Big-flavored wines pair best with big-flavored foods because each can hold its own against the other. Case in point: the strong but well-balanced 2001 Côtes-du-Rhône Saint-Esprit Rouge from the Rhône Valley's Delas Frères, made primarily with Syrah, and a robust but surprisingly lean lamb shank and Swiss chard stew.



The venerable Rhône Valley firm Delas Frères has been in business for more than 160 years, but as far as most wine lovers are concerned, the key year was 1997. That's when the supremely talented Jacques Grange took control. For most of the previous generation, Delas had vineyards and a fine old name but no capital or direction. Since Grange's appointment, he has supervised the construction of a new winery and improved vineyard management. His reforms have resulted in generous, full-flavored wines like the 2001 Côtes-du-Rhône Saint-Esprit Rouge ($13), made from grapes grown on steep, granite hillsides in the southern Rhône. "Our Côtes-du-Rhône Saint-Esprit has very good balance," Grange says. And unlike many Côtes-du-Rhône reds, which are made mostly from the Grenache grape, this wine is mainly Syrah. "It's a perfect complement to lamb stew," says Grange. "It's strong but not overpowering."

—Richard Nalley