The Caractere (about $7, purchased, available at Central Market) is cheap French wine the way I remember it — interesting and inexpensive, and not tasting in any way like California wine. In fact, if it had a screwcap, the Caractere would be close to perfect.

It’s a red blend of syrah and grenache from southern France that doesn’t have much fruit (plums, perhaps?), but does have lots of earthiness and enough tannins and finish to make it pleasant to drink. Serve this with any wintery stew or beef dish, or use it to make coq a vin.

Highly recommended and a candidate for the 2011 Hall of Fame (hint, hint to the Texas wine business, which produces some quality syrah and grenache).