Margaret and Dick   


August '04: Cheap wine

Limoux is a wine town, as our readers already know.  Although we settled here for the cycling, living in a regional wine center is also an attraction, especially as the local wines improve.  Our Languedoc region is called the California of France for its sun and consequent quantity of wine production.  The quality has steadily improved during our time here.  In Limoux, long a center of white wine production, reds are coming on strong.  Much of the shift is market-driven:  world consumption of whites is static, while consumption of reds is increasing.  The high-priced Bordeaux and Burgundy regions are finding competition worldwide not only from Australia and South America but also from the Languedoc.  As a result, we are spoiled rotten with good wine at low prices.  We tend to stay away from the cheaper stuff and splurge, typically paying 5 ($6).

You know you live in a wine town when you can buy bubbly at your vet.  Our veterinarian's family makes wine.  For that matter, almost everybody's family makes wine.  You can buy a good bottle of wine at the bread store, the produce store, and at gas stations, too.

Wine is served free at any ceremonial occasion in Limoux, and the French do love their ceremonies:  every theatrical production, every concert, local bike races (with a bottle of bubbly provided to even young teens who win), welcoming vacationers to the local campground...  You get the picture.

Fabienne told me she was searching for good value red wines at 5 or less to serve to guests at Hotel le Monastere.  Always interested in good bargains, I agreed to organize a tasting of Merlots, the Bordeaux grape that is all the rage in the States and becoming well established here in the Languedoc.  We invited David and Barbara, who have joined in many of our wine tastings, as well as Roberto, who knows a lot about wine.  We stuck with anglophones to simplify the wine vocabulary.

I bought two local Merlots:  Domaine Emile Satge, a quality family producer, at 5, and Sieur d’Arques, our local volume producer, under 4 and available in the supermarkets.  Fabienne surprised us with a Merlot from Domaine d’Aigle, known for its high-end Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  “Not a fair comparison!” I objected.  She countered,  “This costs just 5,” so it fit the framework of the value wine tasting.

In France you never drink on an empty stomach.  Roberto brought a comparison tasting of two local boudins, the local blood sausage, dark and rich in iron and delicious in very small doses.  Boudin on Tuesdays has been a Limoux tradition for decades, Fabienne explained.  One came from Vaquier the deli-caterer and another from Garcia the butcher across the street, still steaming hot from cooking.  Barbara and David brought smoked salmon on toast, and I had prepared two veggie dips, a white bean paté and an eggplant “caviar”. 

I had also prepared a “ringer” wine guaranteed to surprise the tasters.  Removing the label from an elegant tall bottle, I added my own label:  

Chateau de Cubi
Cuvée Cache-Flo
Elevé en Carton

Sounds nice in French, non?  The English translation: 

Chateau Bag-in-Box
Cash Flow Blend
Aged in Cardboard

 My Chateau de Cubi was a bulk Merlot from the local red-wine specialist Anne de Joyeuse (nice name), packaged in a 5-liter cubitainer as the bag-in-box wines are called here, each box with its little spigot for dispensing.  It costs 12 for 5 liters, or around 2 per bottle!  This cave cooperative has corned the bulk red wine market, and most of the local restaurants offer their wines in pitchers.  I find it quite drinkable: medium in body, nice acidity. 

In preparing for the tasting, I had mentioned to Roberto that I might include a Bordeaux St Emilion from our cellar for comparison.  St Emilion is made primarily from Merlot.  When the guests arrived, I realized that we had more than enough wine to go around without serving it. 

But Roberto remembered my hint.  When he tasted the hand-labeled bag-in-box wine, he said, “This wine is not from around here,” and made some positive comments, though noting a high acidity for his tastes.  He told me the next day that the power of suggestion made him think that the local bulk wine might just be a Bordeaux worth much more.  

The results: 

Our all-round favorite was Domaine de l’Aigle, 5, complex and interesting, full body, which would definitely compare well with inexpensive Bordeaux;

The runner-up was the Satge, also 5, with good aromas and complexity;

The 2 bag-in-box wine got surprisingly good reviews as well, for its medium body that goes well with many foods;

The lowest rating went to the Sieur d’Arques supermarket wine at 4, with overtones of burned rubber. 

So, you get what you pay for, most of the time, and you sure don’t need to pay much!

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