2004 Mas de Libian Cotes du Rhone "Bout d'Zan"

Mas de Libian Cotes du Rhone The Thibon estate has been a working farm, producing everything from grains to fruit, in the same family since 1670. In 1970, Jean-Pierre Thibon took over and, with help from a friend, established a winery. After 25 years at the helm, he ceded control to his eldest daughter, Helene, who renamed the domaine Mas de Libian and ran it with help from her husband and one of her younger sisters.

Helene Thibon is a keen observer, and she noticed how a number of old family estates like hers had become "overnight successes" after they stopped selling their grapes or wines to negociants and started producing limited amounts of high-quality wines themselves. Convinced that she could do just as well as the other small producers, Helene convinced her family to follow suit and to try this approach with their wine.

Helene's family didn't have to wait long for results--her wines quickly began winning awards all over Europe and have received critical acclaim in France's most prestigious wine press, including the Revue du Vin de France.

The Thibons' terraced vineyards are situated in St. Marcel d'Ardeche and face southeast, overlooking Mont Ventoux, the Alpilles, and the Dentelles de Montmirail. Most striking about their terroir are the galets roules--the round rocks that cover the ground and extend nearly three feet down into the soil. During the long summer days, these rocks soak up the sun's heat and then transfer the warmth to the soil during the cool evenings; by sunrise, the rocks have cooled and keep the soil from heating up too quickly. In short, galets roules stabilize the soil temperature and stave off the sudden diurnal shifts that prevent the grapes from ripening properly.

Most of the Thibons' vines are about 45 years old, but the Grenache (80%) and Syrah (20%) grapes that comprise Helene's cuvee "Bout d'Zan" come from younger vines. The name "Bout d'Zan" refers to both the young vines and the child actor Bout-de-Zan, the impish hero of about fifty short films directed by the legendary director Luis Feuillade during the French cinema's silent era. (Bout-de-Zan's popularity endures to this day because he's mentioned in the song that teaches French toddlers the alphabet.)

Helen made only 3,700 cases of the 2004 "Bout d'Zan." Deep purple in color, this Rhone blend is big, rich, intensely flavored wine. Surprisingly long and complex for a Rhone of this price. Drink now-2008.