Les Garrigues: French underdog comes of age 

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The universe in a grain of sand? I’ll let philosophers of a William Blake bent wrestle with that one. But the world of wine in a single bottle? Why not?

For a number of reasons, one bottle caught my fancy for this exercise in expansion ad absurdum: it’s French (and they developed many of the rules); it’s from a wine region that has heretofore been an underdog; the wine is made from a grape we don’t see much of … and whereas the French usually assume that there’s no need to put much real information on a label, this one actually has something to say.

The wine is Les Garrigues Grande Réserve 2009, and it’s a vin de pays du Torgan grenache blanc (about $15 at Saglimbeni’s). Let’s start with the term vin de pays. It’s a stage in the French wine classification system that’s one step above table wine; “country” wine is its essential translation, and it’s where a lot of wine values are to be found.

The next thing we need to know is what “pays” we’re talking about. Turns out that Torgon is a very small zone in southern France’s Languedoc-Rousillon wine appellation, a region that is home to much of the country’s VDP production — likely a vestige of its former reputation as purveyors of plonk. But the region has improved its image greatly due to improved winemaking and viticultural techniques. Grenache is one of the widely planted varieties, both in its red and white forms, though it’s better known in the Rhône (and in Spain, where it originated).

We’re going to ignore “Grande Réserve” as being meaningless, but we will pay attention to 2009: by most counts, it was a good year in southern France, with reduced yields producing concentrated wines. Uncharacteristically, the label also proclaims “oak aged,” which sets up expectations of even more concentration and depth.

So let’s get to the name. The label mentions “delicate citrus fruit aromas and herby notes,” and it’s from the latter that even further expectations derive: garrigue is a term for a scrubby Mediterranean ecoregion in which lavender, sage, rosemary, and other shrubby plants grow. Grapes grown in these regions are often said to possess the herby-earthy qualities implied by the surrounding landscape.

There’s more information on the back label, but what about inside the bottle? Yes, there is light citrus on the nose, followed by an oak-enhanced spiciness and a whiff of resinous underbrush. The mouthfeel is rich and voluptuous. And the taste is expressive: expected light herbs and citrus shading into more tropical notes with time in the glass. The bottle, both inside and out, has much to tell us about this wine specifically and about wines in general. Can’t think of a better way to learn.

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