The elixir of youth

Moulin a Vent is named after the windmill in the Beaujolais vineyards

Moulin a Vent is named after the windmill in the Beaujolais vineyards

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I have a weak spot for Guigal’s Côtes du Rhône. This modestly understated wine delivers reliable warm, spicy red fruit aromas, full-bodied flavours and just enough tannin to accompany a mid-week grilled lamb chop or a weekend roast. The 2009 vintage has just been released and, while it costs rather more than an average Côtes du Rhône, the quality of the wine inside the bottle is well worth its £9.99 price tag. The Wine Society has it in stock already and it is starting to make its way into Waitrose stores right now.

Guigal’s Côtes du Rhône is the wine that used to be made from young vines from the Guigal family’s grander properties in Cote Rôtie and other Northern Rhône vineyards. It was a way of strengthening the quality of the grand wines by letting the youthful, less concentrated wines be sold as mere Côtes du Rhône. But drinkers soon latched on to the fact that this wine represented terrific value for money and its popularity grew.

Now Philippe Guigal makes 3.5 million bottles of it, and still maintains fantastic quality and consistency. No longer solely made from Guigal’s own grapes, this is a blend of wines sourced from hundreds of Rhône growers, each one carefully selected to add the right kind of nuances to the final wine. One of the main reasons for the high quality of this wine is that it has always contained a large proportion of Syrah, around 50 per cent compared to lesser CdR wines which major on the softer, fruitier, more easily accessible Grenache variety. The wine goes through a traditional winemaking process with a long soak on grape skins to extract colour and flavour and 18 months ageing in large oak foudres.

The result is a Côtes du Rhône that could happily be poured tomorrow or in two to three years time, showing flavours that range from vibrant and lively to developed and complex. While you should be able to find this wine in Waitrose it also crops up at many independents who buy it in order to qualify for an allocation of the top-notch Guigal wines.

While spring and summer decide whether or not to re-appear this year, it is good to have a few warming reds on standby and Vidal-Fleury also produce a rather good Côtes du Rhône, which is hardly surprising since they are owned by Guigal. Vidal-Fleury is the oldest operating winery in the Rhône Valley, founded in 1781 but the company was bought by Guigal in the 1980s and quality has been improving ever since. New winemaking facilities have driven quality even higher and their soft, red fruity, spice-edged, light, thirst-quenching Côtes du Rhône 2010 is well worth a try, especially since it is on offer at Majestic at £6.99 on multibuy, down from £9.99 right through the summer months. This is a Grenache-dominated wine with just a splash of Syrah and Mourvèdre adding spice and dark, herbal notes.

Trade up to Cairanne 2010 from Vidal-Fleury (£10.99, Majestic) for darker, roasted plum and cherry notes with chocolate and spice finished with a robust structure of firm tannins. This is a wine to match against rich, savoury casseroles or herby sausages.

Staying in France, and if the sun does start to shine again, Beaujolais is always a good choice for its lively bubblegum and crushed raspberry flavours which can be glugged on their own or enjoyed with summer weight foods such as fish and salads. Majestic has the light, bright, sour cherry and raspberry fruit of Beaujolais Villages 2010 from Domaine des Nugues at £7.99 on multibuy, but for sheer power and exuberant berry fruit the new 2010 vintage of Chateau des Jacques Moulin à Vent has arrived at Majestic (£11.99 on multibuy). While both wines can be enjoyed now, the Moulin à Vent would benefit from a few more months, even a year or so, in bottle to develop the complexity it is capable of showing.

For a fine selection of Beaujolais head to The Harrogate Fine Wine Company in The Ginnel (01423 522270) where there are still some wines from the fabulous 2009 vintage gently maturing on the shelves. Tasted last year and then still far too young, Morgon 2009, from the mineral rich volcanic soils of Côte de Py, made by Jean Foillard, (£22.99) should be getting into its stride fairly soon, providing meaty, dense, concentrated flavours in a style that is much more Burgundy than Beaujolais.

I have always thought that the black, plastic bull which dangles from the capsule on Torres’ Sangre de Toro is a little tacky, although they seem to have changed it from the traditional standing up bull which might charge across an arena, to one that looks like it is on holiday. In a definite sunbathing position, it now dangles with its forelegs tucked behind its head perhaps soaking up the aromas of the wine inside the bottle. Despite this excess of tasteless plastic, the wine inside the bottle is remarkably good. Made from a Grenache-dominated Mediterranean blend of grapes Sangre de Toro provides lively cherry and herbal notes on the nose and dark, black fruit and savoury characters. It is the kind of wine you can bring out on weekdays or weekends and still gain a lot of enjoyment from its simple but defined style. Find this at Majestic, Asda and Morrison at around £7.99.

Torres’ Catalonian empire has expanded to include various other regions of Spain and their Ibéricos Crianza Rioja 2008 (£9.99 Waitrose) is very much on form at present. Made from 100 per cent Tempranillo it shines with ripe summer red berry fruit and while it has been aged in oak for 12 months, the fruit dominates the palate while the oak just adds depth and enough structure to help the wine cope with all kinds of roast meats and hard, strong cheeses.

While budget increases and currency adjustments are still working their way through the supply chain prices may be out by about 25p.

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