Rhôneology | Part 2
By Louise Wilson MW
In contrast to the blends of the south, the wines from Vienne to Valence are focused on Syrah, with each Cru in the Northern Rhône delivering its own expression.
The esteemed wines of Côte Rôtie and Hermitage are some of the finest examples of Syrah in the world. The “roasted slopes” of the Côte Rôtie, the most northernly Cru of the Rhône, produce fragrant Syrah with notes of pepper, smoke and pork crackling. Red Hermitage is also decidedly savory and well-structured. Several years of cellaring are required to unpack the full potential top examples.
In the relatively warm micro-climate of Cornas, the wines are inky-hued, dark-fruited and firm. In contrast, Syrah from Crozes-Hermitage is typically earlier drinking than the aforementioned Crus. With generous red and black fruit and approachable tannins, they are a perfect choice for Sunday roast dinner. In the center of the Valley, both the reds and whites of Saint-Joseph provide an ideal gateway to the wines of the Northern Rhône with top producers delivering both value and approachability.
Counterpoint to Syrah, Viognier is the star white grape of the Northern Rhône. It is richly perfumed with notes of peach and nectarine. I consider Viognier the white wine for red wine drinkers because of its satisfyingly full body and affinity for oak. World class examples come from the Northern Rhône’s Condrieu and Château-Grillet. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to try Rhône Viognier, this is definitely one to add to your list.
The whites of Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Joseph are made of Marsanne and Roussanne. Marsanne is the weightier of the two grapes contributing notes of melon, nut and mineral. Roussanne, with its floral and stone fruit perfume, is harder to find because it is finicky to grow. Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne are also permitted for use in the production of specified red wines where they are co-fermented with Syrah to stabilize its colour and add aromatic lift.
If you enjoy the power of a top-shelf Argentinian Malbec, a well-made California Zinfandel or a premium Australian Shiraz and you are looking to explore the Old World, Northern Rhône reds are a great consideration. Alternatively, if you have started your journey in Bordeaux and appreciate the structure and savoury expression of a classic left bank wine, Syrah from the Rhône could be a fantastic next move. For my fellow white wine lovers who swoon over white Burgundy, I encourage you to pursue the whites of the Northern Rhône. À votre santé.
Louise Wilson MW lives in the Niagara region and is one of ten Masters of Wine based in Canada. She has worked in a number of different fields including export, retail, hospitality and education.