I remember years ago while being tasted on some Alsatian wines a little, new-to-the-business sales rep asked me, “Which wines are your favorite?” a question that any wine lover and buyer will tell you, is impossible to answer. Favorite? There are far too many options to pick just one, not to mention the whole, “favorite for what?” thing. I remember glancing at a map of France we have hanging on the tasting room wall and answering, “I think I am a fan of that Northern part” and went back to taking notes. I thought about that conversation a few years ago while actually tasting in the Rhone…turns out I am in fact a fan of the North.
We had spent most of our time in the South tasting lots of young Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Cotes du Rhone and Gigondas but it was during a 9:00am appointment with Thierry Allemand in Cornas that I found my happy place. We had just left the A. Clape winery and while I loved those wines I found them a bit too tightly wound. Might have been that I was tasting them at 8:30 in the morning on a freezing cold January day but still they were hard, confusing and somewhat challenging. Maybe it was the walk to Allemand’s winery, the sun was coming out, we had the first palate crushing wines under our belts, that Thierry Allemand saved us by shooing off a mouthy and aggressive teenager that was barking at our little band of American wine professionals. Could have been any of those things but standing there in his big handsome shadow, safely behind the gate of his tiny winemaking facility, the frost beginning to melt off my nose just in time to be warmly buried into a glass of cool climate Syrah so jarringly beautiful I felt my back go firm and lungs expand to twice their size. This, this was a Rhone that I could find myself splashing about in. Found my Rhone that day and from that day forward, when looking to get my Rhone on as it were, I look North.
Guess it’s not surprising if you consider the wines that move me, Champagne, Burgundy, Loire, all from cooler growing regions and aren't really about primary fruit. They are lean, pretty tangy and often exhibit some savory notes, just what I tend to favor and how my palate works…I’m a cheese plate over dessert person. While I still adore the wines of the Southern Rhone, (although they are starting to get too jammy and rich which pisses me off) there is just something about those Syrahs from the North that drive me wild. The herby, meaty, smoky thing, the wild flowers and dark berry thing, when I have all that in my glass it makes me think that if purple had a smell….this would be it.
Been spending some time in my Rhone department the past two weeks, both preparing for inventory and getting ready for a class devoted to those violet saturated, peppery and elegant Syrahs of the North, been captivated once again with wines that are as aromatically stimulating as great Burgundy but come with the added sex appeal of thicker bodies, wild and gamey, savory aromas and just enough weight to leave a deeper bruise.
Syrah suffers a bit, I think, from a little identity crisis. A victim of poorly thought out globalization and the misguided expectation that it might just be the "Next Big Thing" dumped on an unsuspecting and uninformed public that pretty much universally told us to go fuck ourselves. Weird, sweet, syrupy or oddly smoky wines with pushed extraction and not enough acidity to keep them in balance. Far too many of those and the wine drinking world turned a very cold shoulder on what can be, and is in fact, a very noble variety.
Been having a blast revisiting these wines and I fucking cannot wait to pop some corks and expose a few others to what cool climate, Northern Rhone Syrah can do....
Couple of wines that have been digging into my side, flipping my bit tingling switches and leaving their mark.
2012 Laurent Combier Crozes Hermitage ($18.99) I spent 10 minutes smelling this wine before I even noticed that I’d yet to taste it. It is that beguiling aromatically. Deep, dark, brooding but with this sexy bare-shoulder or suggestion of feminine and grace underneath. Purple flowers, cracked black pepper, cured meat and crushed blackberries. You want to know, smell and taste what drives Syrah lovers wild? Here you go
2012 Cave de Chante-Perdrix Vin de Pays de Collines Rhodaniennes Syrah, ($14.99) I am so diggin the wines from this area, such wicked values considering their close proximity to Saint-Joseph, not as weighty or serious but displaying many of the same flavors, just on a simpler, smaller scale. Sweet ripe fruit, massive amount of pepper and tons of violets all with a gentle mouth feel and a clean bright finish….rockin’ bottle of wine for this price.
2010 Francois Tardy Crozes-Hermitage, ($17.99) You know that raised eyebrow thing you get when something unfamiliar perplexes and intrigues you? Like you don't know what is happening but you know you are all in? Yeah, this wine gives me that. Lots of gamey notes here with a blast of fresh fruit that is, very quickly, followed by this sexy green peppercorn thing that keeps you going with the, "What huh?!" face. Wild but worth the ride.
2011 Domaine Faury L'ArtZele Syrah, ($29.99) Pretty. So freaking pretty. This is a wine that bares its purity from the first sniff and keeps your attention as it reveals itself all night long. Full of vibrancy and life the fruit here is bursting and naked in a way that captivates and demands.
2010 Louis Barruol La Viaillere Cotie Rotie, ($66.99) Deep. Soulful. Smokey. Charred. Explosive. Heart-pounding. Powerful. Regal. Demanding. Convincing. It's rare that a wine leaves me speechless, this one does.
Ready to splash about more in this cool cup of staining liquid....