From €10.90, 12.80 Swiss francs, $17.25, £16.95
Of the 972 Rhône wines I tasted this autumn, only eight made my shortlist to feature as wine of the week – and all of them were made by Le Couroulu in Vacqueyras.
There are other domaines whose wines scored as highly, and indeed higher – but they are usually already well-known and almost invariably expensive. There are other domaines who make great wine but in quantities too small to be easily found, and others still who make one very good wine but several other duds.
Whereas Le Couroulu delivers the WOW holy trinity: affordability, availability and dependability.
They produce two Vacqueyras reds, labelled Cuvée Classique and Vieilles Vignes. I tasted the 2017 vintage of both wines blind and scored them 17. I then tasted the three preceding vintages of both cuvées at the domaine, and gave all but one of them at least the same score or higher. Hence I am recommending either bottling from any vintage. (Our tasting notes database reveals that Jancis has also rated their wines highly).
So much for the reasoning, but what of the wine itself? Both are based on Grenache, the beating heart of the southern Rhône, which gives the pure, rich red fruit that has made Châteauneuf so popular. Both also have at least 25% Syrah that adds black fruit flavours as well as something more peppery. The concentration of that fruit varies with each vintage, with the cooler 2014 offering a lighter, more herbal quality that I especially liked. (I purchased a bottle of the 2014 Vieilles Vignes and opened it this week for verification purposes).
They are savoury, gastronomic and satisfying, with the full weight and muscular structure of the southern Rhône, but effortless balance too, and a sense of freshness that is frequently missing from a region that too often pursues power above all.
They are as thoroughbred as good Châteauneuf-du-Pape without trying so hard to impress, and come at much better prices. The Vieilles Vignes costs a few quid more, for which you get more concentration and perhaps greater ageability, but not a categorically 'better' wine. Both are authentic, traditional styles that will tick all the boxes for lovers of southern Rhône reds.
Le Couroulu (the name means curlew in Provençal, as the label suggests) is one of those sweet-spot producers whose wines are a joy to discover.
Both Le Couroulu wines are available in at least 11 American states. In the UK, the Cuvée Classique 2014 is available from Butlers Wine Cellar, South Downs Cellars, Highbury Vintners and Dunnells in Jersey, while the 2013 is on sale at Stone, Vine & Sun – who also sell the same vintage of the Vieilles Vignes in both bottle and magnum.