Sunday, January 26, 2014

Can a $9 bistro wine be "tight"?

La Vieille Ferme Cotes du Ventoux 2006; grenache (50%), syrah (20%), carignan (15%), cinsault (15%). $7.99. Child's licorice medicine -- "tight"

La Vieille Ferme is one of those workhorse wines that show up on grocery and liquor stores' inexpensive lower shelves as an example of a standard but good quality European product. It is an AOC wine, therefore legally a step above "vin de pays" or country wine. This is the red version. There is a white La Vieille Ferme, with the same cute chickens on the label. Both are blends of grapes typical of the southern Rhone - the white version combines white grenache, bourboulenc, ugni blanc (also known as trebbiano, one of the most important white grape varieties in the world, because it is so widely planted and contributes to so many wines), and roussanne.

Last year when a wholesale distributor hosted a tasting at the shop and brought La Vieille Ferme, red and white, he promoted them to customers as everyday bistro wines, which French restaurant-goers would sip alongside a nice simple meal. I remember, when I first sniffed the red in my glass, getting the wild impression that I could smell summer. Sunshine, heat, and dust on a French country road all wafted up from the glass, I thought. Which is funny since I've never been to the south of France, in summer or otherwise.

This latest bottle of La Vieille Ferme, red, disappointed. Perhaps the atmosphere of a delightful little shop helps foster more poetic impressions of wine than come to mind in my own pantry, for as I sipped my glass a few weeks ago, I smacked and gurgled and savored and thought -- as my notes above repeat -- child's licorice medicine. Since I like to contribute to Chateau Petrogasm when I can, I do try to think of wine in images as well as words. That's what came to me. A stick of black licorice and a bottle of Robitussin. Neither of which I like.

I also thought, this is what people mean when they describe a wine as "tight." I'm not sure what other words would serve to elaborate on that word, because "tight" really does fit best. Tight here means hard, simple, narrow, cold ... unforgiving, unforthcoming, uninteresting. And yet, not necessarily spoiled or flawed. Do tight wines improve? According to the Wine Lover's Companion (which also told me about trebbiano, above), they can mellow with age. However, a rustic, bistro-style Vieille Ferme is not exactly meant to sit in your cellar for years, surely.

A spell in a decanter would help, perhaps, or a night relaxing and opening up a bit in the fridge. The wine, not you. A lunch of soft cheesy scrambled eggs next day might be a good accompaniment to it, for I don't think I'd like to pair this particular bottle, at any rate, with what seems a rather bruising Rhone dinnertime cuisine heavy on lamb, garlic, and peppers, not to mention frightening, unpasteurized French artisanal cheeses (see Karen MacNeil's The Wine Bible, p. 251). But perhaps your sample bottle -- and you'll find one, down on the inexpensive shelves -- will be softer, suppler, and just summerier than mine.

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