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Red & White

Southern exposure

French reds make midwinter meals much warmer

(Stephen Meuse for The Boston Globe)
By Stephen Meuse
Globe Correspondent / January 26, 2011

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One of the compensating pleasures of a New England winter is the interiority it imposes. There’s more time to sink deeply into a book or film, cozy up to a weeknight fire, or linger at the supper table over some long-simmered dish and a glass of sturdy and warming red wine. The indoor life can be a richer one.

Come midwinter, it’s wine from the French south we crave. It’s not that this part of the world holds exclusive rights over sturdy and warming, but there is something sunny in the character of theses wines that makes them especially companionable now.

Comprehending the whole area adjacent to the Mediterranean and for many miles inland, the area is divided more or less evenly by the Rhone River. On the east, Provence extends to the Italian border; on the west, Languedoc-Roussillon (the more productive wing) reaches as far as Spain. Wines designated Cotes du Rhone, Cotes de Provence, Coteaux du Languedoc, Cotes du Roussillon, Corbieres, Minervois, and St. Chinian are all representative of the region, regularly seen in our market, and generally indicative of good value in mid-priced reds.

A good deal of variation prevails in weight and body. Something heavy enough to pair with short ribs or lamb shanks may not show as well if paired with a simple roast chicken or pork tenderloin, since these need a lighter touch.

With few exceptions, southern French reds are varietal blends — with grenache doing the heavy lifting. In places where either can be successfully grown, mourvèdre and syrah may be added to provide structure and some durability. Cinsault and carignan, once important, now play smaller roles. You’ll see 2007, 2008, and the very ripe 2009 vintage on shelves. Any of these years will provide a satisfying introduction to the category and good sipping.

Bring in the firewood.

Domaine Clavel “Les Garrigues’’ Languedoc 2007 Dried herb and woodsy aromas; palate shows generous plummy fruit and a spadeful of loamy earth; there’s also fine zip and some appealing textural elements; more than 50 percent syrah. All-in-all a whole lot of wine for the money. Around $14. At Berman’s Wine & Spirits, Lexington, 781-862-0515; Wollaston Wine and Spirits, Quincy, 617-479-4433; Leary’s Fine Wine, Newburyport, 978-462-4451.

Domaine Mas du Bouquet Vacqueras 2009 Broad, mouth-filling fruit plays in a lower register than most; meaty and chewy with real texture and a clean, but not abrupt, finish. Around $15. At Lower Falls Wine, Newton, 617-332-3000; Winestone, Chestnut Hill, 617-264-0393; Last National Wine Co., Acton, 978-897-5511; Wollaston Wine and Spirits.

Domaine Faillenc Sainte Marie Corbieres 2007 The exceptionally bright fruit and an attendant impression of sweetness, so striking on first taste, recede little by little into a more balanced presentation of fruit, acid, and minerality. There’s little texture, but eventually, plenty to interest. Requires a bit of patience. Around $18. At Central Bottle Wine + Provisions, Cambridge, 617-225-0040; South End Formaggio, 617-350-6996.

Domaine du Clos des Fees “Les Sorcieres’’ Cotes du Roussillon 2009 Lighter, more elegant approach; lovely cherry-like fruit reminiscent of cool climate pinot; earthy notes add a welcome counterpoint; silky feel; poignant acidity; nicely put together. Around $17. At Esprit du Vin, Milton, 617-296-9463; Urban Grape, Chestnut Hill, 617-232-4831; Marty’s Fine Wine, Newton, 617-332-1230.

Stephen Meuse can be reached at redandwhite@globe.com.