In general, when the ‘easy drinking’ tag is looped around a product’s neck, it refers to gentle, unassuming buzz water—low-alcohol, no-brain, value-priced wine which usually contains a dollop or two of residual sugar. Chuck the word ‘fun’ into the ad campaign and it’s time to head for the hills: Preferably, the hills of Côte-Rôtie to pick up a flagon of La Turque—one example of a hard-drinking, hard-thinking man’s wine.
But of course, the exception proves the rule. Domaine de la Terre Rouge, which specializes in single-site Syrahs from some of the highest altitude vineyards in California, has released their own version of a self-styled ‘fun and easy drinking’ wine. Tête-à-Tête is a blend of Côte-Rôtie classics (it’s 56% Syrah, 28% Mourvèdre & 16% Grenache), but blended from the estate’s younger vines and barrel lots showing plenty of sweet, forward fruit. With this particular grape trio, that means lots of dark summer flavors; boysenberry, black cherry, blackberry and currant— the style, say, of a top-end Côtes-du-Rhône Villages.
Going head-to-head with a typical Kroger ‘easy drinking’ wine, Tête-à-Tête is hardly tit for tat.
Now, a word on de la Terre Rouge owners Bill Easton and Jane O’Riordan. Lovely, all-American folks they are, though for some reason, obsessed with français. That’s ‘French’ to you and me. The Domaine (read: winery) is nestled in the Steinbeck (not Baudelaire) approved Sierra foothills southeast of Sacramento (a Spanish word), where the dirt (not the terre) is red (not rouge).
It gets worse. According to them, Tête-à-Tête is an assemblage aged in François Frères cooperage which shows off terroir. They claim to ‘French plow’ their vineyards, whatever that means. Their website even links Québécois wine reviews in French.
Geez, Eastons and France—get a chambre already.
It is but a minor tic (and winemakers have plenty of those) from an exciting, progressive winery dedicated to earth-first practices, including a solar powered tasting room and bottles made from ‘cullet’—ground-up, re-used glass (pronounced kull-it, incidentally, not coo-lay).
Maybe that’s it. Everything is sustainable. Perhaps all their bon mots are simply recycled words from the cellars of Avignon. In which case, it’s okay.
Still, a note to the inimical team of Easton/ O’Riordan: Drinking Tête-à-Tête is loads of fun, but learning how to pronounce French? Not so much.
Domaine de la Terre Rouge Tête-à-Tête, Sierra Foothills, 2008, about $16: A big-shouldered red for the price; plush and sumptuous with blood orange on the nose, cherry and blackberry throughout, silky and round mouthfeel without any hard edges. Syrah adds a pleasant hint of charcoal.