The Wine Idiot Reviews: Valréas "Cuvée Prestige" Côtes du Rhône Villages Red Table Wine, 2013 ($5.99)
This little review project has prompted some EXCELLENT suggestions from friends who are apparently also affordable-wine aficionados. Richard Levinson, Sacred Fools stalwart and funny songwriter-extraordinaire, had this advice: "Always buy the cheapest French wine at TJ. This advice has served me well over the years. Overserved me well, in fact."
With this in mind, I found myself crouched near the bottom shelf of my local TJ's French wine section. The cheapest French red didn't look French-y enough for me, so I opted for the Valréas for $1 more. And boy am I glad I figured out how to type those little accent things.
I'm sure it's all the biases talking, but as soon as I sipped this, I thought, "Oh my yes, definitely French." I KNOW THAT'S NOT A THING, YOU CAN'T TELL A WINE IS FRENCH JUST BY TASTING IT. JUST LET ME HAVE THIS.
It's spicy, peppery--not usually my favorite kind of red but a nice change from the Pinot Noir I tried for the previous installment of this series. It's bright, and sparkly, in that red wine kind of way. Kind of challenges you to taste different things instead of just pouring it down your gullet.
This isn't fruity like the Pinot Noir either, possibly more "dirty." It's just more of an earthy flavor than the jammy Pinot. My mom (who is not a huge fan of wine in general) tasted it and went, "EW THAT TASTES LIKE VINEGAR." She's not wrong--there's a sharpness to it, which I think is what's making me think it tastes "sparkly," if you were wondering how I got there. (Oh and by-the-by, I'm staying with my parents while Chance recuperates because they don't have stairs at their house. I don't live with my parents. Anymore. For now.)
Then she said, "Should we aerate it??" Now, I know enough about wine to know you're either supposed to pour wine into a decanter or swirl it around in your glass a bit to aerate it. So I patronizingly informed her that there was not enough time to do that. She responded by grabbing a chair, climbing onto it, and then digging around in a cabinet high above the oven (it was as precarious as it sounds). When she came down, she was triumphantly holding an electric drink mixer. I scoffed.
"Mom. This is FRENCH WINE. You are NOT stirring it up with a mixer."
"No!! They do this in restaurants!!!" she replied as she plugged the wand-like thing in. She later sent me this link, and apparently this is totally a real thing (she originally read about it in Cook's Illustrated Magazine, which was impressive in its own right).
So we did a side-by-side comparison--she "aerated" hers with the drink mixer, and I did not. Because I was still skeptical.
Turns out IT TOTALLY WORKS. After 30 seconds of mixing, there was a DISTINCT difference between the two glasses!! The aerated wine was suddenly smoother--no more sparkly-ness, but that was ok because it calmed down the pepper a bit so I could actually taste the rest of the wine. Unfortunately, I can't tell you what I did taste in its place--too subtle and hard to describe. But good! In a good way!
I was still enjoying all the vibrancy of my non-aerated glass so I didn't do the same thing to mine, but I absolutely will no longer scoff at the idea of blending wine.
As far as pairings, I can tell you that it goes GREAT with roast beef and salami, and pretty-good-but-not-amazing with TGIFriday's Spinach & Artichoke Cheese Dip (check your grocer's freezer aisle).
What the bottle says: "A classic blend of Grenache (75%) and Syrah (25%) from one of the 17 classified Côtes du Rhône Villages. This ripe and spicy wine has candied fruit aromas and flavors. Serve at room temperature with roasted or grilled red meat dishes and soft cheeses such as goat cheese."
What the Wine Idiot says: Ripe and spicy totally works for me! Candied fruit? Ehhh. I guess so. Once it was aerated.
Who's responsible for this? Product of France, Imported by Plume Ridge, Claremont, CA
Do I need a corkscrew? You betcha.
What do smarter people say about it? No less than the Chairman of the Wine Institute of Las Vegas, Mr. Gil Lempert-Schwarz, thinks it's fucking fantastic: "What is most remarkable about this wine, which costs less than $6, is its ability to slay other, much more expensive, Cotes du Rhone wines in a blind tasting. I am somewhat dumbfounded how it is even possible to bring this excellent wine into the Trader Joe’s stores for this ridiculous price, so kudos all around from producer to retailer for making this wine available to consumers. Now go out and get a case of it, because you’ll really enjoy this classic Rhone blend of grenache and syrah with its depth and solid-structured character." Seriously, just for fun, you should go read his review of it, because he noticed a hell of a lot more than I did.
Should I bring it to a friend's house? Well I was gonna say "only if there are a couple of bottles of wine going around, no one's super-snobby, and you can aerate it," but Mr. Lempert-Schwarz changed my tune. Heck yeah, bring it. It's drinkable red wine for $5.99. AND IT'S SUPER FRENCH.