The AOC Costières de Nimes occupies a singular space in the French wine-drinking imagination—it’s a raw landscape famous for semi-wild horses, black fighting bulls, and the French cowboys, or gardiens, who care for them both. They smoke Gaulouise cigarettes, sleep rough, and wash their steak down with some of France’s most underrated and delicious wines. While we can’t all quit our day jobs to herd cattle through the Rhône river delta, Domaine de la Fanette’s Costières de Nimes brings you a step closer.
Its robust and exuberant flavors keep you warm and provide exceptional value and drinkability in the process. It’s an organically grown blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan hailing from the pebbled marshes between Nimes and the Mediterranean. At first sip, this bottle drinks like a cult wine from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. But spend a little longer with these flavors and you’ll start to notice subtle differences: it’s saltier, fresher, and more energetic than countless much-pricier neighbors. I find it hard to believe a $20 bottle can ooze this much regional character and unapologetic Frenchness (check out the sartorial rooster on the label). If that isn’t enough, 2016 was a spectacular vintage in terms of quality and consistency. If ever a red wine merited a by-the-case purchase, this is it—it’s absolutely perfect for the season and guaranteed to impress whenever you break out a bottle. Have at it!
Costières de Nimes is an “in-between” region stretching 4,500 hectares from the ancient city of Nimes to the Rhône river delta—Europe’s largest. The river fractures into a multitude of mouths, each feeding the Mediterranean by carving a path through this marshy, mosquito-infested landscape. You’re probably thinking this doesn’t sound like prime terroir. But viticulture here predates the Romans for good reason. The Greek colonists who founded Marseille discovered a unique geographic feature: the ever-changing rivulets of water have piled rolled pebbles into huge, dry banks perfect for planting grapes. Costière de Nimes is the largest of these banks, or terrace villafranchien, formed about 2 million years ago and rising 100 feet above the marshes. It’s even studded with Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s famous galets roulés, carried by the Rhône’s waters from less than an hour southwest. The sea breeze creates a pronounced diurnal shift, pushing these grapes to the limit of their concentration and creating wines of extreme flavor, terroir, and energy.
Domaine de la Fanette takes things a step farther by farming their 14 hectares of family-owned land with organic methods. Husband and wife team Fanette Fessy and Jean-Baptiste Paquet purchased their estate in 2002. Fanette is a sixth-generation grape-grower, while Jean-Baptiste grew up in Southern Burgundy and worked closely with his family until the couple decided to set out on their own. Their particular domaine dates back to Roman times, but their winemaking practices are “traditional with a modern sensibility.” Domaine de la Fanette was entirely converted to organic farming in 2009.
Their Costières de Nimes is an unusual cuvée for the region—60% Grenache buttressed by 25% Syrah and 15% Carignan. Grenache is not as widely planted here as it is elsewhere in the Southern Rhône; most Costières de Nimes wines feature Syrah. This bottle is a little fresher than most, more tense and supple than many more voluptuous styles I’ve tried. I’m tempted to compare it Oregon Pinot Noir as much as I am Châteauneuf du Pape. All grapes are hand-harvested and destemmed before the Grenache and Carignan are co-fermented for ten days in concrete vats. Syrah will spend 15 days in concrete before the two parts are blended in neutral 228-liter oak casks for six months before bottling.
This wine is a moderate ruby color, a bit darker than the aforementioned Oregon Pinot but ultimately more red than purple. The nose is wonderfully expressive: high-toned Grenache notes tickle your sinuses with fresh raspberries, orange peel, and wild anise. Chunky tannins on the palate are softened by a mouthful of ripe damsons, balsamic, and salted strawberries. Untouched by the homogenizing influence of new oak, each facet of these varieties shines in high definition. The meatier undertones (courtesy of Syrah) are balanced by energetic spiciness and a little citrus uplift, not unusual when you’re growing so close to the Mediterranean. Carignan brings bramble notes that seem to linger long after you’ve swallowed. What starts as plush and firm finishes lean, fresh, and a faint kiss of saline. Decant this wine briefly, maybe 20-30 minutes while you’re putting the finishing touches on dinner. I’d recommend serving in Burgundy stems at 60-65 degrees.
In the time-honored spirit of those salty French cowboys, you have to pair this wine with beef. The traditional dish would be gardiane de taureau made from the meat of those little black bulls the cowboys spend their days wrangling. It’s essentially an oxtail stew, heavy on the wine, onions, and caramelized bits of tender meat all stewed together in a crockpot. Here’s a slightly more accessible recipe á la bourguignonne—but use a traditional trick from the region and thicken your stew by adding finely grated dry bread. While the recipe may call for wine, you better save this bottle for drinking: This is a winter-approved red you’ll be happy to curl up with every night for the next four months.
Costières de Nimes
Grenache 60%, Syrah 25%, Carignan 15%
Clay, Sand, Pebbles