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MARCH 25, 2010
2004 Chateau de Rhodes Gaillac—a Rustic Red

ChateauRhodes Last night I dug into my wine fridge and grabbed a bottle I've been intrigued by for some time but kept overlooking when I'd want to open something. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact I didn't really know much—if anything—about it. While I love Rhone varietals, and rich Pinot from Burgundy, have tinkered with Bordeaux blends, and have even spent some time exploring the vastness of the Gamay grape from Beaujolais and the Loire Valley, I am on a never-ending quest to learn about French wines. There are a number of appellations within regions that produce many varieties of wine. And this one, the Chateau de Rhodes, is no exception. It hails from the Gaillac wine growing region in southwest France, which was first cultivated back in Roman times and was then known for producing exceptional sparkling wines. These days, Gaillac produces both reds and whites and some grapes are pretty obscure.

The majority of this wine is Syrah (55 percent) while 33 percent comes from a regional grape called Braucol. I looked it up and it's known by a few names, including Fer, which is the French word for iron. Apparently when used as a grape, Fer (or Braucol) refers to the hardness of the vine and winemakers use this grape to add richer color and a more robust flavor. The last bit (just 12 percent) comes from Cabernet Franc, and when that finally shows up, you know it arrived.

When I first opened the bottle, it was light and fruity on the nose with a hint of cinnamon or clove. There was definitely some spice to it, maybe even some white pepper. It poured a dark garnet so I anticipated a heavy rich wine. At first, the spiced cherry was really apparent and the tannins were light. But the wine was really well balanced and had a soft finish. Then I let it sit in the glass for a while. Man, did it change. The dark berries became more pronounced and there was more earth on the finish. Then the Cab Franc decided to say hello. The herbaceousness and green pepper dominated and the tannins more pronounced. The wine became so much more complex and rustic and definitely could have benefited from food, even some hearty cheese.

This bottle exemplifies why I love wine. You think it's one thing but then the layers start peeling off and you see just how involved it can be. I wouldn't necessarily reach for the Chateau de Rhodes everyday (although it's pretty affordable at around $15, give or take a few bucks), but when preparing roasted chicken or grilled meats, it's definitely one for the decanter.

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