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As is evident in this week's article on Mature Chinons and to a lesser extent in Loeb's 'drinking' burgundies also published recently, I am very keen on taking full advantage of one of wine's unique attributes as a drink: its ability to improve with age. As you will be all too aware, too high a proportion of the tasting notes in our nearly 150,000-strong database are on wines at the beginning of their life rather than in their prime. And the classic wine regions of France have had centuries, or at least decades, to perfect their game.
I am therefore reminding you today of the pleasure of drinking mature wine and, as usual, am focusing on wines I think are good value – not necessarily cheap but which offer a decent hedonistic reward per penny. I much enjoyed the 2006s in the southern Rhône when tasting them young, and delighted to see how well they have aged. As you can see in Châteauneuf – why 2006 is so delicious, a 2008 Purple Pages article republished free yesterday as part of our Throwback Thursday series, some respected producers in the region believed that 2006 was a greater vintage for Châteauneuf than the lauded 2005. (My picture shows a typical bush-vine vineyard in the region with Mont Ventoux in the background.)
And as Vincent Avril of Clos des Papes, one of the most vigilant monitors of the evolution of Châteauneuf vintages, observed during my recent visit there, 'the 2006s are currently drinking much better than the 2007s, which need an hour in a decanter before serving them'.
I was reminded of how well the 2006 Châteauneufs are showing now when tasting a couple currently on offer from The Big Red Wine Company in the UK. I opened Raymond Usseglio 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (£24.50, 14.5% alcohol on the label) at the same time as Domaine de Cristia 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (£23, 15%) and enjoyed how they played tag in the glass. At first the Raymond Usseglio wine was the more impressive – much denser and richer – but then the Cristia came up on the outside lane and overtook it, offering more elegance and staying power, despite the alcohol level, and making the Usseglio look a little grainy and tired after an hour or so.
But the main message is that this vintage of Châteauneuf is drinking very well at the moment and, for serious, ageworthy wines that have had almost 10 years in bottle, they are not desperately expensive. Obviously the two big names Rayas and Beaucastel are more expensive than most, an average retail price respectively of £326 and £68 according to wine-searcher.com. Seckford Wines in the UK have a wide array of 2006s at under £20 a bottle plus tax. Needless to say, 2006 Châteauneufs are widely available around the world. In fact I doubt there is any serious wine-consuming country without a choice of options at relatively reasonable prices.
Red Châteauneuf is not the most obvious choice for summer drinking but many of us living in the northern hemisphere are experiencing rather cool weather at the moment and I suspect this is the last time this season for many of us that we may feel like drinking a wine as full bodied as a Châteauneuf until autumn arrives. I feel quite strongly that, although caution is needed when drinking them, high-alcohol wines can be beautifully balanced, and it would be a mistake to automatically ignore them.
These are not aperitif wines though. I suggest serving them with substantial main courses. Their inherent sweetness makes them good partners for salty dishes such as ham and charcuterie.
My article Châteauneuf – why 2006 is so delicious lists some of my favourite 2006 Châteauneufs but the choice is wide. The link below will take you to all of the hundreds of wine-searcher.com's listings of this combination of vintage and appellation. I suggest you narrow the choice by selecting your country in the Merchant Location field.