Category Archives: Crozes Hermitage

Distinctive Crozes-Hermitage Reds Deliver Quality, Personality and Value.

Distinctive Crozes-Hermitage Reds Deliver Quality, Personality and Value.

Each year with France’s Northern Rhône red wines, critics and consumers alike heap accolades on the marvelous selections from Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage. Reds from the nearby appellation of Crozes-Hermitage which also rely on Syrah grapes go largely unheralded. So the wines often languish on retail shelves even with prices a third or less of their prestigious Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage cousins.

The situation creates great opportunities for astute consumers to snare terrific values. More and more Crozes-Hermitage winegrowers defy stereotypes by dedicating themselves to producing terroir-focused reds with outstanding quality and plenty of personality. The key lies in purchasing red Crozes-Hermitage wines from growers who work hard in the vineyards and then let fermentations unfold naturally in the cellar.

During a visit to the appellation in May, 2017, I had the pleasure of tasting a solid handful of intriguing wines from Domaine Stéphane Rousset, David Reynaud from Domaine les Bruyères, Domaine Dard & Ribo, Domaine Yann Chave, and Domaine du Colombier.

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Rousset’s “Les Picaudières” features old vines with southern exposure and dramatic views towards the Rhône River.

Domaine Stéphane Rousset:

One look at the engaging Stéphane Rousset (pictured above) reveals a vigneron who clearly spends plenty of time in the vineyards soaking up sun. He works on the steep, wine-swept rocky slopes around the communes of Erôme and Gervans in the northern portion of the Crozes-Hermtage appellation. Like the neighboring Hermitage hillside just  to the south, hard granite subsoils predominate in Rousset’s dramatic, picturesque vineyards such as “Les Picaudières.”

The rocky, terraced vineyard features vines up to eighty years old which Rousset works by hand. His sustainable lutte raisonnée methods minimize chemical treatments. After hand harvesting, he removes most of the stems and ferments the juice naturally in stainless steel with gentle rémontage. Aging occurs in large, old foudres and smaller Burgundy style barrels.

The 2014 Stéphane Rousset, Crozes-Hermitage “Les Picaudières” delivers dark red fruit and black pepper aromas opening to ripe, polished black fruit flavors with perfectly balanced concentration and silky tannins. A marvelous, pure wine ready to enjoy! In the U/S. Chambers Street Wines offers the wine for $22.99.

crozes reynaud David Reynaud:

Beginning in 2000, winegrower David Reynaud converted his family’s Domaine les Bruyères to organic and biodynamic production certified, respectively, by ECOCERT and Biodyvin. The changes served his goals of enhancing the purity of fruit and freshness in the wines.

Today Reynaud uses grapes from 20 to 30 year old Syrah vines growing in clay and limestone soils on the plain south of Hermitage Hill. The vines lie in the commune of Beaumont-Monteaux near the Isère River. Round “galet” rocks cover the ground and help retain heat to ripen the grapes. Reynaud and his team work the vines manually without synthetic chemical treatments. Performing ébourgeonnages—removal of excess buds in late Spring—and vendanges en vert–removal of excess green grape bunches—keeps yields at a relatively low 40 hectoliters per hectare.

Manual harvest precedes careful selection on a sorting table followed by natural fermentation in concrete, egg-shaped vats. Aging occurred in 50% older barrique barrels and 50% in concrete. All the works shines in the delicious 2012 Domaine les Bruyères, Crozes-Hermitage “Cuvée Georges.” The wine is an homage to Reynaud’s grandfather, who passed in 2000, the year of David’s first vintage.

Ripe dark fruit aromas open to fresh, fruity flavors with zesty acidity. Mouthwatering freshness balances the long, fruity finish. Owner/Sommelier Nicolas KalbacheVernerey features the wine at his terrific restaurant Aux Gourmands at 8, Place du Marché in Montélimar, Fance. In the U.S., Wine Works Online in New Jersey offers the wine for $29.95.

Dard & Ribo:

For over thirty years, winegrowing partners René-Jean Dard and François Ribo have produced “natural” wines long before the current fashion. Today their wines are cult classics with natural wine enthusiasts, yet Dard and Ribo still go quietly about their business ignoring the limelight while producing wines with terrific personality and distinction.crozes dard ribo

Their main vineyards lie in the hilly, northerly side of the appellation in the communes of Larnage and Crozes-Hermitage, itself. The soils offer a mix of clay and granite covered with gravel and sands. The area’s altitude and relatively cooler climate creates the potential for chiselled, structured wines with refinement. But the partners also favor an easy drinking, delicious style emphasizing transparent, ripe fruit and minimal oaky notes.

The 2015 Dard & Ribo, Crozes-Hermitage offers a lovely dark purple color with piping aromas of black fruits and black pepper. Rich, ripe flavors of raspberries and blackberries mingle with meaty notes. Fresh acidity, smooth tannins and mouthwatering minerality. Delicious, superb pleasure! Close your eyes and you’ll swear your drinking delicious Fresh acidity, smooth tannins and mouthwatering minerality. Delicious, superb pleasure! Tastes more like a Côte Rôtie! Available in the U.S. from Vanderbilt Wine Merchants for $35 and from Flatiron Wines & Spirits for $35.99.

Yann Chave:
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Since officially joining his father Bernard at the family domaine in Mercurol in 1998, the affable Yann Chave has become a champion of improving the quality and reputation of Crozes-Hermitage wines. At his own domaine, he has taken the lead by converting to organic cultivation under the European rules for Agriculture Biologique.

The wines have improved steadily as shown in the 2014 Yann Chave, Crozes-Hermitage “Le Rouvre.” The Syrah grapes come from a special selection of 50-year old vines toiling in rocky soils in the southern plain near Pont de l’Isère,
Chave implements green harvesting to limit yields and harvests manually. For this wine, he ferments only free-run juice in large 600 litre oak barrels, only some of which are new.

One of France’s leading sommeliers, Baptiste Cavagna, serves the wine at La Pyramide, Chef Patrick Henriroux’s gastronomic Michelin two-star stop in Vienne. Cavagna paired the wine with a Fricassée d’escargots du Rozay—sautéed and braised Rozay snails served with crisp, tiny new potatoes and peas over a savory base of finely minced and caramelized meat from pig’s feet and ears. It paired nicely with the wine’s deep purple color and tantalizing aromas of ripe dark fruit and black pepper. Concentrated, ripe fruit balanced with terrific freshness and prominent, yet smooth tannins. It all made for a deliciously memorable pairing!

In the U.S., Cellar Door Fine Wines sells the 2015 Yann Chave, Crozes-Hermitage “Le Rouvre.” for $33.95.


Domaine du Colombier:


crozes gabby
Patriarch Gaby Viale picking cherries at the domaine. He is the namesake of Domaine du Colombier’s top Crozes-Hemitage red.

Brothers Florentand David Viale run this highy reliable domaine whose vineyards lie in Mercurol and Tain l’Hermitage.The tall, affable Florent oversees winemaking, and he favors a soft and approachable, yet always fresh and well balanced style. After harvest, he destems the fruit which ferments in large, mostly older 600-liter casks.

For the domaine’s top Crozes-Hermitage red, the “Cuvée Gaby,” Viale makes a selection from the top casks made from “old vines.” The wine pays homage to the family patriarch, Gabriel, who was born in 1939 and who remains vital and active. The Viale family has long grown cherries and apricots as well as grapes, and on a visit in May, we found the jovial Gaby picking cherries in the warm afternoon sun. In a memorable, beautiful moment, he graciously shared his juicy, sweet harvest still warm from the sun.

The 2015 Domaine du Colombier, Crozes-Hermitage “Cuvée Gaby” tasted from cask at the domaine offered dark fruit aromas with smoky, meaty notes and hints of wild herbs. Ripe, rich fruit with good concentration and ample fresh mixed with soft tannins. This will be a a wine to drink either now with decanting or up to crozes gaby5 years or more of aging.

I recently enjoyed a 2009 Domaine du Colombier, Crozes-Hermitage “Cuvée Gaby,” a wine with eight years n the bottle, and yet it still offered plenty of ripe dark fruit, black pepper and floral aromas. Ripe, rich dark fruit flavors balancde mouthwatering mineral freshness and soft tannins through a lingering, fresh finish. One of those bottles that practically drinks itself!

In the U.S., Astor Wines offers the 2014 Domaine du Colombier, Crozes-Hermitage “Cuvée Gaby” for $39.96.       


La Pyramide Sommelier Baptiste Cavagna Focuses On Fun, Imaginative Wine Pairings With Dazzling Results

La Pyramide Sommelier Baptiste Cavagna Focuses On Fun, Imaginative Wine Pairings With Dazzling Results

At Restaurant La Pyramide in the northern Rhône city of Vienne, Chief Sommelier Baptiste Cavagna cuts a striking figure in a neat black suit, vest and tie. He walks the elegant, modern dining room with a smooth, highly professional air while confidently serving wines and talking affably with guests. But “off stage” outside of Chef Patrick Henriroux’s gastronomic Michelin two-star stop, Cavagna often uses days off to taste directly and casually with dynamic winegrowers such as Matthieu Barret, the biodynamc producer extraordinaire in Cornas.

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La Pyramide Chief Sommelier meeting with the winegrowing dynamo Matthieu Barret in Cornas.

Cavagna’s gracious ease both in the dining room and in domaine cellars flows from his professionalism and passion to discover new wines. In 2016 his refined communication skills and dedication to métier impressed industry peers who voted Cavagna “Sommelier of the Year” in an evaluation organized by the French trade magazine, Le Chef. And while recognition as an outstanding sommelier in his generation is a great honor, Cavagna’s primary focus remains on creating memorable moments for guests.

“I always try to enhance every guest’s culinary pleasure by pairing each course with beautiful wine discoveries,” Cavagna says. “With a close link between the kitchen and the cellar, at La Pyramide we always work to offer guests not just a meal but an experience.”

On a recent Sunday evening dinner, our party of seven experienced Cavagna’s skills and savoir-faire firsthand. His fun, imaginative wine selections paired perfectly with the kitchen’s deliciously inventive “Menu Pyramide.”

To add a little fun to festivities, Cavagna served the wines “blind” from decanters. We had to rely on our senses and imaginations rather than preconceived notions in trying to identify each wine.

For the first course, Chef Patrick Henriroux’s team served a delectable Suprême de Pintade Fermière-–boneless, skinless breast meat of a farm-raised guinea fowl wrapped with smoked duck breast. It came with a mix of foie gras and seasonal rhubarb served over a sablé shortbread made from torrefied flour. To complement the dish’s juicy, slightly earthy flavors and creamy, sweet accents, Cavagna served an aromatic, dry white wine with just the slightest hint of dusty pink. The wine’s marvelous floral, peach and citrus aromas and rich flavors balanced with a touch of creaminess and mouthwatering minerality.

la pyramide savoie 2“A Grand Cru Pinot Gris from Alsace,” I suggested. Not close, actually.

Cavagna revealed the 2015 Domaine Belluard, “Le Feu” Vin de Savoie produced from  Gringnet, an obscure grape variety native to the Savoie’s high altitude, Alpine vineyards. Winegrower Dominique Belluard calls it “Terroir de Mont-Blanc” since the vines grow near the famous mountain. “Le Feu” or “the fire” refers to the vineyard’s red clay soils rich in iron oxide.

Belluard’s biodynamic cultivation applies “dynamized” natural composts and teas in lieu of synthetic chemicals on the vines. Despite severe forty percent grades in some points in the vineyard, he performs all work manually. Harvest yields a modest 35 hl/h to concentrate fresh aromas and flavors. Fermentation occurs with indigenous yeasts in neutral concrete vats and results in only 12% A.B.V. Bottling occurs with minimal sulfites added. The meticulous work produces just the kind of fresh, hand-crafted bottle that Cavagna values: a terroir driven wine offering food-friendliness and sheer pleasure.

I am a person who likes good wines, if this one can be done in an organic way I am for it. But I do not tolerate a wine with defaults especially doubtful aromas,’ he notes. “I always favor beautifully made wines.”

le feu
Dominique Belluard’s “Le Feu” made from Gringnet vines growing near Mont-Blanc.

The “mountain” wines of the Jura and Savoie hold a special place with Cavagna who grew up nearby in the Ain partement. His hometown, Nantua, has only 3,900 inhabitants and is best known for tannery and shoemaking. Ain’s only vineyards fall in the low profile Bugey appellation, home of the Altesse white grape and increasingly popular sparkling wines. All of which makes Cavagna’s rise to the heights of his profession even more impressive.

He began studying restaurant management in Ain. Then at the Lycée des Métiers Hôtelier de l’Hermitage, he pursued the sommelier métier in the town of Tain Hermitage, an epicenter of northern Rhône winegrowing. After graduation, Cavagna’s big break came working for the Loisseau family’s restaurants in Burgundy and Paris.

At the Relais Bernard Loisseau, a gastronomic Michelin-starred restaurant with a 15,000 bottle cellar, Cavagna learned from Chief Sommelier Eric Goettelmann, a winner of the Le Chef magazine’s :Sommelier of the Year” in 2006.

“Eric was very professional and knowledgeable,” Cavagna recalls. Baptiste Gauthier, another Loisseau colleague and now sommelier at Restaurant Anne-Sophie Pic in Valence, also served as a mentor.

“He was my direct supervisor, and he helped me grow and make progress,” Cavagna recalls.

After stints in the bright lights of Paris at Tante Marguerite and Le Meurice, Cavagna came to La Pyramide as Chief Sommelier in September, 2013. He oversees wine purchases for Chef Henriroux’s retail boutique, the hotel and three restaurants. At the restaurants, seventy five percent of the wines sold come from northern Rhône appellations such as Condrieu and Côte Rôtie. Cavagna and his team also sell significant amounts of white and red Burgundies.

As one of La Pyramide’s leaders, Cavagna also mentors assistant sommeliers and young interns. But his primary role remains providing guests with wine advice and service, always with an eye towards creating fun experiences. Speaking of which, at our group’s recent “Menu Pyramide” Sunday dinner, the second course offered a Fricassée d’escargots du Rozay—sautéed and braised Rozay snails served with crisp, tiny new potatoes and peas over a savory base of finely minced and caramelized meat from pig’s feet and ears. As they say, “Tout est bon dans le cochon!

Cavala pyramide 6 chavegna’s next wine had a deep purple color with ripe dark fruit and tantalizing black peppers aromas. Concentrated, ripe fruit balanced with terrific freshness and prominent, yet smooth tannins. It was really delicious and a perfect paring with the Fricassée d’escargots du Rozay.

I guessed a Saint-Joseph red from a good producer and good vineyard. “Close,” Cavagna replied.

It was the 2014 Yann Chave, Crozes-Hermitage “Le Rouvre” made from select vines on the Rhône River’s “left bank” in the plains across from Saint-Joseph. The Syrah vines average around 50 years old and toil in soils rich in large, round galet stones. To enliven the soils and vines, talented veteran grower Yann Chave farms organically as certified with the green Agriculture Biologique mark on the bottle’s back label. The wine showed just how delicious and well-balanced Crozes-Hermitage can when a dedicated grower lavishes meticulous attention on the vines while working organically.

It was then on to third course which offered Selle d’Agneau Allaiton aux Herbes—a tender piece of lamb loin wrapped around fresh herbs and served with fennel bits, confit lemon pieces, and red beet juice. To complement the inventive dish, Cavagna served a red with glistening, dark ruby color offering intriguing aromas of ripe cherries and blackberries with subtle notes of earthy wild herbs and smokiness. Similar ripe flavors followed with a touch of spiciness balanced beautifully with fresh mineral notes and smooth tannins.

Placing the wine proved challenging. It resembled a well made Right Bank Bordeaux, yet had more exotic aromas and elegance. It lacked the overt ripeness of Grenache, yet it was richer than Pinot Noir. It certainly did not shout Syrah. This delicious wine turned out to be a revelation for me.

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La Pyramide Chief Sommelier Baptiste Cavagna exploring wine at biodynamic winegrower Matthieu Barret’s domaine in Cornas.
la pyramide bellet 3
Clos Saint-Vincent’s delicious red Bellet made primarily from Folle Noire vines growing overlooking Nice.

It was the 2014 Clos Saint-Vincent, “Cuvee Le Clos,” Vin de Bellet from winegrower G. Sergi and family. The wine uses Folle Noir (90%) and Grenache (10%) grapes from vines growing on the hills above the city of Nice along the Mediterranean Coast.

The vineyard benefits from both maritime breezes and winds blowing down from foothills of the Alpes. The vines are cultivated with biodynamie composts, teas, and plowing rather than synthetic chemicals. The domaine holds ECOCERT’s biodynamic certification and has been a member of Biodyvin since 2007. All the arduous, meticulous vineyard labor enables the vines to sink deep roots to take full advantage of Bellet’s complex soils of sands, clays, limestone and large, embedded galet stones.

Its another illustration of Cavagna’s strong preference for original, high quality vins de terroir providing both great pleasure and memorable moments of discovery. He consistently focuses on the wine and its pairing with food rather than drawing attention to himself. The results are simply dazzling.