I’ve never been to the village of Rasteau, but I can imagine it vividly. A side valley of the Southern Rhone, the village and all its houses with their back against the cruel Mistral. In my dream vision there’s a mule cart trundling along the stone flagged street. Old men play boules and the scent of Provençal herbs waft in off the hills into the small square. Elizabeth David has a walk on part, and so does Keith Floyd.
This is all my dream. I don’t even know if there is a square in that village, let alone whether it is large or small. I imagine on feast days that a great wild boar is brought into that square and turned into a delicious wine rich daube cooked over a fire made of vine trimmings. That stew strongly flavoured with medicinal rosemary and juniper. It’s gamey smell filling the village for days after the feast.
This daube is to take centre place among a whole banquet, the baker bringing out all manner of sweet treats. A table laid out with cheeses of wild and beautiful variety, some fresh, some salted, some rolled in those herbs that seem to be so present. Another with some salads and cured meats, all beautifully shaded.
All of this is to the more perfectly celebrate the wines of the village. Like all Southern Rhones they are Grenache dominated blends but here the grape takes on a richness that typically juicy style of a Cotes du Rhone. These are wines which have an often incredible charm, all the more exciting because charm in wine usually comes at an eye watering cost.
Instead the wines of Rasteau have remained solidly affordable, even perhaps a bargain. Over the course of a decade, the village has been lifted up from a named Cotes-du-Rhone-Village to a full Cru in its own right. That has come about because of the work of some passionate and very talented winemakers working in the commune headed by Andre Romero of Domaine de la Soumade.
His wines were among the first serious wines that I drank and had, let’s call it, an epiphany. I remember the 2007, that was bursting with bright juicy fruit, the 2008 that was harder and leaner, and most recently the plain Rasteau from 2017 that has been eye opening. There is all the dark black berries brooding away, with a fine spicy intrigue. Most delightful of all is the herbs that are dancing, and it is a dance, with an inky black olive. It’s like a basket of Nyon olives are sitting nearby as you sip and smell. It manages to be all of that, and yet also very much a wine to drink.
This sort of wine makes you want to quaff, and nibble, and sip and chew on a fat garlicky piece of salami. It makes you want to laugh and to argue. These are wines that comfort the soul and fires up your spirits. They are a balm and a brand.
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