One of the things I look for in a wine, or at least any wine north of $20, is depth and complexity. This is what makes a wine interesting, the way it gradually evolves in the glass, slowly revealing different aspects of its personality.
It sometimes happens in single-varietal wines—cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, nebbiolo, etc.—but it is more common in those that are a blend of more than one type of grape, as each brings something different to the party.
This is the secret behind the great wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape from France's southern Rhône region. The AOC (appellation d'origine contrôlée) rules allow for the use of eight different red varietals, but in practice grenache predominates, with mourvèdre and syrah playing supporting roles. The producers make a great play of the fact that their particular blend is the secret of their success, but in reality they are making a virtue out of a necessity—their cuvée, or formula, is dictated not by some ideal concept but by which varietals happen to have been planted in their vineyards 20 years ago.
What is of far more importance is how well those diverse elements play off each other and coalesce into a harmonious whole. Successful wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are those in which no single varietal stands out, with the final wine being an ensemble production, greater than its individual components.
One fine example is this week's Wine of the Week, the Clos de L'Oratoire des Papes 2005 ($43).
It shows the wonderful harmony between grenache and syrah that is possible, sometimes, in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and is so often imitated elsewhere but rarely with similar success. Here the syrah's heft and spiciness are nicely balanced by grenache's gentle, sexy fruit in a glorious marriage of opposites.
While it is marked by a vibrant fruitiness now, it should age for a while longer and will develop darker, more mysterious pleasures as it does so.
When to Drink: Now and for the next five years
Breathing/Decanting: Up to an hour's breathing really helps it open up.
Food Pairing: Roast beef, lamb, pork, Mediterranean foods
Grapes: 80 percent grenache, 10 percent syrah, 10 percent mourvèdre and cinsault
Region: Southern Rhône