With apologies to Keats, autumn is the time when many light wines are forsaken and more substantial wines are poured in their stead, especially fruity and more generous reds. Rhône Valley reds fit the bill perfectly!
This first part looks at some of the best northern Rhône reds, while part two will consider a selection from the southern Rhône.
Domaine Graillot Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2016 (13.0%, RRP €35.00 at SIYPS)
Crozes-Hermitage often lives in the shadow of Hermitage proper, both literally and quality wise. There are often good value wines to be had but they can be disappointing compared to their big brother on the hill. Domaine Graillot is an exception – an exceptional wine no matter how humble its origins.
This is a rich, dense, chewy wine full of black fruits, spice and tapenade savoury character. It’s closer to a serious Saint-Joseph than any other Crozes I’ve tried!
Domaine Jean-Michel Gerin Côte Rôtie Champin Le Seigneur 2012 (13.0%, RRP €49.99 at JN Wine)
Côte Rôtie is the most northern of the northern Rhône’s eight crus and possibly the most famous. It is also the origin of adding a dash of Viognier into Syrah to soften it and add floral aromas to the wine – a practice that has been followed in the new world, particularly South Africa. Traditionally, the two grapes were planted together, then harvested and vinified together – extracting more from the Viognier skins than if they had been fermented as white wine and then blended in.
Domaine Jean-Michel Gerin was set up as recently as 1983 but the family has lived in Ampuis for six generations. The first vines planted were in Côte Rôtie but the Domaine has since expanded beyond that appellation’s boundaries. Champin Le Seigneur is the more affordable of Gerin’s Côte Rôtie wines, though obviously everything is relative! With 5% Viognier added to the Syrah it has an ethereal quality – that indefinable lightness and sophistication that makes wine so special.
Cave de Tain “Grand Classique” Hermitage 2007 (13.0%, RRP €55.00 at O’Briens)
From the only co-operative in Hermitage, this 2007 is absolutely à point, a perfect example of northern Rhône Syrah. Relatively light, it still has some fine tannins and plenty of acidity – a fine structure. There’s still plenty of fruit, too – both red and black – but also savoury notes which enhance its appeal. Get yourself a thick piece of rib-eye steak and a super evening awaits.
Domaine Marc Sorrel “Le Gréal” Hermitage 1997 (13.0%, RRP €98.65 at Karwig Wines)
Those who have read Dan Brown’s Da Vinci code book or seen the subsequent film may remember that “Le Gréal” is “The [Holy] Grail” which is possibly Marc Sorrel’s way of telling us that this wine is rather good – though more prosaically it is also a portmanteau of Les Greffieux and Le Méal, two of the best plots from which grapes are sourced for this premium bottling. Sorrel is a traditionalist, with mainly whole bunch fermentation in old oak, and his wines need some age before they are at their best.
The 1997 here has had plenty of time, but is still lively and has some years ahead of it. 10% Marsanne was added in the 1997 vintage (15% being the maximum per AOC regulations) which adds elegance. There’s still power, but tempered by time, resulting in one of the smoothest wines known to man.