Que Syrah Syrah – Wines of the Northern Rhone
I loved my stay in Tain Hermitage last summer; the views were spectacular, the food was sumptuous and the wines were sublime. The Northern Rhone is the spiritual birthplace of Syrah and home to the great steep, terraced vineyards of Hermitage and Cote Rotie. These great names also come with great prices but there is fantastic value to be found in the area; the appellations of Crozes Hermitage and St Joseph, in my opinion, offer some of the best value and most consistent quality red wines anywhere in France. And its not just reds; Condrieu is the pinnacle for Viognier and then there’s Marsanne and Roussanne in Hermitage and the surrounding areas. All in all, a very exciting region and relatively simple to understand!
So I was overjoyed when Jimmy at the West London Wine School decided to put on a series of Rhone events, giving me a chance to reminisce. The first event was a tasting of the Northern Rhone, consisting of three very different styles of white wine and then onto the reds of Crozes, Hermitage and the much-underrated region of Cornas.
I’m not a great fan of Rhone whites as I’m an acid freak when it comes to white wine – the Marsanne and Rousanne examples did vey little to change my mind in this flight, but the Condrieu was delicious:
Jean-Luc Colombo Redonne, Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2011 (Waitrose £12.99)
Blend of 70% Viognier and 30% Rousanne. Aromas of grapefruit, honey, white blossom and a touch of hay. On the palate the taste is just a bit flat with pithy grapefruit – there’s a touch of fresh acidity but it disappears very quickly. As well as grapefruit there’s some pear with a tinge of green herb and bitter almond on the finish. This just doesn’t do it for me and is a bit like a whoopee-cushion – good nose but goes very flat very quickly once it hits the tongue. 86 points
Delas Marquise de la Tourette Hermitage Blanc 2005 (N/A in UK @£30)
Blend of 90% Marsanne and 10% Roussanne. This wine was highly oxidised but we gave it a go anyway. Very nutty, almost sherry-like on the nose. There were some baked apples and hazelnuts on the palate but you would send this back. No score
Domaine Yves Cuilleron Les Chaillets Condrieu 2008 (winestore.co.uk £54.55)
100% Viognier. Delightful aromas of peaches, apricots, some tropical fruits, backed up with honey, nuts and fragrant white flowers. The wine screams richness and intensity. There’s a delightful freshness upfront and plenty of juicy peach, mandarin and even a touch of apple skin giving an intriguing rich and almost tannic structure. After the fruit there is a wonderful nuttiness and even an edge of honey sweetness. Delicious and wonderful balance with a very generous finish. One of the best whites from the Northern Rhone I’ve encountered. 93 points
The red flight consisted of a couple of different Crozes from one supplier, a delightful Hermitage, and two vintages of a very robust Cornas:
David Reynaud Crozes Hermitage 2010 (winedirect.co.uk £17.50)
100% Syrah. Huge powerful nose of black, ripe plums and blueberries with a touch of fennel, rosemary and a hint of cracked black pepper. The big dark fruit is present on the palate with good freshness, a bit of tannic grip and plenty of deep black spice. A very decent wine but just falls off a bit quickly at this price. 89 points (most votes for best value wine of the night, but didn’t get mine)
David Reynaud Crozes Hermitage Les Croix Vieilles Vignes 2010 (winedirect.co.uk £23.65)
100% Syrah. There’s so much more going on from with these old vines; a touch of elegant smoke, heady black and dried fruit, rosemary, violets and delightful black pepper. On the palate it’s elegant and deliciously mouth-watering. Much more subtle than the first Crozes, there’s highly concentrated black fruit then come the herbs, and smoky, dark spice. The wine starts very gently, builds up in layers and just keeps going. One worth keeping for a few more years. My best value wine of the night. 93 points
Maison Chapoutier Monier de la Sizeranne Hermitage 2007 (Berry Bros £45.00)
100% Syrah. I’ve got half a case of this wine sat upstairs that I bought when I visited Chapoutier last year – turned out to be a great purchase! As well as sweet black cherries on the nose there is also a decent splash of red berries as well as subtle smoky spice, and a violet edge. Elegant and fresh, it is still quite closed but the red and black fruit, earth and minerality are still all in evidence. The tannins are so smooth and the finish is long, complex and balanced. The Sizeranne just shows how elegant Syrah can be – I’m going hang on a couple more years before breaking open my stash. 94 points and my wine of the night.
Jean-Luc Colombo Les Ruchets Cornas 2007 (Roberson £64.95)
100% Syrah – Cornas is the only appellation where the addition of white grapes is not allowed; in the rest of this area winemakers can use up to 15%, even though they rarely do. The 2007 had a powerful nose of dark fruit with lots of smoke, earth and even a hint of feral animal! Also plenty of black spice but it’s actually surprisingly elegant. Full bodied and big tannin, not so much acidity but still a decent degree of freshness. There’s plenty of the black fruit and spice as well – more rustic than the Hermitage-clan but still very enjoyable. 92 points (voted best wine by the group – beat the Hermitage by 1 vote)
Jean-Luc Colombo Les Ruchets Cornas 1999 (RS Wines £54.00)
100% Syrah. I love to taste older wine, as I love the secondary aromas and flavours that come with age. This 1999 has raisins, prunes and dark fruit along with some sweet spice, leather and roasted, smoky meat. It has lost most of its acidic freshness and the taste is primarily dried fruit, lots of earth and just a hint of smoky bacon. Probably just past its best but very soft and very smooth. 91 points