If you haven’t had the pleasure of trying to conduct a ‘serious’ tasting with a dilettante wino, then I thoroughly recommend that you try it — soon.
This week’s Wine of the Week was chosen by my good friend (and thoroughly non-professional drinker), Kate, who was visiting me in London from her native Washington, D.C. To be fair, Kate and I became friends during our graduate studies purely on the basis of a shared love of a good bottle of red wine, so it should’ve come as no surprise that she was game to help me choose my next wine to review. WSET tasting card in hand, I set her loose.
From two wines that we sampled, Kate chose the 2017 La Côte from Château La Négly as the standout winner. Or, as she dubbed it: ‘The Christmas Wine’.
A bold mix of Cinsault, Grenache, and Syrah, this wine is powerful but elegant. With a deep, purplish hue, one might expect this wine to be ‘in your face’ but winemaker Jean Paux-Rosset, and his lead oenologist Claude Gros, have kept an element of French restraint in the style of their wine.
On the nose, this wine smacks of clove — hence the ‘Christmas’ vibe — along with a good dose of blackberry, prunes, plums, toast, and smoke. Evidently, this blend has seen a good deal of oak, but Jean and Claude have effectively balanced this element so that the wine doesn’t translate as a bomb of vanilla. This is also helped by the fact that the fruit is not overly jammy, which the winemakers attribute to the vineyard’s location on the Massif de la Clape in Languedoc Rousillon. This hilly area in the south of France exposes the vines to over 3,000 hours of sunlight a year (allowing the grapes to achieve optimum ripening), but the altitude and Mediterranean breezes help to keep grapes from over-ripening, as do low nighttime temperatures.
The black fruit and sweet spice notes carry through to the palate, but with an added element of something refreshingly herbal, like mint or blackcurrant leaf. This helps to cut through the high tannins and full body of the wine, again, keeping the wine from thick or overly fruited.
Kate picked the La Côte over the 2015 Rutherglen Durif from Campbell’s, in North East Victoria, Australia. While this wine also packed a punch, it was somewhat lighter, less characterful, with its best quality a sharp, cranberry savouriness on the palate. Kate felt that this wine was more of a ‘little black dress’ — something you might bring to a dinner party with friends. In other words, an easy-drinking crowd pleaser.
While I wouldn’t limit the La Côte to Christmas only, nor would I entirely write off the Rutherglen Durif, Kate’s initial assessments of ‘The Christmas Wine’ and ‘little black dress’ helped to hone in on key components of the wine, and their wider potential for pairings or special occasions.
You could say: ‘know your wine drinker, know your wine.’