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What I've Been Drinking Lately: My New Favorite House Red
By John Anderson
Jan 26, 2023
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I have a new favorite House Red.  AND it typically retails for under $20 a bottle.  One of my local retailers here in the Wilds of Westchester has it for $18+ tax, but I’ve found that a few of the larger Manhattan stores carry it for as little as $14-$15+ tax.  Beat that with a big stick!

And this mystery wine is?

The 2020 “Clos La Coutale” from Cahors in the Southwest of France.

Interestingly, the importer is Kermit Lynch.  Now I don’t normally think of the words “Kermit Lynch” and “Bargain Wine” together, but I have to admit that two of my favorites are in fact “Kermit Wines,” the “Clos La Coutale” red and the Alsace white blend from Domaine Kuentz-Bas.

First a word about Kermit Lynch, whose portfolio of wines and whose wine and travel writings I greatly admire.  Kermit Lynch deserves his success:  Like my old friend Fred Ek up in Boston—in Cambridge, I should say—and like Neal Rosenthal and the late Joe Dressner in New York, Kermit got there early and swept up many of the best growers.  Good for him!

That said, you can get sticker shock from looking at the prices for many of the top-end Kermit Lynch wines.  The classic example is the Meursault Blagny 1er Cru Blanc from the Comtesse de Chérisey.  Her aunt, the late Comtesse de Montlivault was the doyenne of Blagny, with a fabulous clutch of vineyard land there and in Puligny.  The aunt (I always think of her as “the Old Countess,” and the niece, Hélène de Montlivault de Chérisey, as “the Young Countess”) had a longstanding agreement with Maison Louis Latour to make and distribute the plums of this magnificent domaine.  (There are further plums, including Puligny 1er Crus, among others.)  I have often bought the wonderful Meursault Blagny from Latour—for about $40 a bottle retail as late as 5-6 years ago.  I’m still working on my last case or so of the delicious 2010.  (And lip-smacking good it is too!)  But those days are gone!

Latour still distributes a portion of the Chérisey wines—they now sell for about $75-$80 a bottle—but so too does Kermit, though his Chérisey wines are in fact made by the Countess’ husband, oenologist Laurent Martelet, and are estate-bottled.  Oh, and THEY retail for about $120 a bottle!  They are also much oakier in style and substance.  I prefer the Latour version—and not just for the price.  They are classic, composed, and elegant and extremely well balanced.  And they last.  The ’10 version is absolutely splendid now, but will also age brilliantly.

But back to reality!

Kermit charges an arm and a leg for wines at the top of the heap, but he also, conveniently for those of us who are not Wall Streeters, offers some remarkable bargains at the other end of the heap.  The Cahors is exceptionally well made and exceptionally well-priced.  Which is, of course, why I buy it for myself!

The 2010 “Clos La Coutale” is a blend of 80% Malbec and 20% Merlot grapes.  Malbec (known locally as “Côt”) being the flagship grape of Cahors, the name of the grape figures prominently on the front label.  The average age of the vines is a respectable 25 years.  Now, as you probably know, Cahors reds are famously rough-edged, even a bit raw (from the alcohol) when young.  The “Clos La Coutale” is anything but.

Winemaking has a long history here in the Southwest of France.  In the Middle Ages, wine made from the Côt grapes was known as “Black Wine,” for its dark, rich, inky color.  Powerful and alcoholic it must have made quite some impression on wine drinkers even then!

Today, spread over 100 hectares, the estate produces some 450,000 bottles per year on average.  In the family for six generations, the current owner Philippe Bernède has been manager since 1985.  The different parcels of vineyard land are vilified separately and fermented in stainless steel.  The wine is then blended in January and aged for a year in large oak foudres and in Bordeaux barrels previously used for 1-2 vintages.

The result is, as I say, excellent.  Tasted against a couple of its local rivals, I found it stood out for its elegance and balance, relatively low stated alcohol level (13.5%), and great beauty.  The wine positively gleams in the glass as opposed to the rather dull color of the rivals.  You look at it, and immediately you know that this is a well-made wine, expertly made, in fact.  The nose seems to combine all the spices of Southwest France, yet without being overbearing.  On the palate, it’s smooth, in the best sense.  And there is such a plethora of foods that pair with it! The Southwest is duck country, and so I would not hesitate to drink this with a grilled duck breast—as rare as you can find it in your heart and head to accept!  But, really, this wine would go well with so many entrées, not just steak frites or calf’s liver but also the local standard, a hearty cassoulet now that it’s wintertime.  It would go well too with grilled or roasted chicken, with sausages of all sorts or rich stews (again, both ideal for cold, wintertime nourishment).

The turn to cold weather also inspired me to reach into the depths of my cellar and bring out a modestly aged—not quite 15 years old—2009 Châteauneuf-du-Pape rouge from the Domaine du Galet des Papes.  While I’m not a big fan of young Châteauneuf reds, I find that the improvement with age is often astonishing.  This one finished at 14.5% stated alcohol, but tasted a degree less now that it had had time in bottle.  Like the Coutale, the nose exhibited spices but with perhaps a bit more oomph, as befits the appellation.  My thoughts fixed on it surging wild character—like the land itself.  Quite appealing, I might say—and well worth the cellaring.