It's block party season in Philly, which means I'm on the hunt for good wine priced to share with a crowd. And there are few red wine values lining the Pennsylvania State Store shelves right now that excite me more than the 2015 Les Darons Languedoc AOP by Jeff Carrel. Carrel is a self-described "freelance winemaker" and consultant who owns neither vineyards nor a winery, but sources from favorite estates to make a wide variety of accessible wines that focus on reflecting terroir. Les Darons, French slang for "the parents," is an homage to the deeply fruited charms of sunny Languedoc, and in particular two grapes – grenache and carignan – that are considered the essential of that appelation in Southern France. Carrel also blends 20 percent syrah into the 2015 edition of this wine, sourced from the more than 40-year-old vines of Chateau Arcades northwest of Carcassone. And this unoaked wine is a fresh expression of ripe dark fruit and soil, with notes of blackberries and cherries framed by minerally structure, cracked black pepper, and a lingering finish of mint. With a firm touch of acidity to round it out and keep it from being too heavy-handed, this is an exceptionally well-balanced and food-friendly wine for just $12. So fire up that block party grill. This Languedoc lovely will get along well with pretty much almost everything.
– Craig LaBan