By Celia Strong
Well, I hate to tell you this but I had a really hard time picking this week’s wine. In fact, I couldn’t even choose between red or white or rose. So guess what I did? I tried all three The perfect cop out, but, at the same time, a good answer for those of us who want to try some new wines from southern France.
Our three wines for this week come to us from a smaller appellation that is located between the mouth of the Rhone River and the Languedoc. It is called Costieres de Nimes (coat-tea-air duh neem). Nimes is an ancient city. The wines from this region resemble those of the Cotes-du-Rhone appellation because they use many of the same grape varieties and the soils and climates have similarities as well. Wines from this area have been produced for over two millenia – that means they were drunk by the Greeks in pre-Roman times. The area was settled by veterans of Julius Caesar’s campaigns into Egypt. Apparently there are “bottles” of Costieres de Nimes wines which bear the Roman symbol (a crocodile chained to a palm tree) of the area on them. Also, according to a chart in the kitchen of the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes), many of the towns in the region were the main suppliers of wines for the Popes.
As a region, the Costieres de Nimes is relatively new. Originally, the area was not an AC appellation but a step down in the VDQS level of wines. At that level, they were designated as Costieres du Gard. The AC wine laws of France were developed in the 1930’s after growers and wine makers found the market flooded with “copies” of their wines – Chateauneuf-du-Pape in particular. Chateauneuf-du-Pape was the first AC declared by the new federal law and all the others that we know today followed. In 1986, the wines of this area were upgraded to AC status and re-named as Costieres de Nimes. In 1998, the area’s growers organized themselves and lobbied to be attached to the Rhone AC committee for their oversight. They thought that this committee was better suited to judge their wines because of the similarities we mentioned earlier. The French national AC committee agreed and, in 2004, the wines of Costieres de Nimes were assigned to the Languedoc-Rousillon committee.
The geography of this region is marked by low rocky hills. Closer to the delta of the Rhone River, the soil is marked by round pebbles, sandy alluvial deposits and red shale. The depth of these deposits in the soil ranges from 3 to 15 meters and it is this that accounts for the variations in the wines of the appellation. The climate is Mediterranean, similar to the Rhone valley, but much more exposed to the ocean breezes and all their humidity and cooling effects.
More than other parts of France, this southern part makes red, white and rose wines. For any of us who have travelled there in the summer months, it is a great place to be but, often, a bit too hot for reds and we have learned to love the roses from here. Red wines from the Costieres de Nimes make up about 59% of the area’s total production. The reds are made from several varieties blended together: Syrah and Mourvedre together make up 20%; Grenache, the workhorse grape of the southern Rhone area, is a minimum of 25%; Carignan is a maximum of 40%; and Cinsault is also a maximum of 40%. These red wines are closer in style to Rhone AC wines than Languedoc wines and usually more elegant and generous.
The white wines of the Costieres de Nimes account for about 4% of the area’s production. That means we’re lucky to see any. These whites must be blended from a minimum of two grape varieties. Those that are allowed are Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanc, Maccbeo, Rolle, Roussanne and Ugni Blanc. (Just FYI, for you wine geeks, Ugni Blanc is called Trebbiano in Italy.)
Finally, if you’ve done the math already, the roses of the region are 37% of the total production. Some of the roses are leftover, or more precisely, unfinished red wines. These wines use the same varieties as the reds. In addition to the red grapes, makers are allowed to us up to 10% of white grapes as well. This makes it possible for the roses to have enough acidity to be really crisp and fresh and refreshing.
So, now, we can talk about this week’s wines. They are from the Chateau de Campuget. This chateau that dates back to 1640, is owned by the Dalle family. The son, Frank-Lin is named for the family’s hero, Ben Franklin The soil for the chateau’s wines is typical of the region; many stones force the roots to find water deeper into the clay layers of the soil which adds flavors and character to their wines. The red we’re doing is Le Campuget Rouge. This wine is made with 92% Syrah and 8% Viognier. It is very common in the wines here and in the Rhone to mix a small portion of Viognier in with Syrah in order to balance out the wine and perk up the flavors. This red is not, strictly speaking, a chateau wine, but with its dark fruit flavors of blackberry and black plums, hints of black pepper and black olives (the Syrah) and a faint perfumy floral touch (the Viognier) it is a wonderful example of the wines from this area. And all for $7.99. Our white wine is this wine’s partner, Le Campuget Blanc. Night harvests are used for this one to maintain sugar and acidity levels in the 60% Grenache Blanc and 40% Viognier. This wine has wonderful exotic fruit flavors (Asian pear, star fruit, passion fruit, and on and on) and citrus flavors too. Also a $7.99 steal! This wine is a definite treasure for seafood, Asian flavors, and pork roasts.
At last, now, we come to our rose. This wine is Chateau de Campuget, meaning it is an estate wine. It is 30% Grenache Noir and 70% Syrah. The color, which is a beautiful pale pink shade, comes from four to twelve hours of maceration on the grape skins. It is fermented in stainless steel tanks at a controlled temperature of 64*F and bottled immediately after it is racked and filtered. With no barrel contact (no wood!) it stays so clean and crisp and light. This wine is aromatic and full of red fruit flavors (cherry,raspberry, strawberry), it is just about perfect. At $10.99, you can try a couple of bottles this weekend. Then you’ll be ready to have it with your holiday ham. You and it will both shine! Enjoy!