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
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
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
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
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