Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Two Under $15: One for the Grill and One for the Leftovers

The long Memorial Day weekend brought with it two welcome things: a much needed (and all too rare) two consecutive days off and perfect grilling weather. For the advent of warm weather and simple food, it was time to reach for a couple of quaffable, good value summertime wines.

Vin de Pays des Coteaux de l’Ardèche “Vin de Pétanque,” Mas de Libian 2007
The Thibon family has been farming organically in the Ardèche since the 1960s. Young Hélène Thibon took over the viticultural responsibilities a few years back and has since begun conversion to biodynamic principles. As of 1995, she is also the first generation of the family to estate bottle their wines, most fruit previously having been sold to négociants or taken to the cooperative. “Vin de Pétanque” is the basic red produced at the estate; it falls under Vin de Pays guidelines rather than being designated as Côtes du Rhône like most of Hélène’s other reds. As its name implies – pétanque is a Provençal lawn bowling game, sort of a cross between bocce and horseshoes – it’s a wine perfectly suited to casual drinking. A blend of young vine Grenache with a dash of Syrah, this is best served immediately upon opening, when the primary aromas of fermentation on the wild yeasts are still vital. Serving it with a slight chill, say at cellar temperature, helps to brighten its low acid profile and enliven its dark, spicy red berry fruit. Lower alcohol than Mas de Libian’s bigger reds, it’s a solid choice for summer entertaining and a great choice for burgers – we were flipping bison patties – or grilled sausage and peppers. $12. 13% alcohol. Nomacorc. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.

Beaujolais-Villages, Domaine des Pierres (Jean-François Trichard) 2007
Roast chicken is a cold weather kitchen staple at the McDuff household, at least for the omnivorous member of the family. When putting a bird in the oven, Beaujolais or Cru Beaujolais, from a good producer of course, is one of my go-to wines. This time of year, when the cooking often moves outdoors and the chicken takes on the more intense flavors brought by grilling, a sturdier red could be called into action. My call often stays with Beaujolais though, as its textural freshness marries well with the warmer weather. Like the Ardèche wine above, most Beaujolais also shows well with a light chill, helping it to stay refreshing and making it a good alternative to a crisp white on a hot night on the porch.

At Domaine des Pierres, Jean-François Trichard took over winemaking responsibilities from his father Georges as of the 2006 vintage. His wines continue to show the purity of fruit that was a trademark of his father’s style, while also bringing firm structure into play. The estate’s 2007 Beaujolais-Villages, still very young, is perfectly balanced and already showing lovely aromatic purity and clean, vibrant fruit. Not only did this show better on day two, when its raspberry and strawberry laced aromas became more focused and its tannins more resolved, it also paired better with cold, leftover chicken than it did with chicken fresh off the grill. Translation: a great choice for your next picnic. $15. 13% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.

For more information on pétanque, visit the Official Website of Pétanque America and the Pétanque America blog.

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