As most wine fans know, France’s Rhone Valley is the spiritual home of syrah, and most of the red wines from this region draw heavily on the grape. (The so-called GSM blend, iconic to Rhone wines, adds in grenache and mourvedre, more local classics.)
Recently we had a chance to check out four Rhone Valley wines, all with different approaches to the syrah grape. As a press release for the region’s wines notes, “In the cooler-climate Northern Rhône, these single varietal expressions showcase real nobility of character and ageability. In the warmer Southern Rhône, Syrah is often blended, adding hints of spice and earthiness. The South benefits from the Dentelles de Montmirail mountain range which provides shade and contributes to Syrah’s freshness and minerality.”
Details on where within the Rhone these wineries can be found and the specifics of their varietal makeup follow.
2017 Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage – 100% syrah from the northern Rhone. This wine is in your face with notes of turned earth, mushrooms, and pencil lead, evolving into quite a hearty red, heavy with black fruit and cloves. Touches of sour cherry and plum wine inform a dense and complex finish. Perfect with pizza or something more opulent. A- / $33
2017 Chateau de Saint Cosme “Les Deux Albion” Cotes du Rhone – 50% syrah, 10% mourvèdre, 20% grenache, 15% carignan, 5% clairette. There’s plenty of the southern Rhone’s trademark earthiness here — though Cotes du Rhone can be blended from grapes grown all over the valley — with notes of graphite, licorice, and black pepper dominant. Restrained fruit notes add some acidity and brightness, but the more savory elements inevitably dominate. B+ / $22
2016 Domaine Coursodon Saint Joseph Silice Rouge – This highly-awarded wine (100% syrah) from the northern Rhone comes across in its 2016 vintage as surprisingly simple, unabashedly fruit-forward with a face-whip of strawberry and raspberry, dusted with just a bit of baking spice and chocolate sauce. Hints of terroir are buried under the fruit bomb, which just never lets up. The finish runs more toward blackberry fruit leather. Disappointing at this price. B / $40
2017 Domaine Faury Saint Joseph Rouge – Another 100% syrah, Saint Joseph-born wine, and quite different from the above (though note it’s a different vintage). This one’s quite austere and heavy with terroir, densely earthy and speckled with notes of gunpowder, licorice, forest floor, and some pepper. Fruit never quite materializes, leaving the finish on the bitter/sour side, though time in glass helps to open things up, if only modestly. B+ / $47