If I were rich and immortal (two attributes my accountant and physician insist I do not possess), I would join the stampede for a few cases of classified-growth Bordeaux from 2009 and 2010. Splendid vintages they were. Instead, I am consoling myself with an acceptable alternative: reds from the southern Rhône Valley.
Unlike their top-class Bordeaux counterparts, which can take decades to reach their peak, fine southern Rhône wines usually hit maturity between five and 15 years after harvest. This happens to suit my collecting strategy, which is aimed at enjoying every drop in the cellar before it's time to downscale into a seniors' home with a walking stick and tube of Polident.
It also suits my dining strategy. I love braised meats, and full-bodied Rhône reds, with their succulent fruit and herbal-peppery overtones, fit the bill nicely – even better than a steak-friendly $1,000 bottle of Mouton (not that I'd turn down Mouton with any food if given the option). As those Rhône reds age, they will acquire fetching complexity too, exhibiting nuances of tobacco and leather-dried fruit such as figs.
Lucky for those of us with modest bank accounts and finite lifespans, the southern Rhône is on a roll. The same recent vintages that blessed Bordeaux with quality harvests and insane hype – 2009 and 2010 – were glorious in the region, a large swath of sun-drenched land that includes such appellations as Côtes du Rhône as well as higher-end Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. And 2011 delivered fruit-forward, softer wines fit for current enjoyment. The wines below, my highlights of a selective sampling, are available mainly in Ontario, but they're indicative of the recent Rhône quality you'll find on premium-priced shelves in your neck of the woods.
Château Signac Cuvée Terra Amata 2009 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $22.95
I became an instant fan of Signac's wines on a visit years ago to the winery's quaint stone farmhouse. This premium bottling is blended from grenache, syrah and carignan, three of the four signature red varieties in the region (the fourth is mourvèdre). Muscular and concentrated, it's a knockout punch delivered with a velvet glove. Dark plum, black pepper and dried herbs form the flavour trilogy; the punch comes from 15-per-cent alcohol, which – if I had to quibble slightly – peeks through on the slightly hot finish. $22.55 in Que.
Les Halos de Jupiter Cotes du Rhone 2010 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $17.95
Here's a beautiful grenache-syrah blend for the price. Thick, ripe and sappy, it sings with raspberry, cassis, herbs and spice, lifted by lively acidity. $23.99 in B.C., $18.65 in Que., $23.49 in N.S.
Domaine de la Charbonnière Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $39.95
One for the cellar, this astringent Châteauneuf veers strongly toward the savoury, with suggestions of herbs, damp earth and roast beef set against a tannic backbone. Try it now with braised lamb shanks or roast lamb leg or stash it away for up to 15 years for a bigger treat.
Château Mont-Redon Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2009 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $39.95
This is an earthy delight, with notes of spice, underbrush and tobacco playing off the juicy plum and blackberry fruit. What admirable structure too, with fine-grained, dusty tannins pulling it all together. Lay it down for a decade if you can. $37.25 in Que.
Romain Duvernay Cairanne 2010 (France)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $18.95
Cairanne is a village in the large Côtes-du-Rhône appellation, one of several overachieving districts in which producers are permitted to distinguish their offerings using the village name. That quality is in evidence here, revealing notes of cassis, chocolate, herbs and a toasty, charred quality. Impressive in its complexity, it comes with a solid spine of fine-grained tannins. It could improve with up to 10 years' rest.
Coix Valong Côtes du Rhône 2010 (France)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $16.95
Ripe and uncommonly rich for an entry-level Côtes du Rhône, this displays the opulence of the sunny 2010 vintage. Think of plum jam and roast pork – in a glass rather than on a plate. Plenty of gum-sticking tannins contribute welcome structure and should soften to reveal added complexity with five more years in bottle.
Correnson Réserve Spéciale Côtes du Rhône 2011 (France)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $16.95
Perfectly ripe and round, with soft tannins, juicy berries and a hint of beef jus, Correnson's Réserve Spéciale finds balance in vigorous spice. Drink it over the next three years.
Le Gravillas Sablet Côtes du Rhône-Villages 2011 (France)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $15.95
A notch up from standard Côtes du Rhône, wines designated "Villages" tend to offer more richness and complexity. This one's full-bodied yet bright and juicy, with nuances of cassis, herbs and tobacco in a drink-now style.
Lavau Gigondas 2010 (France)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $26.95
The Lavau family moved from Saint-Émilion in Bordeaux to the Rhône Valley in 1964. In the intervening years they set up partnerships with 300 grape growers and now make their wines in three cellars. This 2010 Gigondas is remarkably smooth for a 2010, an example of the modern style, aged partly in small French-oak barrels as well as the more traditional larger vats. There's a youthful, grapy quality to the fruit, which is intertwined with licorice, herbs and well-integrated tannins. It could benefit from five to seven years in the cellar.
Domaine Coudoulis Lirac 2010 (France)
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $17.95
Not far from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the Lirac appellation tends to offer good value. This one's very ripe in a style that would no doubt find fans, though I'd say it's just a tad overripe, with an essence of crushed raspberries more or less rescued by lively spice on the finish.