparting exceptional flavour and rich aromas after a few decades on the vine. The only trouble with Carignan is its tendency towards rot, powdery mildew, dewy mildew, and grape worms, so organic versions of the wine are likely tough to find for those of you who seek that sort of thing out.

International Carignan Day is this month, by the way — February 29, in fact — so, if you’re game for trying some, you might have slim pickings at the LCBO, which only carries a handful. The two that piqued my interest were the Morandé Edición Limitada Carignan 2011 ($27.95, how could you go wrong with Morandé, especially given Carignan’s renaissance in Chile?), and the classic Southern French blend – Le Cirque Grenache Noir/Carignan/Syrah 2013 ($16.95).

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