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2001 Domaine De La Verde, Vacqueyras (Rhone), France

For a while I've maintained a strong attraction to the wines of Gigondas, a tiny little appellation tucked into the southern Rhone, and I'm beginning to develop a bit of a crush on its even tinier neighbor, the microscopic town called Vacqueyras. This little 12th century village is situated in the general Cotes-du-Rhone winemaking region, but like a few other small villages in the area, it also has its own appellation with the same name.

Vacqueyras is located in the Ouvèze valley just to the west of the Dentelles de Montmirail, whose limestone peaks are the primary geologic feature of the region. This places it about halfway between Gigondas and the better known village and appellation of Chateauneuf-du-pape. Vacqueyras has been famous for its wine for a long time, perhaps even since the days when the town was ringed by a series of protective stone fortresses believed to have been built by the Knights Templar (who figure into many modern conspiracy theories as well as The DaVinci Code).

Domaine De La Verde is a 64 acre estate just outside of town that has been producing wine for nearly 100 years. They even won a gold medal for their wine at the universal exhibition in Liege in 1905. Currently the estate is managed by Madame Annie Camallonga whose family comes from both Argentina and France.

Camallonga continues to produce wines with mostly traditional techniques, harvesting the 40-plus year-old vines by hand and partially destemming the whole clusters before pressing the wines into large concrete vats where the fermentation takes place.

I was amazed to learn that this wine sees no oak whatsoever, which is surprising considering the nice dusty tannins that mark the finish of the wine. These must come solely from the skins and stems that are frequently punched down (mixed in with the rest of the juice) during the soaking and fermentation process. The wine is bottled without fining or filtration of any kind.

Like many red wines of the Southern Rhone, this one is a blend of Grenache (65%), Syrah (25%), and Mourvedre (10%). I have no idea what the case production is, but whatever it is, I wish it were higher, if only so that more of us could take advantage of what a great value it represents.

Tasting Notes:
A medium ruby color, this wine has a subdued nose of stewed cranberries, plums, and mushrooms. On the palate it has a very nice balance between earthy black tea flavors and brighter red fruits including raspberries, redcurrants, and a hint of strawberry jam. These rich flavors are buoyed up by a nice acidity and wrapped in surprisingly velvety tannins for the lack of oak used in the winemaking. The finish is unremarkable, save for a nice hint of spice at the very end.

Food Pairing:
This is an easygoing and friendly wine, which has a hint of darkness to it, making it a great pairing with a lot of different foods. I had it tonight with an excellently prepared chicken pot pie with vegetables (from scratch) and it was a nice balance to the rich creaminess of the dish.

Overall Score: 9

How Much?: $14

For those in the Bay Area, or willing to order on the Internet, this wine appears to be available at the San Francisco Wine Trading Company.

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