Recently I walked into Liner & Elsen Wine Merchants in NW Portland to pour a sample of one of my wines, and the most perfect looking inexpensive red wine caught my eye. It was the 2007 Mas d'Intras Vin de Pays des Coteaux de l'Ardeche "Cuvee du Helviens." The label, as you can see, just screams country French, and you can only hope the wine is as authentic. I brought a bottle up to the counter and the staff joked, not incorrectly, that I really must be in the wine business now because I'm buying buying cheap wine. It's true, any money is going into the business. But they knew even more than I knew - this not only looked like the perfect French country wine, it is the perfect French country wine.
This is vin de pays, country wine, in a small, humble 750mL glass bottle that asks to be poured into tumblers with a simple meal. But the wine inside, a half and half blend of grenache and syrah, is absolutely delicious. What any $10 or slightly less wine ought to be. Aromas of raspberries and strawberries, warm stones and garrigue, that brushy, dry herb scent of the countryside. Then dry, savory flavors of raspberries and stones, with a rough hewn but smooth texture, a country table of a wine that slakes your thirst but satisfies well beyond the price tag. I simply can't get enough of this kind of wine, and it really deserves to be served in tumblers out of a large carafe rather than a bottle and crystal glasses.
Estelle Imports here in Portland is the American importer, and from the looks of the producer's web site, there are lots more bottlings to investigate. I'll have to check to see what more is available locally. This bottle I believe retails for $9.50. It's not sweet and fruity, but it's also not unclean or sour. If you want the vinous equivalent of the perfect simple omelette or crepe, this is your wine. We had it with simple polenta, green and a blue cheese sauce. Simply delicious.