Today was our first in the Northern Rhone, in a small town called Saint-Peray... A small working class area near the town of Valence, known for inexpensive sparkling wines, and the ruins of a 12th Century Chateau looming immediately above the town. What the region is really famous for, are the wines from the steep hills surrounding Tain l'Hermitage, and further north from Cote Rotie and Condrieu.
The Northern Rhone wines are known more for purity and elegance compared to their Southern Rhone cousins. While the southern wines are dominated by the fruit forward Grenache grape blended with a merry bunch of friends like Mourvedre, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault and others..., the North goes solely with Syrah in the red grapes, Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne in the whites. The first photo above shows the steep hills above "Tain" that produces the stunning "Hermitage" wines, pure Syrah arguably at its best. Perfumed, elegant, complex wines, and in a style that the Gimblett Gravels in Hawkes Bay try to emulate. Note how steep the slopes are, covered in vines towering above the Rhone River below.
The vines here are trained differently again than in Burgundy, still a short and stocky trunk, but then the vines are trained upwards, spiralling around a single post to a height of around 6 feet tall. Space is at a premium on such steep slopes, with narrow terraces cut into the stony hillsides, supported by long and tall rows of stone walls - often around 3+ meters tall. The second photo is taken of nearby Saint Joseph appellation vines, still made from 100% Syrah but a much more easy drinking style (and budget).
We had the good fortune to taste a range of wines both from a small artisan producer Yann Chave, and also from one of the large and famous producers M Chapoutier, a house that has expanded to make around 80 different wines! The Hermitage are easily our favourites, but require a minimum of 5-10 years in the cellar. The whites were excellent too, we don't produce Marsanne nor Rousanne in NZ, though some are made by our cousins over the ditch. If you don't have the budget for Condrieu (made from 100% Viognier, stunning wines) then check out some of the Croze Hermitage whites. Brilliant lifted perfumes, stone fruits, and spice.
Tomorrow we taste some more beauties, and try to work off some calories climbing to the ruins of that 12th century castle on the hill.