Oh, those French, they do know a thing or two about making wine, don't they? For the past two months I've been tasting and drinking wines most readily available near our casa in Mexico, and that's meant Chilean, Argentine, Mexican and Spanish wines. Comparably few Californian, Italian and French wines are marketed in Los Cabos.
Nevertheless, I did pick up one intriguing French label the other day, the Clefs des Murailles 2007 Vacqueyras (about $18). This is an appellation with which I have had little experience, but I do recognize that it is in the southern Rhone Valley and is close to Gigondas, the source of several of my favorite French wines.
Vacqueyras has been its own AOC only since 1990. Before, it was one of the Cotes du Rhone Villages. The red wines of Vacqueyras - and 95 percent of the appellation's production is red - must contain at least 50 percent grenache, with the balance syrah and mourvedre.
In short, the Clefs des Murailles simply was the best red wine I've tasted in Baja. It's a husky wine, with a ripeness that pushes its dense cherry and berry flavors toward the raisiny side of the fruit spectrum, but it has a complexity, litheness and spice that made each glass a treat. While rich, it was animated, with a structure and suppleness that worked well with chicken cloaked in a dark, sweet and fruity mole poblano. Both tannins and alcohol (14 percent) were easily tolerable, especially with that dish.
The Clefs des Murailles, a blend of 70 percent grenache, 20 percent syrah and 10 percent mourvedre, is one I will continue to watch for when I return to Sacramento, as well as other releases from Vacqueyras.