Wine Reviews: Rhone Syrah

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-08-2020

Syrah (and specifically Syrah from France’s Northern Rhone Valley) deserves a lot of credit for igniting my love of wine. As a young wine nerd, I looked up to wines like Hermitage or Cote-Rotie, but I couldn’t afford them. So, I went looking for wines from appellations like Crozes-Hermitage and St. Joseph — juicy Syrah fruit, solid tannins, lively acidity, and hefty doses of meaty, pepper, earthy, savory goodness.

Over the years, I haven’t strayed far from my love of Northern Rhone Syrah. The New World Syrahs that I’ve fallen in love with (California, Washington, South Africa, for example) tend to be ones that I might considering sneaking into a blind-tasting of Northern Rhone wines as ringers. But nothing beats the real Rhone Syrah, so I was excited to taste through a few samples recently, most of which are from the 2017 vintage.

After the heralded 2016 vintage, 2017 had some tough elements. Frost and some hail threw off St. Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage a bit. A warm, dry summer led to smaller, more concentrated berries with thicker skins, and Syrah harvest started and ended quite early. While yields were lower, the quality of the fruit seems quite high.

I found these wines showed lots of juiciness, darker fruit, and the tannins, while providing structure, seem to have rounder edges. I’m an acid hound, but while this isn’t a zingy vintage, I found enough balance and freshness from the acidity in these wines. Overall, these Rhone wines make me crave a snowstorm, some grilled lamb, and lots of roasted root vegetables.

Three of these wines are all Syrah from the Northern Rhone, while the last is a Syrah-based blend from the Southern Rhone. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2017 Domaine Faury St. Joseph Vieilles VignesFrance, Rhône, Northern Rhône, St. Joseph
SRP: $43
Light purple color. Lovely aromas of tangy black cherries and currants, topped in violets, clove, iron, bay leaf and cracked black pepper. Medium-bodied, silky but structured tannins, vibrant acidity – this is all lined up wonderfully. Red and black cherry fruit, suave but tangy, blended well with complex notes of black pepper, violets, bay leaf, iron, paved road. This is pure, vibrant, lively and expressive, but three to five years in the cellar will allow it to blossom (and it’ll age for a decade easily). Excellent St. Joseph for the price. From vines aged 43 to 82 years old, this Syrah is aged 12 months in foudres, demi-muids and barrels (10% of the barrels are new oak). (92 points IJB)

2017 Alain Graillot Crozes-HermitageFrance, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Crozes-Hermitage
SRP: $40
Deep purple color. The nose exudes black fruit (cherries, blackberries) along with animal hide, grilled herbs, black olive brine and cracked pepper. Grippy tannins, tight but balanced with fresh acidity. The fruit is black and tart, and topped in leather, spicy grilled steak, black olive brine, and I get these underlying notes of iron and graphite. This is definitely one to age for at least four or five years, and it will evolve for a long time, but even at this young age, this is impressive. From 30-year-old vines, whole-cluster fermented in concrete and aged in old oak barrels. (91 points IJB)

2018 Matthieu Barret Crozes-Hermitage Et la BannièreFrance, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Crozes-Hermitage
SRP: $31
Deep, dark purple color. Juicy and ripe on the nose with gushing black cherries and blackberries. I get lots of mesquite, barbecue sauce, black pepper and soy, with lavender and cocoa dust elements, too. Medium/full-bodied with smooth tannins and medium acidity. This is a dark, juicy, fresh wine with lots of chewy black fruit, but there’s also plenty of pepper, anise, cocoa, dusty earth and charcoal elements. Delicious, fun, but also complex and interesting. From 20-year-old vines, the Syrah undergoes 10 days of carboic maceration, and this is fermented and aged in stainless steel. This is a more accessible, early-drinking style, but it could also age for a few years. (90 points IJB)

2017 Château de Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhône Les Deux AlbionFrance, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône
SRP: $21
Medium purple color. Pretty aromas of black currants, along with graphite, leather, cocoa powder, menthol and mesquite. This is a big, big wine (15.5% alcohol) but it holds it well, with velvety tannins, chewy texture, medium/low acid. Waves of ripe, delicious, jammy fruit (currants, roasted figs, blackberry), with elements of campfire, scorched earth, black pepper glaze, vanilla, coffee grounds. This is a bold, winter-friendly wine, but it shows nuance and complexity as well, especially considering the price. It could definitely use two or three years, though. 50% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 15% Carignan, 10% Mourvedre, and 5% Clairette, whole-cluster, co-fermented in wooden vats and concrete tanks, and aged 18 months. (89 points IJB)

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