#newwinethisweek Week 45 – Syrah, Northern Rhône

We’ve spent lots of time on #newwinethisweek discovering and trying new grape varieties and exploring new and exciting corners of the vinous world. But sometimes you good to go for what you know; for what you trust; for what you love. In week 38 we enjoyed the delicious Grenache-based offerings from the Southern Rhône, and back in week 35 we chewed on the power of Aussie Shiraz… so this week, let’s take a bit from each of those weeks and head to the Northern Rhône and appreciate some magnificent Syrah.

In Australia, what you see on the label is what you get in the bottle; although they may call it something different… Shiraz in Oz, Syrah most place else. The French don’t like to make it so easy. They expect us to know that red wines from Burgundy are made from Pinot Noir, an assemblage of Cabernets Sauvignon, Franc, and Merlot from Bordeaux. Not only do they expect us to know that red wines from the northern section of the Rhône valley will be dominated by the Syrah grape, but also expect us to recognise the appellations of the region… as there is no law stating that Rhône needs to appear on the label anywhere!

Historically, the best reds in the region have come from the steep and famous vineyards of Cote Rotie and Hermitage. You will get little change from £50 if you are looking for these names on the label, but some of my very favourite wines have come from these magnificent and remarkable vineyards. The wines from Cote Rotie (which can be translated as “the roasted slope” due to the long hours of sunlight the steep slopes receive) and Hermitage can be tough and unapproachable in youth, but given time to evolve they develop fruit flavours of plum, blackberry and blueberry, with added notes of black pepper, olive, violet, leather… and smoky bacon! Although most of the wines are made with 100% Syrah, a small amount of white grapes are permitted in the blend to add an extra touch of elegance (up to 20% Viognier in Cote Rotie, up to 15% Marsanne and/or Roussanne in Hermitage). In fact, it’s only in the appellation of Cornas, south of Hermitage, that the wines are mandatory to be 100% Syrah.

A view across the Rhone to the hill of Hermitage

A view across the Rhône to the hill of Hermitage

As well as some of the best red wines in the world, the northern Rhone is also home to some of the best value wines coming out of France. By best value I don’t mean the cheapest, but for between £8 and £15 in the supermarket or from your wine merchant, the wines of Crozes Hermitage and Saint-Joseph will give you a fantastic amount of drinking pleasure; always keep an eye out for these names on a restaurant wine list too. One of the big reasons for this value is the fantastic co-operative on the outskirts of Tain Hermitage, the Cave de Tain; many of the own label Crozes comes from here and the quality is consistently high year in, year out.

So there’s a bit of background, now it’s onto the fun stuff… time to get a steak on the griddle and enjoy a glass of wine heaven… and at a decent discount in some places!

Finest Crozes Hermitage 2011 (Tesco £6.69 was £9.99)

Cave de Tain Crozes Hermitage 2011 (Waitrose £8.49 was £11.49)

The Society’s Exhibition Crozes Hermitage 2012 (The Wine Society £12.95)

Cave Saint Desirat Saint-Joseph 2010 (M&S £14.99 – outstanding vintage!)

Domaine de la Ville Rouge Crozes Hermitage ‘Inspiration’ 2010 (Wine & the Vine £15.99)


Or if you really fancy pushing the boat out:

Guigal Brune et Blonde Côte-Rôtie 2004 (Waitrose £39.99)


Don’t forget to come back and tell us what you think; please leave a score out of 10 and a review of what you drank in the comments box. Santé!






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Posted on November 10, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Now you are getting into a very serious territory. Will any of the “La …” wines be consumed? If yes, I want an invitation, please.

    • No La-La’s unfortunately, just a couple of of value bottles from Crozes for me this week… although I will be attending a Chateau Ampuis vertical next week to have a slurp of Guigal’s most recent Cote Rotie project; tasting the 1995 (first vintage), 1999, 2001, 2004, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009. Should be fun!

  2. It would be a vast understatement to say I was pleased about the Lads’ choice this week. The Northern Rhône was responsible for getting me started on my wine infatuation journey, and a certain region in particular providing me with my ‘epiphany’ moment.

    I had taken the wife on one last luxury holiday before the imminent arrival of the first of our mini-me’s and the inevitable onslaught of the Thompson Kids Club holidays. We were doing a road trip along the French Riviera ending up in Monte Carlo for New Year’s Eve- oh happy days! Anyway, we took a trip inland one day into Avignon and wandered into a local wine tasting. There were various samples on offer for 3 or 4 euros and then one at the end for the grand sum of €40. I must’ve been feeling particularly flush (or drunk) at the time, as my standard outlay for wine at that stage of my oenological career was £9.99 for a 3 litre box of Sainsbury’s Soave!

    When that stunning €40 shot of nectar passed my lips I was instantly transfixed-this was what all the fuss was about with decent wine I thought. I need to get into this stuff. I asked the pouring Mademoiselle what the name of this elixir of life was, and she uttered the words “Côte Rôtie Monsieur”. I didn’t have a clue who or what this meant at the time but I committed to memory and vowed to discover more.

    So 7 years and much learning and guzzlings later, I’ve discovered a lot more about the world of wine than just Northern Rhône and Côte Rôtie- but what a place to start!

    You’ve got to love the stories that emanate from this region; with slopes so vertically steep that everything is done by hand, to the legend about the blonde and brown haired daughters of the local Lord, with such differing beauty and characteristics that they lent their names to the two slopes of the region, showing equally differing wine characters.

    One of the first purchases I made for my cellar was the only affordable version of Côte Rôtie I could find at the time, a Laithwaites own Le Grace Côte Rôtie 2007 for £27.

    Laithwaites claim that this was sourced from one of the top boys of the area; Chapoutier, Chave or Jaboulet, but if they ever revealed their source they would be disowned! Only 495 cases were made in a glorious vintage, and the Haut-Brion trained winemaker Jean Marc Sauboua was responsible for the finish in top of the range new French oak.

    The wine offers fantastic meaty aromas of smoked bacon with black cherries and a hint of something herbal. It’s deep and dark in the mouth and has a well done roast beef kind of flavour going on. There’s a glimmer of violets on the palate but not as much as hoped for. The tannins are pretty much expired and the acid balance won’t improve much more with age, so I think its window is here and now, but wow what a window! This is truly a wine that speaks of its scorched and stony place, and also shows the typicity for the region without the usual price tag of the big boys.

    It was a pleasure re-visiting Côte Rôtie for #newwinethisweek, such a rare wine to taste and an absolute treat every time. I just hope I can pick some up in the US following my imminent re-location for something less than the usual Euro extortion!

    An inspirational 9/10

  3. I’m pretty stingy with my “10” ratings, but Northern Rhone Syrah definitely deserves it! Not new for me, but always a new one to try and always a pleasure.

  4. I went for a cheaper option this week and headed for a trusty bottle of Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Crozes Hermitage. I’m a big fan of this range and believe the Priorat to be one of the best supermarket wines available – the Crozes isn’t far behind.

    For £10 (I bought it when they were running the 25% off promo so even better!) you get plenty of dark cherry fruit, spicy black pepper and delicious smoky notes. There is a good whack of acidity and the tannins are soft and juicy. If you like good Syrah, this is it… at a great price. 8/10 (10 for value)

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