A Rich, Ripe Rhône from Delas Frères

The concept of ordering a glass of wine at the bar in France is pretty new. Oh, one could always get un rouge at the local café, the sort of place that used to be full of Gauloise smoke (before smoking was declared illegal) and still has four noisy kids playing foosball in the back. But decent wine by the glass was an entirely alien concept until an Englishman, Mark Williamson, came along and showed the French how to do it. Wine bars were already well-established in England when he opened Willi's Wine Bar in Paris in 1980, and it's still thriving today, as charming, delightful, and full of interesting wines as ever. Recently Williamson expanded his operation by opening a larger, more formal restaurant, Maceo, next door at 15 rue des Petits-Champs in the 1er (tel: 01 42 97 53 85). Happily, Maceo's more upmarket digs haven't affected his passion for less well-known artisanal wines, particularly those from the Rhône Valley. It was when dining there this fall that my eyes alighted on a wine, Delas Frères, which was produced at a vineyard I had visited just a few days before and whose wine had particularly impressed me. A Take-No-Prisoners Taste?Maceo was offering the Delas Frères Hermitage, Marquise de la Tourette 2001 ($68 retail price) which, despite its grand sounding name, is the producer's "basic" Hermitage cuvée. This should not, however, be taken in any way as a diminution. Hermitage is a quite small and exclusive appellation, and Dellas is a super producer, so this is a highly superior wine. In many ways it's an old fashioned Hermitage in that it's a muscular, robust red just packed with punchy, take-no-prisoners flavor. It's all leather and smoke and black olives and pungent spiciness. Yes, there's plenty of that peppery spice one expects in syrah, and this made it the perfect accompaniment for Maceo's imaginative, champignon-themed seasonal menu I savored that evening. Note on availability: The current release is the 2006, which is a bit young for this great wine, but older vintages are available at http://www.wine-searcher.com.

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