A little while ago my wife and I started drinking wine again, after a hiatus of 10 years. Our honeymoon had been a trip to the wine countries of Italy and France (after a start in Austria), so we are again returning to that part of the world for our wine tasting adventures. She prefers Italian wines, I prefer French, so our tasting reflects that -- although the fact that I recently visited the Napa and Sonoma valley regions means that I am now slightly more open to the possibility of Californian -- and we've always enjoyed the affordability and quaffability of Australians (I know there are very expensive and classy Australian wines, too -- but I've yet to be able to enjoy one).
France and Italy are both vast wine regions. Within France, we've concentrated mainly on the Rhone valley, and within Italy, mainly in the Tuscany area. Even within the Rhone valley, our focus has been mainly on the appelations of Chateauneuf du Pape, Cote Rotie, Gigondas, and Hermitage.
Decent Chateauneuf du Pape's generally run in the $30-$40 range, although the best run up to $80-$100, so these are not cheap wines, but they have a character that one is never going to find elsewhere: mainly because of the terroir (the characteristics of the land where the vines grow), but also because they are primarily made from the Grenache grape varietal, which isn't that popular in California or Australia. Typically, most of a CdP is Grenache, with some other varietals mixed in.
Cote Rotie and Hermitage are typically more expensive, especially the latter, but also often less approachable when young. Hermitage, for example, shouldn't really be drunk until 10-15 years old at least. Gigondas lies on the other end of the spectrum: they used to be cheaper than Chateauneuf du Pape wines, but recently they have been creeping up in price and now the better Gigondas go for $35-$45, with some much higher than that. Still, they can be found in the $25-$30 range and are typically much better than a standard Cotes du Rhone or Cotes du Rhone Villages table wine.
Below are the first of the bunch, all tasted in October and November, 2014.
Chateauneuf du Pape, Giraud, "Premices," 2011 ($32). Nose is of dark cherries, cassis, just slight earthiness, deep fruit -- not an exceptionally complex bouquet, but very nice and fruit-forward. Medium to full bodied in mouth. Fruity, modern (not too heavy or earthy) and yet still classy tasting with character of the terroir. Finish is medium length and has a real bite: black pepper and even cayenne pepper, but in a good way! This wine is excellent, and one of the best CdP's we have tried in this price range. While not super complex, it is a wonderful blend of modern and traditional. Ready to drink now. 92 pts.
Chateauneuf du Pape, Quiot, "Les Couversets", ($30). Nice, dark, overripe black fruit--black cherries, blackcurrants, cassis. Restrained nose, chewy and velvety in mouth, decent complexity, contemplative. Not extraordinary but very nice. Drinkable without food. Low tannins. 90 pts.
Chateauneuf du Pape, Domaine Duclaux, 2007 ($41). Nose is complex of medium leather and black fruit, very deep and complex. In mouth the wine has medium body, low alcohol, black pepper, mulling spices, and leather, very low fruit -- more old fruit or dried fruit. Finish is long, complex, contemplative. This is a high class wine with a bit of a mystical, magical quality. Strong sense of the terroir here. Gives the feeling it will improve with some age. Wonderful wine--less approachable than the Giraud "Premices" but also a bit deeper and more profound. 93 pts.
Cote Rotie, Jasmin, 2005 ($30). Nose is of cassis and fruit, new leather, licorice--a nice bouquet. Feels tight and quite light bodied in the mouth. Taste is tart, tight. Not much finish. High alcohol. After an hour, nose is sweeter, caramel and cinnamon. We picked up this wine because it's a relatively low price for a Cote Rotie, but this is disappointing for the region. While the nose is suggestive, it doesn't deliver in the mouth or finish. Possible that it needs more aging, but much more likely is that it's just not a terribly good Cote Rotie. 87 pts.
Gigondas, Chateau du Trignon, ($31). Incredible nose of floral and dark fruit, very fruit-forward, and that continues on into the taste. Medium body mouthfeel, biting acidity, full of fruit, with a nice finish. A very enjoyable and excellent wine. Doesn't have the earthiness, complexity, or terroir-feel of the CdP's of course, but you probably wouldn't want that in this wine anyway. For those who enjoy fruit-forward Californian or Australian wines and want to try out a French Rhone valley wine, this would be a good one to go for. 91 pts.
Well, that's it for the first set. We went back and got 3 more bottles of the Chateau du Trignon Gigondas, would have picked up another Domaine Duclaux (but it was sold out) and are hoping to pick up another two bottles of the "Premices." Those three were our favorites and are all excellent.