Red Côtes-du-Rhône is consistently one of the best bargains to be found in the French wine aisle, largely due to the unusual superpowers of its primary grape variety. While 21 different grapes are technically permissible in this appellation, the grenache grape dominates, typically comprising at least 50% but no more than 85% of any given red wine.
Grenache is a grape of Spanish origin that has become the most widely planted vine in the south of France precisely because it is capable of producing excellent wine at a lower cost than most. As a rule, grapevines need to be rigorously pruned to make good wine, since too large a yield in terms of tons of fruit per acre of vineyard dilutes the resulting wine. But grenache has a freakish ability to produce flavorful fruit in high volume, so vintners can rely on bumper crops to keep production costs low.
Grenache’s sole weakness is that its grape skins contain lower levels of the dark phenolic compounds that give red wine its color and help resist oxidative spoilage. This explains why the Côtes-du-Rhône appellation rules require that at least 15% of the blend must be made up of two other local grapes, syrah and/or mourvèdre. Both are thicker-skinned varieties that deepen wine’s color and boost its anti-oxidant properties.
Of the two, syrah is more prized by wine drinkers for its fiery scent of black peppercorns. This wine from one of the region’s most innovative producers contains less grenache and more syrah than average, resulting in a pleasingly dark wine with flavors of blackberry and red cherry, and an appetizing spiced meat aroma reminiscent of soppressata salami.
On sale for $11.99 through Feb. 2 (regularly $13.99); PLCB Item #6557