Category Archives: Rhône

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.

crozes rouss vines
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:
la pyramide 6 chave

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 Dernière Goutte Provides Ingenious French Wine and Food Moments in Paris

La Dernière Goutte Provides Ingenious French Wine and Food Moments in Paris

When American-born Juan Sanchez founded his Paris wine shop nearly twenty years ago, he named it La Dernière Goutte, a French name meaning “the last drop.” It proved ironic, indeed, because nearly twenty years later, this cozy establishment at 6 rue Bourbon-le-château in the Left Bank neighborhood of St-Germain-des-Prés continues pouring French wines and hosting popular introductory classes. Over the years Sanchez added a trio of popular dining spots nearby, and most recently he opened Freddy’s, a comfortable wine bar. At each stop, quality, convenience and fun prevail. To see for yourself, start by stopping in at La Dernière Goutte for a Saturday afternoon free wine tasting with an outstanding French winegrower on hand to answer questions and talk terroir.

Patty Lurie at a recent Saturday tasting at
Patty Lurie at a recent Saturday tasting at La Dernière Goutte.

Recently on the last Saturday in April, Sanchez’s engaging and knowledgeable colleague, Patty Lurie, poured samples and handled sales. Talented northern Rhône winegrower Guillaume Clusel chatted with customers. The tasting becomes hectic at times, but Lurie keeps the pace moving with a judiciously enforced semblance of order. Nobody seems to mind anyway because Clusel’s wines are so darn tasty and inspiring.

Which is one of Sanchez’s keys to success. He offers only estate grown wines–in French, vins de propriétaire–from relatively small production, artisan domaines. Each winegrower takes a personal interest in his or her vines. They work with mud on their hands and boots directly in the vineyards typically without chemicals in organic–and sometimes also biodynamic–fashion. As Clusel’s wines vividly illustrate, the resulting wines reflect distinct terroir while singing with lively fruit, personality and pure pleasure.

His wines come from the Côteaux du Lyonnais, a reclaimed terroir west of Lyon, as well as Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu with the family domane, Clusel-Roch.  He helped spearhead the domaine’s conversion to biologique organic winegrowing without chemical herbicides, fertilizers, fungicides and pesticides. Grasses and flowers grow between rows in winter to promote robust life in the soils, a factor forcing vines to compete and become sturdy. Spring plowing helps reawaken vines and requires tremendous labor in the steep and rocky vineyards.

Guillaume Clusel
Guillaume Clusel holding a bottle of the delicious Côteaux du Lyonnais,”Galet” made from Gamay.

Yields come in at low levels to further enhance quality. After manual harvest and partial destemming, the grapes ferment as naturally as possible.

The Côteaux du Lyonnais, “Galet” red wine offers a real show stopper. This Gamay wine has real guts and breeding to deliver a terrific glassful of pleasure. Aromas of cherries and blackberries waft up with hints of newly plowed earth and smokiness. Pure red fruits and mouthwatering minerality open in the glass balanced by firm, but entirely elegant tannins. All in all, it is startlingly delicious, well made and reasonably priced.

The other Clusel wines were terrific, too. Which raises a dilemma for travelers from outside Europe. You love the wines and would like to buy a case, but how can you take them home without spending a small fortune on either shipping or a fancy travel case for checked baggage?

Sanchez offers the perfect solution as Patty Lurie demonstrates.  She first individually wraps the bottles in reinforced, rigid cardboard holders. Then the holders go into a sturdy, rigid cardboard box. Packing tape closes the box and then comes the touch of magic.

Lurie firmly wraps heavy twine around the box from stem to stern. Then, in a stroke that would make Rube Goldberg smile ear to ear, she creates a sturdy twine handle for easy toting. You then check in the box at the airport as luggage.

“It works and we’ve never had a customer have a problem taking home wine with our carrier'” she notes. Which is great, because in addition to Clusel, La Dernière Goutte offers hundreds of wines including those from terrific Burgundy producers such as Domaine Bruno Clair, Domaine Geantet-Pansiot, Domaine Denis Mortet, and Domaine Simon Bize.

After purchasing your wine, you’re ready for a casual bite to eat, a good glass of wine and a comfy ambiance. Sanchez has you covered there, too.

Part of the friendly and talented staff at Freddy's Wine Bar
Part of the friendly and talented staff at Freddy’s Wine Bar

Just around the corner from La Dernière Goutte on rue de Seine, he operates the excellent restaurants Semilla and Fish. But his new little gem, Freddy’s  at 54 rue de Seine, 75006 Paris, is a sure bet. The super friendly staff has passion for and knowledge of fun, terroir-driven wines. Recently the Domaine des Huards Cour Cheverny Rouge, a red blend of Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc from an organic Loire grower, served as wine of the day. The Domaine de la Pépière, Muscadet “Clissons” made from from grapes grown organically in granite soils in the western Loire Valley also catches the eye.

The fun menu includes seasonal, tapas style vegetable plates such tempura asparagus spears. Creatively prepared main courses are also available.

Fresh Spring flowers at Freddy's Wine Bar.
Fresh Spring flowers at Freddy’s Wine Bar.

So put it all together—La Dernière Goutte’s great selection of reasonably priced quality wines, the convenience of being able to take your wines home on the plane, and fun wine and food just around the corner—and the ingenious Mr. Sanchez and his teams are on a roll. And you won’t want to miss enjoying the experience.