Psst! A Great, Unknown French Wine

Many oenophiles aren't aware of Vacqueyraslet alone know how to pronounce thembut they are as good as the finest Châteauneuf-du-Papes

Over the past decade wines from the sun-drenched areas of southern France have become more renowned and popular with consumers as these natural, unmanipulated, often un-oaked reds and whites offer the perfect combination of value, beautiful fruit, and remarkable flexibility with an assortment of cuisines. Côtes du Rhônes, which represent the lowest level of the quality hierarchy in southern France, are great bargains that I have discussed in previous articles. At the top end are Châteauneuf-du-Papes, which have become very popular as well as expensive, although they remain bargains when compared with similar quality from Burgundy or Bordeaux.

Only a 20-minute drive from Châteauneuf-du-Pape and planted with the same varietals is the appellation of Vacqueyras (pronounced "Vac-ke-rahs"). This region, which remains under most consumers' radars, produces reasonably priced wines that are better than most Côtes du Rhônes and nearly as good as the finest Châteauneuf-du-Papes. Following are some fabulous Vacqueyras producers who made excellent 2005s and 2006s that sell at realistic prices. Readers should expect Vacqueyras to drink well young, yet last for a decade. It possesses a character similar to that of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, meaning aromas redolent with scents of Provençal herbs, black cherries and blacker fruits, raspberries, licorice, spice, and pepper.

89 points

Domaine des Amouriers 2005 Vacqueyras Les Genestes

The 2005 Vacqueyras Les Genestes is a denser, more structured, deeper wine than the 2006. Made from an identical blend, the 2005 has higher acidity, more noticeable tannin, and overall is a superior wine, but two to three years of patience is suggested. Anticipated maturity: now-2013. $32

90 points

Domaine de la Brunely 2005 Vacqueyras

A gorgeous effort, Brunely's 2005 Vacqueyras exhibits a deep ruby/purple color, good acidity, silky tannins, and copious quantities of black cherry and berry fruit intermixed with licorice, pepper, and spice. This classic Provençal red should drink nicely for seven to eight years. $25

90 points

Domaine Le Couroulu 2005 Vacqueyras

This offering reveals good acidity buttressed by full-bodied, powerful, dense black cherry and cassis notes intermixed with pepper, garrigue, and spice. The wine is very Provençal, mouth-filling, and totally delicious. Drink it over the next seven to eight years. $30

90 points

Patrick Lesec Selections 2005 Vacqueyras Vieilles Vignes

The classic effort is a blend of 75% grenache and 25% syrah. It exhibits a dense ruby/purple color along with a big, peppery, cassis, licorice, and roasted herb-scented bouquet. This elegant, noble, deep wine should age nicely for seven to eight years. $25

90+ points

Domaine La Garrigue 2005 Vacqueyras

The beautiful 2005 Vacqueyras La Garrigue is a deep, medium to full-bodied effort displaying a dense ruby/purple color, roasted Provençal herbs, plenty of black cherry fruit, licorice, earth, and spice. It has a decade's worth of drinking ahead of it. $20

90+ points

La Monardière 2005 Vacqueyras Les 2 Monardes

The sexy, deep purple-colored 2005 Vacqueyras Les 2 Monardes (70% grenache and 30% syrah) reveals forward aromas of red and black fruits intermixed with jus de viande as well as a subtle herbaceousness. Fleshy, dense, succulent, and atypically forward and plush for a 2005, it should drink well for six to seven years. $25

91 points

Domaine Font Sarade 2005 Vacqueyras

A 50-50 blend of syrah and grenache, this wine exhibits sweet, smoky aromas of red and black fruits, licorice, underbrush, and spice. Fleshy, with excellent purity and a long, moderately tannic, velvety finish, it should be enjoyed over the next seven to eight years. $33

92 points

Domaine Le Couroulu 2005 Vacqueyras Vieilles Vignes

The sumptuous 2005 Vacqueyras Vieilles Vignes is one of the wines of the vintage for this appellation.

A gorgeous deep ruby/purple, nearly black color as well as a fabulous nose of cassis, charcoal, garrigue, licorice, and pepper are followed by an intense, multilayered wine oozing with fruit, extract, and wonderfully sweet, velvety tannins. This superb Vacqueyras should drink well for 10 to 12 years. Don't miss it! $32

92 points

Domaine La Fourmone 2005 Vacqueyras Cep d'Or

From a selection of old vines, the 2005 Vacqueyras Cep d'Or is mostly grenache with a small quantity of mourvèdre. One of the finest 2005s I've tasted, aromas of blueberries, blackberries, dark cherries, charcoal, and roasted herbs soar from the glass of this dense purple-colored wine. Full-bodied and luscious, with sweet tannin as well as good acidity, this fleshy, succulent red is ideal for drinking over the next 10 to 12 years. $29

92 points

Domaine La Garrigue 2005 Vacqueyras La Cantarelle

This estate's luxury cuvée, the 2005 La Garrigue Cantarelle (75% grenache from a single parcel of 100-year-old vines and 25% syrah) is sensational. It might need another year of bottle age, but it is an incredibly generous, savory wine with classic crème de cassis, scorched earth, roasted herbs, and licorice in the aromatics. Full-bodied and concentrated, with silky tannins and relatively lofty alcohol, this is a heady, full-bodied, quintessentially Provençal wine to drink over the next 10 to 15 years. $40

92 points

Montirius 2005 Vacqueyras Garrigues

This is the finest cuvée I have tasted from this producer, who owns 80-plus acres in Vacqueyras. The dense ruby/purple-tinged 2005 Vacqueyras Garrigues is a blend of 70% grenache and 30% syrah. It possesses copious aromas of crème de cassis, blackberries, truffles, and charcoal, beautiful purity, a multilayered mouthfeel, and a powerful, smooth finish. Drink it over the next 8 to 10 years. $35

93 points

Sang des Cailloux 2005 Vacqueyras Cuvée de Lopy

One of the great Vacqueyras of the vintage is Sang des Cailloux' 2005 Vacqueyras Cuvée du Lopy. A blend of 75% grenache and 25% syrah, all from 40- to 50-plus-year-old vines, this wine has a wonderfully smoky, earthy nose of truffle juice, blackberries, cherries, meats, forest floor, flowers, and Provençal herbs. Deep, sumptuous, rich, and dense, with moderately high but sweet tannin, this is a sensational Vacqueyras to drink over the next 10 to 15 years. $42

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