(Part 2 of a 5-part series)
Now pour a glass of Syrah from the Rhone and note the differences between this and the Barossa Shiraz (from the previous article) as you sip and read. Thomas Jefferson loved Syrah in the form of Hermitage, a famous wine hill of only 326 acres. Hermitage has been favored by Royalty in as unlikely a place as Russia and also by wine lovers around the world. The grape’s home is indisputably the Northern Rhone in France. Since Roman times, it has laid claim to this region as it developed its notoriety because of its quality, longevity, and bold, full wines. By the early nineteenth century, Syrah from the Hermitage slope (a south facing hill of granite overlaid by a thin layer of soil) was selling for as much as the best wines of Bordeaux. To this day in the minds of many, it is Cabernet Sauvignon’s equal. What do you think as you taste?
Syrah in the Rhone Valley
Cote Rotie — “The Roasted Slope”
Wine map of France
In the far north of the Rhone Valley, steep and often dangerous slopes are worked with great risk. They are exposed at a perfect angle to the northern sunlight and produce a growing site for the Syrah grape that would secure its fame. Wines from this small area are expensive and if you can get your hands on one, you will be tasting fame and fortune. They are deeply colored red wines, bursting with full flavors. A young Cote Rotie is a gem in the making. As they age, they become softer and release intriguing bouquets. Is this the best of Rhone wines? Some say, yes.
Hermitage — “The Granite Hill”
Like the Cote Rotie these are wines that take time to soften and prepare themselves for consumption without shocking the palate. Full, rich, and powerful, they are liberal in their offering of a broad bouquet. Some folk prefer them over the Cote Rotie wines and they have certainly earned themselves a lasting name in the annals of great wines.
The lower slopes around the town of Hermitage, where the wines are called Crozes Hermitage, are similar but less in every respect — but not much less. These are well worth searching out. They also are ready for drinking earlier.
One step further down the scale of fullness, these more delicate and lighter versions are preferred by those who like a wine with more finesse and ones that mature earlier. While they are lighter, don’t discount the power of these wines. They can live to a ripe old age and stand out with their distinct taste and aromas. Try Saint Joseph, Offenus, 2012 (approximately $33).
You can find these for less money because they are less known. However, they live to an old age and provide a silky Syrah with ample tannin in their youth. They are usually more garnet in color than ruby, as is typical of the wines from Cote Rotie, Hermitage, and Saint Joseph.
Cotes du Rhone
These wines from a wider region carry a general appellation. Easy to find and made in large quantities, they come from the Southern Rhone valley. Lighter and yet quite appealing, they are good for that average meal.
Want to go just one step higher? Look for a Cotes Du Rhone Villages or Cotes du Rhone with a hyphenated additional name, such as Gigondas. An excellent Cotes du Rhone wine that is available for around $16 is Domaine La Garrigue Cuvee Romaine, 2012.
Syrah is blended with other grapes in other parts of the Rhone Valley, such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but we will deal with them in a separate article.