The French like to say of Crozes-Hermitage ‘La Syrah est ici chez elle’. Roughly translated, it means that the syrah grape is sitting pretty in its natural habitat on left bank of the Rhône River. Here the sprawling appellation of Crozes-Hermitage spreads out behind the Valrhona chocolate town of Tain, surrounding the commanding hill of Hermitage from whose grand and potent wines it takes its name.
The syrah grape is indeed king here, or rather, make that queen, since, unusually, its gender is feminine. The temperate climate of the 45th parallel provides the perfect climate for the wines. Nine in ten bottles are red, always pure syrah. If that suggests uniformity, the opposite is the case. Crozes-Hermitage’s two main zones are made up of a mosaic of stony, clay terraces in the south and granite in the fresher north and very vigneron approaches the style differently.
The best-known names of the 100-odd estates and merchants are Chapoutier, Jaboulet and the dependable giant co-operative, the Cave de Tain, which supplies almost all UK supermarkets with benchmark Crozes such as the spicy and succulently juicy 2014 Crozes Hermitage, £10, down from £14, (or buy 3 = £8, buy 6 = £7.50), Marks & Spencer. Nearly a third is exported and we in the UK are easily the most appreciative of the floral, spice and pepper notes of syrah and the savouriness that goes so well with food but perhaps appeals less to palates seduced by the more obvious richness of Australian shiraz (same grape).
The best Crozes I tasted while there recently came from Domaine du Colombier whose, perfumed and intensely dark-fruited 2013 Crozes-Hermitage, Gaby, £17.16 – 20.20, Lay & Wheeler, Tanners, is a marvel of spicy character; Gilles Robin’s seductive, smoky paprika-spicy, blackberryish 2014 Crozes-Hermitage, Papillon, £17.95, and richer, intense Albéric Bouvet, £17.95, both Lea & Sandeman ; and the fragrant, smoky and succulently peppery 2013 David Reynaud, Beaumont, £16.33 - £18.50, Eclectic Tastes, Exel, winetrust100.co.uk. Going back in time, Jaboulet Aîné’s 2010 Crozes Hermitage, Thalabert, £26, Berry Bros & Rudd, is maturing beautifully with peppery fragrance and sweet blackberry tempered by savoury acidity.
Something For the Weekend 12 March 2016
2014 Vignerons du Vieux Tinailler Morgon La Tour des Bancs
This bright young cherry-scented Beaujolais from the Morgon cru is delightfully approachable and full of vivid summer pudding fruit with a soft texture and a lively tartness that bring plenty of juicy appeal. £8.49, Lidl.
2012 Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, Margaret River
A fine Bordeaux-style blend from Western Australia displaying the spicy fragrance of cedar, blackcurrant and mint with a succulent cassis fruitiness tinged with green pepper and a gentle underpinning of toasty oak and balancing freshness. £14.99, Booths.
2014 Boekenhoutskloof The Chocolate Block, £25, or buy 6 = £22, Majestic.
A consistent Cape favourite, this Rhônish-style blend based mainly on syrah is aromatic and steeped in rich blackberryish, chocolatey fruit concentration with a texture that’s sumptuously rounded but supported by a vibrant freshness.