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One of the most remarkable changes in the French wine world over the last decade or so has been the spectacular improvement in the quality of wines from the Rhône Valley. The northern Rhône has always had its stars, with Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie commanding prices that reflect an elevated status. With the exception of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the southern, Mediterranean, part of the appellation has historically been known for what had often been charitably referred to as "peasant" wines. Not quite the stuff that appeals to the sophisticated palates of New York wine lovers—or buyers from British supermarkets.
A quick trip through France's countryside will reveal that there aren't too many peasants remaining, which partly explains why there aren't many peasant wines left, either. This is symptomatic of the changes, many of them for the better, that are sweeping the region. Today's local winemakers are a new generation of educated, ambitious men and women who—spurred on by the support of Rhône's promotional arm—are in the process of executing a dramatic U-turn from quantity toward quality.
The trick is to make wines that appeal to the contemporary international market while preserving the region's unique viniferous personality. That this can be done is clearly demonstrated by the latest wine of the week, the Vinsobres, Domaine du Coriancon 2007, a veritable bargain at $18. (The vineyard is located in the villages of Vinsobres, a commune in the Drôme Département of southeastern France.)
Pungent and rustic, redolent of the forest in autumn, it's the sort of wine to drink with a rich venison stew on a cold winter's evening or even better, beside a large open fireplace with a wild boar roasting over the glowing embers of old vines.
Packed with the flavors of blackberries, overripe plums and dark chocolate, it's a stick-to-your-ribs sort of wine, a wine that offers the best of both worlds—the authenticity of ancient Provence enhanced by the best contemporary winemaking practices. According to the wine's U.S. importer, VOS Selections, the vineyard's owner and fourth-generation winemaker François Vallot "uses modernity in the service of tradition." It's a combination that benefits him, the Rhône region, and the world's wine drinkers equally well.
To find this wine near you: www.wine-searcher.com
When to Drink: Now
Breathing/Decanting: Half an hour's breathing helps.
Food Pairing: Robust winter stews, grilled steaks, venison.
Grapes: Grenache 75 percent, syrah 15 percent, mourvedre 10 percent
Region: Rhône Valley
Web Site: www.domainevallot.com