This bottle could well be the future of the much-troubled French wine business. If so, the future may not be as dire as so many fear.
The Little James ($12, purchased, available at Spec’s, Whole Foods) is a red blend made by Chateau de Saint-Cosme, a 450-year-old Rhone producer whose offerings include several $100, high-score wines. It’s not exactly like Silver Oak or Screaming Eagle doing a $12 wine, but it’s close enough.
How do they do it? By mixing current vintage wine with older wine, which is less expensive than using all current vintage juice. This version of the Little James is about half from 2011, and the rest comes from wine as old as the 1999 vintage that is stored at the winery.
Why do they do it? Because the French wine market, save for the most expensive wines, has been slowly vanishing for the past two decades. There are dozens of reasons, but the main one is that the rest of the world makes cheap wine just as well, if not better, than the French, and their unsold wine sits on store shelves or in warehouse vats until it’s thrown out.
The Little James is part of the attempt to recapture that market. It’s 100 percent grenache, a sturdy Rhone grape, and it smells and tastes of the Rhone. There is barnyard and bacon fat on the nose, and earthy, black fruit that gives way to a darkish finish. All in all, it’s an impressive effort that would pair with pizza, roast chicken, and almost anything with roasted mushrooms. It’s certainly not what I expected given the cutesy label and name (and a tip o’ the Curmudgeon’s fedora to Eddie Eakin at Veritas, who told me about this).
One caveat: Prices for the Little James are all over the place; I’ve seen it for as little as $10, and as much as $17. At $17, it’s not that great a value, and I suspect those retailers are trying to capitalize on St. Cosme’s reputation.