All over Roussillon in the far south of France and the north east of Spain are seas of ancient Grenache/Garnacha vine stumps capable of yielding particularly concentrated sweet-yet-tannic wine, the tannins resulting from the near-drought conditions in which these vines are grown. What's good enough for Châteauneuf-du-Pape... (and, gosh, there is no shortage of Châteauneuf that tastes blander than the wine below).
Because there is no shortage of this sort of wine, and the great majority of it is made in relatively unsophisticated co-operatives, the price is decidedly right. In the UK for example, Marks & Spencer are currently selling the most luxuriously packaged Old Vine Grenache 2004 VdP des Côtes Catalanes for just £4.99. The bottle is almost absurdly heavy and expensive-looking. The label is perfectly respectable and only faintly branded with the retailer’s name. And the wine? Great, characterful stuff that would be just perfect for a barbecue. It starts out rich, packs quite a punch with its strength of 14.5, yet has a bit of lift and, chez M&S, I preferred it to another southern Grenache with a much fancier appellation at almost twice the price, Rasteau 2003 Perrin at £8.99. The 2004 seems less rustic than the 2003 vintage of Old Vine Grenache.
The wine has been bottled in Bordeaux and sourced by Promocom, and indeed if you take a look at Two good southern French reds from Sainsbury’s which I wrote three years ago, you’ll see that a very similar wine cost whole pound per bottle more in 2002.
Sainsbury’s themselves are currently selling another Bordeaux-bottled Roussillon red from Promocom, an appellation controlée wine this time, at £4.99 in Réserve des Tuileries 2004 Côtes du Roussillon. This is very slightly more muted than the M&S Vin de Pays described above but is in a very similar style and still a good buy. To qualify as a Côtes du Roussillon rather than Vin de Pays the wine has to contain at least 20 per cent Syrah and/or Mourvèdre but I can’t see that this is always necessarily an improvement on a wine wholly dependent on Grenache and/or its close relative Lladoner Pelut.
I certainly see no need to stray south of the Pyrenees via Sainsbury’s shelves for Campaneo Old Vines Garnacha 2004 Campo de Borja which seemed a bit confected to me (maybe it was the whiff of American oak) and, at £5.99, not worth the extra pound. (And I see that that Muruve Roble 2003 Toro, a previous wine of the week, now seems to be back up to £5.99 from £3.99.)
If you really want to save the pennies, seek out The Southern Collection 2003 Côtes du Roussillon which Morrisons/Safeway are selling for £3.99. Made by the big co-op Les Vignerons Catalans, this has lots of pepper, herbs and sun on the nose, followed by a slightly raisined (aka 2003) character on the finish but at this price this rather adds character. Good balance and lots of flavour with just 12.5 per cent alcohol.
These old vines are a wonderful resource. Take advantage before they are all grubbed up.