Monday, March 9, 2009

Drink Your Green Vegetables!

2006 Filliatreau Saumur-Champigny La Grande VignolleDo you like a hit of eucalyptus or mint in your cabernet sauvignon? Do you appreciate the green bell pepper flavors you can find in Loire cabernet franc? I sure do. Such qualities are rightly damned when they reflect underripe grapes or the dilution caused by overly high yields, but in the right proportions these characteristics can be interesting, worthy, and true.

I look for a hint of vegetables in my Loire cabernet franc, and I find them in the 2006 Filliatreau Saumur-Champigny La Grande Vignolle. This wine, which comes from the eponymous vineyard that's romantically sited between the Loire River and chalk cliffs into which houses have been carved, tees off with aromas of sweet smoke, roasted meat, ground pepper, purple flowers, green olive, and tart red fruits. Fabulous. As it's a bit on the dark side I wasn't surprised that the fruit is fairly concentrated, though not overextracted, and that the tannins are still a bit aggressive. In other words, it's got some oomph, but I expect that it'll be deeper and silkier in a year or two (good Loire cabernet franc needs at least three years to unfurl its flag). Finally, it has very nice acidity, a healthy dose of minerals, and of course the vegetable flavors — particularly broccoli and green bell pepper — are a feature rather than a bug, as they accent the drinking experience nicely. Meat and vegetables in one wine: it's like a meal!

Whereas I look for vegetables from a Saumur-Champigny, I would not expect that vegetable flavors would be welcome in a Northern Rhône syrah, and yet in the case of the 2005 Cave de Tain L'Hermitage Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes, they are. It's varietally correct, with aromas of bramble, stems, black pepper, violets, and blackberries, but it also includes a hint of fresh, juicy, green bell pepper. These characteristics are delivered to the palate with some really nice acidity and spice. There's plenty of ripe black fruit in this barely-medium bodied wine, and a clean, rocky, bell peppery finish. I do want to emphasize that the fruit is certainly ripe; the vegetable component is subtle and it is a feature, not a bug. So while the wine is not complex, it is balanced and very satisfying.

The kicker? It's only $10. Oh wait, there's a second kicker: the alcohol level's only 12%. You can drink this on a Monday night, as I'm doing this very moment.

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