Gut Check loves us some wine. We want a bottle with bang and a bang for our buck, so every week we will visit a local wine shop, where the experts will recommend a good-value wine priced under $15. We'll drink some and tell you wether we want to continue -- because the only time Gut Check has our nose in the air is while we're draining our glass.
Whether in wine or life -- and really, what's the difference? -- sometimes one has to remember to just breathe. This was the lesson Gut Check learned when we visited Bud Starr of Starrs (1135 South Big Bend Boulevard, Richmond Heights; 314-781-2345) to sip 2007 Domaine Santa Duc "Les Vieilles Vignes" Côtes du Rhône.
Gut Check and Starr discovered together the key to making this bottle a good buy: Let it air itself out for a half-hour. While we waited for the Côtes du Rhône to, as the wine saps put it, "open up," we discussed the bottle at hand, as well as how the drinking scene has become more "fragmented" since Starr got into the business 31 years ago.
As to the bottle, we kinda broke our own rule by agreeing to spotlight a wine that costs more than $15. Starr persuaded us to bump up to $15.99 on the grounds that the '07 is a very good vintage and this wine-maker, Yves Gras, is known as the King of Gigondas -- Gigondas being a wine-producing district within the famed Rhône region of southeast France.
According to importer Robert Kacher's website, Gras lives in the garrigue, an "arid, rocky section of vineyards that run north and south mid-slope between the Ouvéze and Rhône Rivers," characterized by "roasted, dry soils" and wild herbs, sage and cedar. (With digs as ruggedly picturesque as all that, this king dude sounds like a match for the Most Interesting Man in the World.)
"Vieilles Vignes" means "old vines," and it's generally a selling point, on the assumption that mature vines produce superior grapes. For whatever that's worth, in this case the vines are about 40 years old. The red blend is composed of 70 percent grenache, 25 percent syrah and 5 percent mourvèdre. Another selling point: This wine bears the imprimatur Côtes du Rhône-Villages, meaning it's from an area that's officially recognized as one step above your garden-variety Côtes du Rhône locales.
"Côtes du Rhône is not as heavy as a cabernet-based wine, but it is a little bigger than pinot noirs, so they stand up to grilled foods better," imparts Starr. "These wines are specifically made to go with a meal. It's going to be perfect for spring, because everyone will be out grilling."
So it's perhaps appropriate that, like this late-arriving spring, this week's wine isn't quite ready to drink.
"One key thing about drinking a red wine with grilled foods is you have to make sure it's the right temperature," Starr adds. "You may even have to stick it in the refrigerator for just a second to serve it at about 60 degrees."
By this time Gut Check is thirsty, and a little hungry from this grill talk.
But first, what do the experts say?
Robert Parker says 87 on his hundred-point scale and this adjectival triumvirate: "Opulent, fleshy, and rich."
Says Starr: "Medium-bodied, very structured, very dry, plenty of tannin, plenty of backbone, known for a jammy nose." (Nose jam notwithstanding, even Starr had to inhale several times before his well-tuned honker picked up "black raspberry and a little bit of wildflower.")
To whom would Starr recommend this bottle? "It's a good wine for people who enjoy dry red wines," he says, adding, "it's meant to go with food. And cheese, like P'tit Basque."
Gut Check's take: Agreed, it is dry. And like one's sense of humor, one needs to know how to use it: if it ain't working for you when you pop the cork, leave it alone for half an hour, maybe even stick it in the fridge. And for God's sake, find something to eat.