Coudoulet de Beaucastel Cotes-Du-Rhone from the Perrin Family and Le Cigare Volent from Bonny Doon are two excellent red wines that I can actually afford—sometimes. Both are available by special order from local winesellers including Houston Wine Merchant and Central Market and both will probably run you somewhere around $35 a bottle, depending on the vintage.
I actually scored a case of the Coudoulet de Beaucastel Cotes-Du-Rhone for $25 a bottle a few months ago at Austin Wine Merchant. I liked the wine so much, I went back to buy another case the next time I was there. The price had shot up nearly $10 a bottle since my first purchase—something about a fluctation in dollar to euro exchange rates was blamed.
What's so great about these two wines is their close relationship to Chateauneuf du Pape.
In an article in Food & Wine titled "A Crush on Chateauneuf de Pape," Robert Parker, arguably the most respected wine critic in the world, mused that Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo, and Barberesco may be better wines after a few decades in the cellar, but if you want to buy a wine to drink right away, you can't beat the "sumptuous and opulent" flavors of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The problem for cheapskates like me is that top Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines run $80 to $200 a bottle. That's where the two $35 wines I just mentioned come in.
Coudoulet de Beaucastel Cotes-Du-Rhone is literally as close to Chateauneuf-du-Pape as you can get. Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape is one of Robert Parker's favorites—it's over a $100 a bottle and highly allocated—Central Market will get 18 bottles this year. But the vineyards it comes from are right across the road from another vineyard that lies just outside of the official Chateauneuf-du-Pape boundary. The wine from that adjacent vineyard is Coudoulet de Beaucastel Cotes-Du-Rhone. It's a little rougher and coarser than its famous cousin, but at thirty-something a bottle, I can afford to open a few over a steak dinner with friends without taking out a second mortgage.
Le Cigare Volant is the same sort of bargain—it's a California take on the Chateauneuf-du-Pape style from the famous Bonny Doon Vineyards. The label just celebrated its 25th anniversary. The name, which means "flying cigar" in French, is a joke about an ordinance passed in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine region that forbids flying saucers from landing there. The wine first came out in the 1980s, when Randall Graham of Bonny Doon Vineyards founded a renegade group of California wine makers who called themselves "the Rhone Rangers."
Le Cigare Volant is comparable to some of the lighter Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines at a much better price. There is also a white version, Le Cigare Volant Blanc, that emulates the fabulous white wines of the Rhone.
I suggest you pick up the phone and special-order one or both of these great wines. You can thank me later.