How to drink decent wine without taking a second mortgage?
How to drink decent – Without question, the classic red wines of the Northern Rhone Valley are some of the world’s greatest. Hermitage, Côte Rôtie and Cornas reds are the finest expressions of Syrah on earth.
But the best of the pack have gotten to be quite expensive, especially in the north american market. Recent vintages of Hermitage from Jean-Louis Chave are now more than $250 per bottle. Guigal’s Côte Rôtie La Landonne, La Mouline and La Turque will set you for more than $300, and even the Guigal Côte Rôtie Brune et Blond bottling is over $75. In the less glamorous appellation of Cornas, the wines of top producers such as Auguste Clape are now approaching $100+ per bottle.
Whats a french syrah lover gotta do to drink decent Syrahs without taking a second mortgage?
Luckily, some lesser known Rhone Syrah sources have been producing even better wines in recent years. These wines have the classic northern Rhone Syrah characteristics and display very much their unique terroir. At prices well below the more famous stars, they actually offer reasonable value for the money. These are good alternatives worth exploring for.
In my latest trip to the region in April (Découvertes en Vallée du Rhône 2017) , I had the chance to taste wines from value driven appellations from the Northern Rhone. These include Crozes-Hermitage and St-Joseph
Consider Crozes-Hermitage. Long treated as unqualified to even bear a name related to the famous, nearby Hermitage appellation, the vineyards of Crozes-Hermitage are relatively flat as contrasted to the steep slopes of Hermitage itself. The area of Crozes, on the east side of the Rhone River, is much larger, so the quantity of wine produced is much greater. The broad area encompassed within the appellation is far from homogeneous. Some of the soils are more granitic and some are more clay. It is necessary to seek out specific producers who grow in specific sites.
One of my favorite producer in Crozes-Hermitage is Alain Graillot, who is by relative standards a newcomer to the wine business and to the appellation (he started about 1985 after a career as an agricultural machinery salesman). From his rocky, alluvial vineyards in the southern part of the appellation, Graillot two red Crozes-Hermitage bottlings, a cuvee Classique and cuvee La Guiraude, are outstanding Syrahs. Graillot is careful to keep his yields low in order to achieve impressively rich wines. They have the spicy, pepper quality sometimes encountered in the best Syrahs that is so alluring, and they display a gamey, almost blood like flavor. Both have plenty of tannin and acid.
Another good source of Syrah to get to explore is St.-Joseph. Similar to Crozes-Hermitage, this is another relatively large appellation, but on the west side of the Rhone River. St.-Joseph has long been notorious of some rather indifferent wines. And like Crozes-Hermitage, the appellation is far from homogeneous. Many of the vines grow in overly fertile bottomland, whereas a smaller proportion of the vines are on granite hillsides. The diversity of vineyard sites is reflected in the wines, with too large a share producing only simple, undistinguished wines.
Fortunately, some producers are now proving that St.-Joseph can produce some excellent Syrahs. St.-Joseph Syrahs tend to be more easier to understand than other northern Rhone examples, with lower tannin and an appealing fruit character. At their best, they have the spicy and peppery quality that makes northern Rhone Syrah so appealing, and sometimes you can encounter the nuances of meat, bacon, fat and blood that add so much complexity.
Ony of my favorite St-Joseph comes from the Pierre Gaillard estates.Gaillard is one of the most respected vignerons in the Northern Rhône. He worked previously for both Vidal-Fleury and Etienne Guigal before starting out on his own and then received amazing accolades when he first started producing in the mid-eighties, his first vintage being 1987.
From Malleval, Pierre craft wines fine wines from granitic vineyards of St. Joseph, Condrieu and Côte Rôtie with experienced eyes. He produces around 18,000 bottles of red St. Joseph each year from just under 40 hectares. He is a master in using the right amount of oak to bring out seductive flavours without losing the soul of the terroir.
Another exciting producer in the appellation is Domaine Chèze. Domaine Chèze is a family estate established in 1978 by Louis Chèze and situated on the steep hillside above Limony, on the right bank of the Rhône, 60 km south of Lyon.Initially only 1 ha of Saint Joseph, today the domaine extends to some 30 ha with holdings in Condrieu and Saint Joseph as well as some Vin de Pays.
The commune Limony is located in the northern part of the Saint Joseph appellation about 60 kilometres south of city Lyon. Louis Chèze started his domaine with 1 hectare of Saint Joseph plus some vines on lease. He taught himself winemaking from scratch but also learning and receiving advice from friendly neighbours such as George Vernay in Condrieu and Jean-Luc Colombo in Cornas
By experimenting with producers from these lesser known appellations, a wine lover can find reasonably affordable, high-quality northern Rhone Syrahs that display the terroir of the region and have the aromas and flavors of classic Syrah.
All of the producers mentioned above can be found easily at the SAQ with the exception of Alain Graillot wines that comes in tiny quantities or by special operations such as Courrier Vinicole.