WBW #22 Lite reds: Château Cahuzac 2003

Ultra zoom and the focusing in on a very very light 12%
Château Cahuzac L'Authentique Côtes-du-Frontonnais 2003
For this month's WBW, which is being hosted wonderfully by Winecast, drinkers are asked to keep the alcohol to a minimum. Find a red wine that has no more than 12.5% and write about the impressions that this "once-traditional" level of alcohol has on wine and its flavour.

I think this is the most brilliant topic yet for this event. In many cases, it forces us to look beyond our usual everyday wines, which is always a good thing. But even better than that, Tim from Winecast is encouraging us to grapple with the idea that wine is more than the sum of its parts. Because, you see, alcohol does not have a taste. Yet no one can doubt its impact on wine when you drink the stuff.

So while you cannot taste alcohol itself, its proportions very much do make wine taste differently. There's a sensation or a bigness lent to a wine with high alcohol that you can definitely sense.

In a total coincidence, I tasted Casa Lapostolle's Sauvignon Blanc as apertif to the WBW festivites last night. Casa Lapostolle Sauvignon Blanc 2005My friends and I were preparing dinner and decanting my low-alcohol red, when it hit me: a whopping 14.5% white wine attack. This is an interesting wine, to be sure, but Sauvignon cannot support that kind of heat in the bottle. Despite all its flair and craft, Casa Lapostolle Sauvignon Blanc 2005 tastes too much like a distilled bar drink for my liking. (Did I mention that the Casa is actually run by Grand Marnier?)

But then, I am probably the least likely of all the bloggers in the WBW 22 sphere to drink 14%-plus wines on a regular basis. I opt primarily for Old World wines, and often lighter red ones, so it is not uncommon to see 12.5% reds populating the pages of Weingolb. A brief foray down my sidebar index reveals many of these "lite reds", and even a delightful French vin de pays with only 12% alcohol to boot.

How low could I go, I wondered, as I went off to purchase a bottle for today's event? Finding a 11.5% red was not too difficult. Both Marcillac and Côtes du Forez, which are French regional wines, are in that range. Since I didn't have a firm grip on the style in which they are made or the from which grapes they are blended, I decided against them. I didn't want to judge the success or failure of low alcohol by holding up for scrutiny a wine for which I had no comfortable point of reference.

So I found a wine called Château Cahuzac L'Authentique from food-friendly Fronton, a town north of Toulouse in southwest France. This is the area from which my absolute favourite bargain red originates: Le Montauriol tends to have about 13% in most of its vintages, but I never gave the number much thought.Château Cahuzac L'Authentique Côtes-du-Frontonnais 2003 Until now, that is. I wondered whether lowering that percentage would in turn lower my opinion of this fresh and deft style of wine. Would the 12% value in my newly found Frontonnais infringe on enjoyment?

The 2003 Château Cahuzac Côtes-du-Frontonnais has nice ripened and mûr jam flavours. It is harmonious and smartly punctuated by a slightly bitter finish. Like the bottle says, warms tones of licorice and pepper are delivered. Nice balance, faint nose, not tremendously pigmented or extracted but not seemingly lacking anything. Pleasing all around. But I didn't find that this was the case at all upon my first tasting. I had just come off the searingly hot Lapostolle, and after clearing my palate with some bread, I found that this little red was sapped and dreary. It was like a faint echo of a wine, as if it had been watered down and painted on with fruit.


Later, long after dinner was served, I returned to the wine. It wasn't faint or treacly at all. It even has what I would call medium body -- just less of it than the preceding white, which was whopping. And perhaps that's the greatest lesson of all in WBW 22: minimal alcohol is not necessarily equated with light body. And alcohol does not carry balance or concentration in a wine. It is more elusive than that. Yet it is there to jump out and bite you. Especially if your flight moves from a 14.5% white wine to a 12% red!

Tarn et Garonne, France. 12%

1 comment:

Marcus said...

Notes on the 2005 cuvée (made by Ferran Père et Fils):

Hugely tannic, to a fault, and at first, pointedly earthy and spicy. But with time shows itself well for dessert. This Fronton blend (previously, this AOC was known as Côtes du Frontonnais) is Négrette (a quasi Sangiovese grape variety), Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah and ends up tasting exactly like cracked pepper on freshly picked strawbs. There's a rustic feel but the simple manufacture of this wine makes it unlike a Super Tuscan, if that’s what you’re thinking. It's a very inexpensive bottle ($10) and somehow those crude drying tannins turn out just fine when served quite chilled. Far from a quaffer yet good for summer. Oddity.

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