Wine of the Week
Coudoulet de Beaucastel Cotes du Rhone 1989
In the past year, since Noah was born, I've done very little real cooking, and I've missed it. So last week, when I stumbled across a recipe for bistro chicken in Cooking Light, I saw something I had to try. I love bistro cooking for its robust flavors as well as for the apprearance, at least, of simplicity, and this dish looked like a winner.
The question then became what wine to pair with it. Something rustic, French, and not too expensive seemed about right, so I immediately thought of a Cotes-du-Rhone. Unfortunately, I don't have much Cotes-du-Rhone on hand these days, so I wound up going a bit more upmarket than I originally intended. But it paid off in a big way.
The Cotes-du-Rhone I chose was Coudoulet de Beaucastel, the second wine of Chateauneuf-du-Pape mainstay Chateau de Beaucastel. The Coudoulet vineyards are across the road from the main Beaucastel vineyards, just outside the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation, and Beaucastel sometimes adds juice from young vines in the main vineyards. Most Cotes-du-Rhone is relatively light (though flavorful) and meant to be drunk young. Although the Coudoulet vineyards' location means that the wine has to be sold as a Cotes-du-Rhone, however, it's really appropriate to think of Coudoulet as a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and to give it some time to develop in the bottle. Not as much time as with Beaucastel, perhaps—I've had some magnificent older Beaucastels, and I doubt that Coudoulet would hold up for multiple decades as Beaucastel can. But time does help.
The 1989 Coudolet reveals considerable ambering, suggesting that it's probably not likely to improve much more. But that's okay—this is spectacularly good wine. The aroma is of black fruit and rubrum lilies, showing the influence of the mourvedre in the blend. It's quite distinctive and very inviting. The flavors are powerful without being overwhelming, with blackberry and plum fruit married to leather, lilies, licorice, spice, and black pepper. There is still significant tannin, but there's nothing astringent; the tannins simply provide a sense of structure.
This is a wine to scare neophytes and small children—its flavors are unusual and vaguely savage, not at all like the pure fruit flavors that frequently emerge from California. But it's really fantastic stuff, and it complemented the chicken's flavors perfectly. When I bought it, the Coudolet cost a little more than half what the Beaucastel cost, about $17 to the Beaucastel's $30. Having now tasted the Coudolet at maturity, I really wish I'd bought more of it and less of the Beaucastel (which, though wonderful, isn't twice as wonderful).
I heartily endorse the bistro chicken recipe, by the way. It's quite simple, but there was still sufficient chopping and so forth to give me the sense that I was actually participating in the process, not just dumping a whole bunch of ingredients together. Prep time from start to finish was about ninety minutes, the last 45 of which required little work. Next time I'll tinker with it a bit, but as far as I'm concerned, when you're working with tomatoes, olives, and capers, it's hard to go wrong. Unless you're making cheesecake, of course.