Rhone Away Success

Things so often happen in pairs, and after reading Matt Walls‘ really interesting article on Saint-Joseph in last month’s Decanter, I was invited by Vintrepid‘s Robbie Ward to a tasting of this appellation downstairs at Planet of the Grapes’ Holborn store last night.

I remember Saint-Joseph from my early days of Northern Rhone exploration. It tended to be mainly negociant bottlings that were available then, and my first ever bottle was Jaboulet’s La Grande Pompée 1982, an El Vino’s staple if I recall.

Around this time Saint-Joseph was undergoing a massive expansion, the area under vine spreading from its heartland both north and south, and upwards, above the slope and onto flatter plateau land. Quality seemed to drop and so, for a while, Saint-Joseph dropped off the radar for serious lovers of Northern Rhone Syrah.

Today things are a little different. Prices for Hermitage and Cote Rotie have risen exponentially, as have those for once unfancied Cornas (Clape aside). Looking for good vineyards at affordable prices, Saint-Joseph’s better sites were a natural target for the region’s younger vignerons. Not that they were all readily available to snap up, as some of the region’s best known producers already had a hectare or two, and are now paying them a bit more attention.

So, could Saint-Jo’ be the go-to address now for really fine but affordable Syrah with a classic Northern Rhone profile? I think last night a few questions were answered in the positive. We didn’t have every producer, just eleven reds of which three were ringers, all served blind. The wines were, in order of tasting:

  1. Hervé Souhaut St-J 2012
  2. Mullineaux Swartland Syrah 2012, South Africa
  3. Yves Cuilleron  St-J Les Pierres Seche 2012
  4. Dard & Ribo St-J 2012
  5. Pierre Gaillard St-J Clos de Cuminaille 2007
  6. François Villard St-J 2011
  7. Zorah “Karasi” Areni Noir 2013, Armenia (Amphora)
  8. Pierre Gonon St-J 2011
  9. Chapoutier St-J “Les Granits” 2008
  10. Chapoutier St-J “Les Granits” 2001
  11. Jamsheed Beechworth Syrah 2012, Victoria, Australia



[well, things did get a bit blurry by the end]

Preferring a “glass completely full” approach, I’ll just talk about the stars. The Souhaut was wonderful, very fruity and moreish, and one of the first glasses I drained (small pours, of course). Really alive. The Dard & Ribo likewise was full of life and wins the award for sweetest nose of the night. Not everyone’s cup of Syrah, but pretty popular all round. It was the only wine of the night I had spot-on identified. Although we seem to be on a “natural wine” path here, probably my wine of the night was the Gonon. I had wondered if this was Clonakilla (as a ringer). It still seemed young, with good structure, but with real potential. Of the Chapoutier “Granits”, for some reason I much preferred the 2008 over the 2001. The 08 had some tannin and earth and reminded me of a Cornas a little (Clape Renaissance?). The ’01 was quite dumb in my glass and showed a touch of nail varnish.

Of the ringers, the Jamsheed was as good as expected, and showed again what a lovely place for Syrah Beechworth has become, as if we needed reminding (Giaconda and Castagna come to mind). But perhaps the find of the night was the amphora wine from Armenia, Zorah‘s Areni Noir. Not everyone went for the minty, salty thing going on, with a touch of the vegetal – which makes it sound unappealing, but it wasn’t. Far from it, a really interesting wine which I hope to try a full bottle of some time. Not saying it was better than the Jamsheed, but just different.


As well as these wines there were a few pre-prandial sniffs on offer, of which three are worth a mention. Chapoutier Granit Blanc 2004 was nicely mature and complex. A Vin de Table from the Savennières AOC, Christine and Joel Menards’ Domaine Les Sablonnettes “Murmures” (at least I think that’s what I copied from the label but Winesearcher does not list that cuvée) was really good. It’s a Chenin aged under flor for two years and coming in at 14.5%. Classic flor nose, I had it with some certainty as a Jura, which only goes to show!

What was firmly a Jura was Patrice Béguet’s (Domaine Hughes-Béguet) “P for Patrice” Ploussard sample. Almost vibrant orange in colour, a savoury wine for cold cuts on a warm day. I don’t think anyone is importing this right now, though The Wine Society do bring over some H-B wines. We visited Patrice and his English wife, Caroline in Mesnay, a few minutes outside Arbois, last summer. They are as nice people as their wines are wonderful, well worth a phone call for anyone in the area. They are very much “natural wines”. Patrice doesn’t have a winemaking background but he’s had a lot of practical help and encouragement from some of Jura’s very top names, including Pierre Overnoy. A name to watch, I think, having spent just short of two hours tasting through his cave.

Thanks to Robbie, Planet of the Grapes, and all the great wine people present who made this such a fun evening as well as an education. Nice to meet so many new wine professionals too.

About dccrossley

Writing here and elsewhere mainly about the outer reaches of the wine universe and the availability of wonderful, characterful, wines from all over the globe. Very wide interests but a soft spot for Jura, Austria and Champagne, with a general preference for low intervention in vineyard and winery. Other passions include music (equally wide tastes) and travel. Co-organiser of the Oddities wine lunches.
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