The Noble Writ: Comfort Wine

My tastes generally run to the esoteric, the obscure, the endangered and, sometimes, the downright odd. Which isn't to say I can't and don't appreciate more "mainstream" wines, because I can and do, but with so many wines available in the market, I can't resist the urge to explore.

Occasionally, however, I want a sure thing. One of the wines that has served steadfastly in this role for me over the past seven vintages or so is the Les Hérétiques bottling from the Iché family at Chateau d'Oupia in Minervois. The Iché family has been one of the leading lights in the region, producing excellent wines from an area that has concentrated far too long on quantity over quality. The patriach of the Iché family passed away almost two years ago, but importer Joe Dressner's remembrance of M. Iché provides a glimpse of the lives behind these wines.

Les Hérétiques is inexpensive -- shockingly so for the quality of the wine in the bottle. When I first started buying it, I believe it cost about $6 a bottle, and that was from a shop in New York City. Over the course of almost a decade, the wine's distribution has migrated to the Midwest, but the price has risen to the princely sum of $10.

Les Hérétiques is a Vin de Pays, technically a Vin de Pays de Hérault. French wine is organized largely on a geographic basis with the broadest category, Vin de Table, having the loosest production constraints. The restrictions grow as the geographic scope of the wine region decreases, with French law regulating everything from the grape varieties that can be used, to the yield from the vineyards, the manner of harvesting, and minimum levels of alcohol in the finished wine.

In practice, the legal restraints are so loose that quality-minded producers don't need to worry about meeting the requirements. The only one that is of real concern is the restriction on grape varieties: Producers who want to raise grape varieties that are not "traditional" in their region may find themselves stuck with the Vin de Table label as a result.