Vacqueras loveWe've had a lovely bender of 80 degree temps here in Beantown. Love it. My soul is being nourished with Vitamin D, my grill is getting some much needed TLC, and I have an "excuse" to drink red wines even when it is warm out. This week I brought home a bottle of one of my all time favorite wines: 2006 Mas du Bouquet Vacqueras by Vignerons de Caractere.  Yes, I love a good Cote du Rhone. But the Vacqueras is my true happy place in that region. Almost 20 years ago Vacqueras got a little extra "credit" for the wines it produces, largely red wines made of the famous "GSM" trifecta: Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre; Vacqueras became one of (now) five AOCs in the Cote du Rhone. (By way of reference, there are over 100 villages within the CDR that do not have a special designation, or AOC status.)

Law mandates Vacqueras reds have at least 50% Grenache and at least 20% of either Syrah or Mouvedre. From there winemakers can blend in any one of the other 10 varietals permitted in the CDR, though you'll often discover Cinsault if a fourth grape is included in a particular red. Vacqueras is special because of its glacial soils as well as the hot, dry climate that is perfect for producing dense, structured, concentrated wines. And yet I find Vacqueras offerings tend to be a bit more approachable than its Gigondas or Chateneuf du Pape counterparts. (Ok, fine, you're working your way up the Wow Factor charts in "magical" qualities with those other two AOCs, but you also pay a few extra dollars accordingly.)

Vacqueras wines can certainly indulge your wild side or transport you to the great outdoors - they can offer tremendous earthy, herbaceous, rustic qualities, with trademark spice hitting a nice note on the finish. But more often I find those elements are more subtle, evolving behind the bigger fruit fiddles playing the main tune. These reds are big and bold - but soft and lush, too. The paradox enthralls my taste buds - AND more to the point, indulges my need to grill, grill, grill!

The Mas du Bouquet is a favorite of mine because of its tremendous consistency despite being the product of a co-op of winemakers. I think its consistency is actually an expression of place: the Manganelli Family has owned their vineyards for 100 years and many of the vines are quite old. That kind of history coupled with a dedication to sustainable, environmentally-friendly practices must set a certain tone and yield (no pun intended) particularly good fruit. That gives any winemaker a decent head start.

My tasting notes, you now demand? Fine, fine... When it is first opened, spices will literally tickle your nose distracting you from garnering more. But within as little as 20 minutes, its violet and lavender florals emerge, followed by aromas of black raspberries and plums. These fruits are juicy on the palate, with a touch of blackberry coming to fruition as well. A hint of leather, a hint of spice - and all is naughty and nice! The mouthfeel is what sends me to the moon, though - lush and supple with only gentle tannins becoming even softer as the wine continues to open. Lip-smacking goodness. Perfect with game, burgers, lamb - or even an earthy risotto dish, I imagine!

Which Vacqueras do you most enjoy? Or will you beginning your travels with the Mas du Bouquet?