Simon's Article: Northern Rhône Domination

January 9th, 2013

In the past 10 years, southern Rhône has been getting more and more attention from professional critics, especially from Parker. Leading the pack, wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape get really impressive reviews and high scores. And the buzz is well deserved, as these wines are still pretty cheap if you compare them to top Bordeaux wines, especially for the quality in the glass.

But I feel like northern Rhône almost got forfeited in the process. Some Grenache-based Rhône wines are indeed complex and enticing, but I usually feel like the north is the place to go for finesse, elegance, and most importantly, high drinkability.

I have tasted some top offerings from different producers recently, in appellations such as Cornas, Hermitage, Côte-Rôtie, Saint-Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage, and I feel like this outstanding Syrah should get more recognition. In my opinion, it’s one of the last reliable spots to drink world-class, exciting wines at ridiculously low prices.

My favorites are, in my opinion, a cross between the pleasure you can get out of a great Burgundy, and out of a great southern, rich red. I simply love Syrah when it’s on this edge, with a structure reminiscent of Pinot Noir, but a dead giveaway Syrah flavor profile with enticing aromas of freshly ground black pepper, violets, lavender, bacon, raspberries and black olives.

Tasting Jamet, the 2008 and 2009 Côte-Rôtie from Domaine Jamet, gave me this feeling of wines that are fresh, racy, expressive and outgoing. They presented a great Syrah nose, and the “shape” and caress of a Pinot Noir. And you don’t need special instructions to enjoy these, no time in decanter, as the 2008 is already so good… The kind of wine I would gladly drink almost everyday, with a large array of food.

In this same style, tasted last month, wines from Domaine Combier gave me the same feeling. Their regular Crozes-Hermitage 2007 and 2010, and the Cuvée Laurent Combier 2011 are all delicious offerings, around or under $30. Light, yet expressive and balanced, these are the type of wines I’ll serve during the holidays when I must please family members who are wine enthusiasts, and also people who think there are only two types of wine: red or white.

Other favorites tasted recently? Graillot’s 2010 Crozes-Hermitage once again had this really unique signature, with a lighter-bodied Syrah with a nice backbone of acidity, and an outstanding flavor profile. Domaine du Colombier Cuvée Gary 2006 and 2010 were both really typical, refreshing, floral and delicate. 

In a really different, structured and complex style, the Cornas 2001 from Auguste Clape tasted last week was a really tightly knit, full-bodied and serious wine. Still purplish, profound, and so young; a wine destined to a brilliant future. Pretty much like the Chave 2009 Hermitage, a powerhouse: an impressive baby which will need a lot of time to reveal its true potential.

In the end, most of these wines also share low alcohol by volume, especially when you compare them with the southern Rhône monsters sometimes ticking at 16.7 percent. It makes them great food companions, and it’s easier to pop another bottle without regrets…

Simon Gaudreault is a sommelier in Montreal and the co-author of a book on Canadian wines: "Vins et vignobles du Canada: Coups de coeur pour des vins d'ici."


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January 10, 2013

Great blog, Simon. I've been on a massive Northern Rhone kick as of late, with '10 being absolutely epic.

Simon Gaudreault

January 11, 2013

Thank you MScott. I'm also impressed by 2009 and 2010, and the stability of prices. To drink now, and to cellar, they are such a steal...


January 24, 2013

Agreed, the North is where it's at. In my opinion Southern Rhone are starting to resemble fortified wines more than dry reds, way too overripe and alcoholic.

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