20060209

How can I love a $13 bottle this much?

Château Montauriol Les Hauts de Montauriol 2001
The Château Montauriol "Les Hauts de Montauriol" 2001 is said to be best drunk when young and chilled. That way, you can showcase its blackened fruitiness and its light and vibrant body. But let's face it. You can't really be drinking a 2001 Côtes-du-Frontonnais this year and think you're catching it in its youth. So I uncorked this bottle realizing I was taking a bit of a chance. It was 2006 after all. Would it be as good as the more recent vintage I savoured in 2005?

Plainly, the answer is yes. To let this wine linger in the cellar is not the horrible mistake you might think it is (the spec sheet does say it has up to a six-year lifespan). Les Hauts de Montauriol mellows a little over time and I tasted it reaching its potential -- some mature fruit flavours and supple leathery tones stood out like never before. This seemed to be provided by Cabernet Franc, which comprises 30% of the wine's fruit. Another large chunk is Négrette (a thoroughly regional species of grape which must compose at least half of any red blend that emerges with the Frontonnais appellation). For this cuvée, Négrette makes up one-half of the blend. Its characteristics are felt. This is a grape is known for its smoothed tannins, roundness and gentle acidity -- perhaps a bit like the Merlot variety is. In any case, to my mind the one-third Cab Franc makes the most noteworthy presence.

This light and leafy wine is a nice match for tortellini marinara. Serve it chilled to 14 degrees and you have yourself a perfect match. The wine is also a note-perfect complement to goat's cheese, so a salad of endives and apples with fresh chèvre and roasted pecans would be sublime. But since I opened my Montauriol late and witnessed its ripened fullness, I made the leap to serving it at 17 degrees with buckwheat chicken grilled with bell peppers, onion and roasted turnip. My feeling was that it could successfully reach out to a nice juicy steak too. Perhaps that's the 20% Syrah, shouting out for a little attention as it rounds out the remainder of the blend. That could be exactly what the missing piece of this puzzle is and the secret to such a remarkable wine's versatility.

Catherine & Nicolas Gelis, Villematier, France. 12.5%.

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