Six bottles of 2010 southern French red wines told the story. With the low yield, long hang time, high quality vintage examples selling for $17 and under at retail, the story wanted to be good. All of the wines were without flaw, dark purple, full of fruit, round, rich, and without any hard edges to make them drinkable now. They are all recommended for that. But good, or any other qualitative adjectives, are always relative claims in the wide world of wine.
Relative to the (admittedly aged, more expensive, and classic) 1998 Chateauneuf du Papes we tasted in the first flight, these younger wines were not as good in two specific regards; place and individuality. Jason continued to talk through the Chateauneuf du Pape flight about how the wines brought him back to the food he ate, the aromas he inhaled, the stony vineyards he admired, and the ancient places he visited in Chateauneuf du Pape. There will be plenty of doubters quick to debunk someone’s ability to connect wine and birthplace with just a simple taste. Jason, and I, would disagree.
Why would I ignore the garrigue aromas I breathed bicycling through Langeudoc’s fields when I smell them in a wine? Is it too much of a stretch to connect brininess in some wines from Le Clape with the Languedoc sub region’s aromatic, seaside, Mediterranean air? Each one of the first flight’s Chateauneuf du Papes had the alluring rich berry, earth, acidity, spice, and texture one comes to expect drinking vintage after vintage of the appellation’s Grenache and Mourvedre based wines. After all, they’re always from their very same small place. While individually unique, the flight showcased wines unmistakably hailing from Chateauneuf du Pape’s stony, mistral massaged vineyards.
If our flight of six wines was representative in any way, then 2010 produced powerful southern French red wines. Rhone guru John Livingstone-Learmonth declared this about 2010 southern Rhones in Decanter Magazine, “I place 2010 in the top three of my 40 years covering the Rhône, alongside the 1978 and the 1990.” He went on to say, “Thus the wines are ripe, harmonious, with gentle tannins and a depth of fruit that means they will develop evenly for many years…This is true at every level…Cotes du Rhône and Cotes du Rhône-Villages express the vintage’s drinkability to a tee.”
Indeed drinkable and ripe, but not individually distinctive. Dark colors and berries, touches of vanilla, ripeness, anise, and concentration powered just about all of these wines equally. They yearn to compete with spicy ribs, smoked foods, and grilled meats. They are less prepared to melt into food flavors in a more traditional pairing sense. And with their competitive powers, they lose individuality points. Could they be from Argentina? Maybe California? Spain? Distinctions of place are less pronounced in this set of wines. Languedoc, Cotes du Rhone, and Cotes du Ventoux bottles all shared one fruity, yummy, internationally pleasing profile that will serve the restaurant glass and backyard barbecue crowd quite well. There is no shame in that, and these wines are more easily recommended than maligned.
My favorite wine was the 2010 Mourchon Tradition, extending beyond the ripe fruit profile to show earth, mushrooms, barnyard, and peppery spice. The wine hinted at its individuality and birth place. The group voted the Andezon as its favorite, swooning from velvety black cherry fruit. My instincts suggest that many of these wines just might unveil more of their individuality and geography with eight to twelve years of bottle age. They are great bets at ultra reasonable price points to lay away for a decade. They have enough balance and fruit to weather the time journey home. Along the way, they will serve well along side heavily spiced, smoked meats and birds.
The following are the six wines we tasted. They are listed without tasting notes since, stylistically, they are two steps from being practically identical. All are recommended at a *** level.
Pesquie Terrasses, Cotes du Ventoux, $15
Mas de Boislauzon, Cotes du Rhone $17
Puech-Haut Prestige, Languedoc $16
Chapoutier Bellaruche, Cotes du Rhone $15
Andezon, Cotes du Rhone $14
Mourchon Tradition, Cotes du Rhone $15
One last thought surrounds the possibility that these wines would have been overly impressive if the Chateauneuf du Pape flight had not preceded them. It is quite possible that the graceful and exotic natures of those wines were acts too strong to follow. Context and relativity are just two variables that make wine enthusiasm mysterious enough for me to always want to learn and discover more.