How do you begin to love French wines? Some say that if you're not starting out on grand cru Burgundy or premier cru Bordeaux, you're violating your taste buds and may as well be swirling Croatian prune brandy in your glass. Others suggest an approach from the east, starting with light and sweet Alsatian wines. Personally, I've always felt it's best to arrive on the southern shores, working your way through Provence, Languedoc, and Rhone. Why? Most of these wines are fun blends of easily-grown grapes, they're very food friendly, the prices are generally very low, and you've got a wide range of choices among red, white, and rosé--even dessert wines. And if you fall in love with the region, you can explore higher-end AOCs like Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Côte-Rôtie before moving up to the traditional big leagues.
Here's a great example from Côtes du Rhône, the 2007 Domaine du Gour de Chaulé. $15, 14.5% abv. A proprietary blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault.
It delivers bright, raspberry aromas, with touches of earth and anise. Big red berry flavors, with firm tannins and a long finish. I served it with salad, mushrooms, and thin slices of rare flatiron steak, but it would also work beautifully with roast pork or venison.
I've written a bit lately about wine label design, and this is certainly an example of old school, classic design. Removed from the bottle, there is no question that this is a wine label. It could never be confused for the label from a bottle of shampoo, brake fluid, or bug spray. It is elegant, historical, and symmetrical, using typefaces that bear centuries' worth of attention to every curve, line width, and angle.
Do I think every wine label should look like this? Certainly not. But I do love the fact that such a classy package and approachable wine goes for $15, because there are times when you want that look on the table, on the bar, or on the shelf. This wine, and many other representatives from Côtes du Rhône, are a great way to sneak into French wine and begin to understand the greatness of Gaul without breaking the bank.