December 18, 2008

Estezargues wine co-op

Have you heard of the Estezargues wine co-op outside of Villeneuve-Les-Avignon in the southern Rhone valley of France?

I had, but never really paid attention to it. But I was familiar with various Cotes du Rhone bottlings from the co-op that we see here in America, such as Domaine La Montagnette and Domaine d'Andezon.

The latter has been well known for years for its nicely priced red wines, including the somewhat legendary 1995 d'Andezon Cotes du Rhone. I'd heard this was really good, and some years back I tried it blind at a friend's house. Everyone was certain it was a nice Cornas, but no. Just a "lowly" co-op Cotes du Rhone. That wine is probably still drinking nice.

Turns out this co-op is more acclaimed than I ever imagined, and for good reasons. They're making relatively small lot stuff with natural wine principles. Alice Feiring wrote about it in her book The Search for Wine and Love that I reviewed recently. Here's a nice write up from Bertrand at Wine Terroirs, with typically lovely pictures.

The other day I was perusing the wine selection at a local discounter and saw a number of labels from importer Dan Kravitz's Hand Picked Selections out of Virginia. Tough times in the wine business, I guess.

Dan's done a nice job importing from France and Spain for years. Some things I'm not so fond of, but maybe that's my weird taste speaking. Most times you will do really well picking a bottle with Dan's import label on the back.

Back at the discounter, one label in particular caught my eye, the 2005 Terre de Mistral Cotes du Rhone for $7. Sure enough, the fine print shows it's a Kravitz import. And it's from Les Vignerons d'Estezargues. Any time you see "Les Vignerons d'..." you'll dealing with co-op wine. Most times that means it's mass produced stuff, often lackluster, more notable for the marketing effort behind the wine than what's in the bottle.

This bottle admittedly looks a bit similar to that kind of thing, with a colorful, contemporary label. But I grabbed one and it's pretty nice, authentic southern Rhone wine for a great price. This was released more than two years ago, but it tastes fresh as if it has a few more years in a cool cellar.

There's no shortage of alcohol in this wine, but in a basic Cotes du Rhone, especially on a cold night with hearty food, that's not a bad thing. What I love about this wine? The scent and flavor of nicoise olives, those tiny, smoky, briny, meaty little things that are a must on any Provencal table.

The likely mix of grenache and syrah here also shows bright red raspberry and garrigue mixed in too. (Garrigue is that earthy, herbal perfume of the region.) And there's acidity and tannin, not too much of course but let's be clear. Where most budget wine in the world today tastes like jelly and oak chips, this wine tastes like wine, from a place, that fits on the dinner table, and is nice for twice the money.

Of course, this wine may not be something you come across. But look for the Estezargues name, usually in small print, but worth the search.

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