Country Time

hat is a “country” red wine? The metaphor is perhaps more anthropomorphic than geographic—country wines are immediate, honest and rustic. Country reds taste not of ripe, jammy fruit and oak, but have flavors of wild or cooked fruit, often with an earthy smell. They can be high in alcohol, but, like all fine wine, should be in balance.

Ultimately, country wines are about texture—they’re a bit rough around the edges and their flavors almost literally grip your palate. France, Italy and Spain make these aplenty, but the new world has its share, too. Look for wines made from grapes such as Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah. Eat these with similarly rustic food—garlic, olives, slow braises and stinky cheese.

Mas de GourgonnierAix en Provence, France, 2006, $18No frills, just honest, lip-smacking pleasure. Super with grilled fish.

Cocci Grifoni Rosso Piceno Superiore Le TorriMarche, Italy, 2004, $17Dusty black fruit and robust acidity make this middleweight a winner with rich marinaras.

Ateca“Atteca,” Calatayud, Spain, 2007, $18Gnarly aromas of camphor and wild berries with an undercurrent of anise and smoke. Serve slightly chilled with blackened food.

Small Gully ShirazSouth Australia, 2004, $17A few years of bottle age has tamed its brawniness and it has evolved into a deep, resonant wine with aromas of prunes and creosote. Great with garlicky steaks.

Michael Kwas is the wine director at L’Etoile restaurant. He writes this column monthly.