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Relative Values from the Northern Rhône: St. Joseph & Crozes-Hermitage

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First published in The Irish Times, Saturday22nd June, 2019

I wrote a few weeks ago that, given tax and duty, “value” and “cheap” do not always go together when it comes to wine. In Ireland a sub-€10 bottle can be a waste of your hard-earned cash. More expensive wines are frequently better value for money. The two great names of the northern Rhône, Hermitage and Côte Rôtie, are beyond the reach of most of us, selling for €50-€100 a bottle. The relative bargains are close at hand; between these two appellations lie St Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage. Both can offer great value – although by value I mean €20-€35 a bottle. For that you should get a wine that will transform your dinner into a special event.

In general, the wines of the northern Rhône are lighter in alcohol and more elegant in style than those of the southern Rhône, at times closer to Burgundy than to Châteauneuf-du-Pape. All are made from Syrah, occasionally with a very small percentage of a white grape.

Crozes-Hermitage, once dismissed as poor man’s Hermitage, is now responsible for some very stylish wines. They may lack the structure and concentration of wines from the neighbouring hill of Hermitage, but the best have lovely bright, fresh fruits and can age a little, too – a glass of the 2007 vintage of the Les Rouvres below was a recent highlight.

Farther north, the narrow, 50km-long appellation of St Joseph, covering 26 communes, is bigger but produces less wine than Crozes-Hermitage. It has some fantastic sites and old vines. I strongly suspect quality and prices will continue to rise, but for the moment prices in both regions are reasonable; trying to decide on just four wines this week was not easy.

I have previously mentioned the Crozes-Hermitage from Alain Graillot (€30, Mitchell & Son) and the Cuvée Equinox Domaine des Lises (€24, siyps.com, Ely 64, Green Man), and they are great wines. In addition to the Terroir de Granit below, Burgundy Direct has the tighter, more mineral Passion de Terrasses 2016 for €31.75. JNwine.com has a great range of wines from the region, including a lovely St Joseph André Perret for €27.50. Wines Direct has the fuller-bodied wines from Domaine des Remizières.

I tasted some spectacular wines from the recently rediscovered appellation of Brézème – check out your local independent for the names Éric Texier and Domaine Lombard. I also discovered a new superstar in Domaine Bott, imported to Ireland by Caubet Wines. Among the negociants, Chapoutier, Ferraton, Guigal, Jaboulet and Cuilleron all produce at least reasonably priced St Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage. And most are great value for money.

Crozes-Hermitage 2015 Grande Classique, Cave de Tain
13.5%, €19.95
This has featured before, but it is one of my all-time favourites. Beautifully rounded, ripe yet savoury dark fruits with a good dry finish. A great all-purpose wine, but perfect with roast chicken or pork.
From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

St Joseph 2016, Terroir de Granit, Guy Farge
12.5%, €26.50
A lovely, elegant wine with fresh violets on the nose, crunchy, juicy dark-cherry fruits and a light mineral touch. Try it with a plate of charcuterie or some grilled lamb chops.
From Burgundy Direct, burgundydirect.ie

St Joseph 2016, Domaine du Monteillet, Stéphane Montez
12.5%, €31.95
Plump, fresh dark fruits – cherries and blackcurrants – with a whiff of spice and an easy finish. Would pair well with a seared duck breast with black cherries.
From Searsons, Monkstown, Co Dublin, searsons.com; Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com

Crozes-Hermitage 2015 Le Rouvre, Yann Chave
13.5%, €34.95
One of my favourite wines. The 2015 is relatively rich and powerful, with harmonious ripe blackcurrant fruits and spicy black pepper. This would handle a rare steak perfectly.
From Searsons, Monkstown, Co Dublin, searsons.com

 

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Forget dry January, I prefer ‘damp January’

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 20th January, 2018

This year I have opted for a damp January, strictly avoiding all alcohol for the first three days of the week, and drinking less than usual for the remaining four. To reward myself, I have been drinking better wine. Instead of drinking two €10 bottles of wine, I have traded up to €15-€20 – and more – on a few occasions. As a result, over the last few weekends, I have enjoyed some really special wines. This is a case when really less is more. And of course, as I am drinking less, my wine budget remains the same.

If you feel €20 is too much to pay for a bottle of wine, just remember that it is much cheaper, and so much better, than the barely drinkable insipid house wines offered by most restaurants, wine bars and hotels. I would argue that all four wines below offer great value for money. So get some decent wine glasses, fill them to only a quarter or a third full (you should get eight glasses per bottle), and enjoy the pleasures of a really good wine.

The Sauvignon Blanc below is a completely different animal to the standard Marlborough version, with a style and character all of its own. From one of the leading exponents of natural wine, this is a wine worth seeking out. The importer tells me that the 2016 vintage is now being rationed, so don’t delay.

The Crozes Hermitage I have chosen is from the Caves de Tain, a large co-operative that dominates production in the region. All of the wines are very reliable and sometimes much more, as is the case with this wine. From the excellent 2015 vintage, it had a lovely lightness and purity of fruit that had all my alarm bells ringing – for the right reasons. Exceptional value for money if you enjoy lighter, lower alcohol wines.

Those that prefer a bit more body in their wine should look to one of the other two red wines below. There are plenty of inexpensive Côtes du Rhônes available, but this is one area where paying a few euros more really does pay dividends. I have featured others before Christmas, but this Château Beauchene (from a Châteauneuf-du-Pape producer) offers a very seductive mix of elegance and warmth.

Collioure is a small French village on the Mediterranean coast, not far from the Spanish border. Once best known for its anchovies and painters, these days it is a popular tourist destination. Less well known are its wines; both red and white, can be very good, but I haven’t come across them in Ireland for a few years. This is a rich swarthy powerful wine, perfect for banishing those wintery blues.

Le P’tit Blanc de Tue-Bouef 2015, Clos du Tue-Bouef

13%, €19

Made with a minimal addition of sulphur at bottling, this is an intriguing Sauvignon with real character. Subtle and complex with lifted aromas, and soft quince and peach fruits, perfectly balanced by a mineral edge. Serve as an aperitif or with winter salads. I had mine with beetroot and goat’s cheese.

Stockists: Le Caveau Kilkenny; The Corkscrew; Green Man Wines; Bradley’s, Cork.

Crozes Hermitage, Caves de Tain 2015

13%, €19.95

Perfectly ripe blackcurrant and morello cherry fruits with a savoury refreshing note and excellent length. It went perfectly with our Sunday night roast chicken, but would provide a perfect partner for ham dishes. Excellent value for money.

Stockists: O’Briens

Château Beauchene 2016, Côtes du Rhône

13.5%, €17.95

Medium to full-bodied and smooth with soft ripe rounded red fruits dusted with spice. This went down very nicely with a curry from my new local Indian takeaway (Tiffin in Charlesland, Co Wicklow).

Stockists: Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown

Les Voiles de Paulilles 2015, Collioure

14%, €19

Gutsy full-bodied wine with concentrated blackcurrant fruits, spice and black olives. Perfect with a roast of beef or lamb, or maybe a stew laced with Mediterranean herbs.

Stockists: Marks & Spencer

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St. Patrick’s Day wine weekend

Nothing green here, but a few nice wines.

dscf7402Clos Windsbuhl Gewurztraminer 2000, Domaine Zind Humbrecht

This had been languishing in my stash for a long time, probably because I am not a huge fan of gewurz, nor of white wines that are 15% alcohol (unless its sherry of course). I took a coravined glass, and it was just as I imagined it would be; big, rich textured and sweetish, with plenty of length.

Alpha Zeta Corvina 2015

Light easy refreshing glugger, with dark cherry fruits.

Anthill Farms Tina Marie Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River, California

A present from my sister who lives in California. This might be part of the new wave of lighter more elegant Californian wines we read about. It was very good; light slightly candied ripe cherries, but with a good acidic core, and nice length. Opened out beautifully to reveal a good depth of damson fruit. 13%.

Crozes- Hermitage 2015 Yann Chave

One of my favourite wines for many years, and one that ages very well too. A bit riper and rounder than usual, probably the vintage, but very stylish elegant dark cherry and damson fruits. Will improve with time. €27.95 – will feature in the Irish Times soon.

Quinta dos Carvalhais Encruzado 2015 Dao, Portugal

An oaked aged Encruzado? It works really well, with subtle oak, lovely refreshing acidity and plenty of fruit. Not cheap at €29.99 but very nice wine.

 

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