Nina Cerullo is a WSET-certified Wine Educator and teacher. Her father lives in Bordeaux and she is married to an Italian, so her passion for European wines is understandable! She loves the Northern Rhone wines so we were very lucky to have her to present a delicious flight of wines, and learn a lot more about winemaking in the Rhone Valley.
The Northern Rhone has a largely continental climate so the grapes ripen wonderfully. There is very little effect of the sea, but the Mistral cools the afternoons in later season. Quality is generally high (and prices) compared with the much larger Southern Rhone. Granite gives a steely centre to all the wines which are mostly red, little white being produced. Permitted grapes are limited to Syrah (red), Marsanne, Viognier and Rousanne (all white).
Les Vins de Vienne, AOC St Peray 2016: The only white shown this evening, from Marsanne grapes. St Peray more often known for sparkling wines, which are not often seen in the UK. From the southern tip of the Northern Rhone area. Pale, young, but from the warmer climate of the south, with no oak. Nose: intense slightly herbal, floral (jasmine?), white stone fruit. Palate: dry, medium acidity, nicely fresh but rounded, similar to nose. Reasonable length. (Waitrose £13.49)
Cave de St Desirat, Syrah, IGP Ardeche 2015: The Ardeche vineyards adjoin the Northern Rhone area, and as such are cheaper and do not have to follow the Rhone constraints on grape varieties. Still, this area is deep granite based soil, near to St Joseph, so suits Syrah producing wines much like the Northern Rhone AOC wines. Very dark, no brown rim (young), slightly savoury on nose (steak, marmite, tomatoes are savoury smells). Black berries, some spice, good acidity and ripe tannins. Relatively easy drinking Syrah (more elegant than Australian Syrah a.k.a. Shiraz). (Great Western Wines, Bath £8.75).
Domaine Jaume, AOC Cotes du Rhone, 2016: From the north of the Southern Rhone, where many more grape varieties are permitted. This is Mourvedre (20%), Grenache (70%) and Syrah (10%) (the “GSM” trio). Grenache is better suited than Syrah to warmer climates. Aromatic fruit on nose, red berry fruits on palate, with a hint of the garrigue, herby notes. A sweeter finish. 14% (Wine Society £8.25)
Charles Helfenbein, Syrah, IGP Collines Rhodanniennes (no vintage given on label): relatively new IGP area just outside the N Rhone crus with similar soils to the N Rhone, which giving the good winemakers more freedom of grape and method. The wines can therefore be very good value for money. Fresh elegant wine, very good value. (Great Western Wines £12)
The Society‘s Exhibition Crozes Hermitage, AOC Crozes Hermitage 2015: largest appellation in N Rhone, but can be mixed in quality due to a mix of soils in the area, much of which is on the flatter areas surrounding the famous granitic Hill of Hermitage. Price is a good guide as to which is which! 2015 was a hot year. Floral notes and fresh red fruits (typical Crozes Hermitage). High acidity, spicy, smooth. (Wine Society £12.95)
Chateau de Saint-Cosme St Joseph, AOC St Joseph 2014: St Joseph, like Crozes Hermitage, can vary in quality, again due to a variety of soils. A small proportion of the area is on the granite slopes close to the river near Tournon, opposite Tain l’Hermitage, and these areas produce better wines than on the plateau. Nose: red fruit – raspberry and blackberry, with some overlay of spices. Beautiful balance of a steely structure with acidity and tannins. (Wine Society £18)
Jean-Luc Colombo Cornas Les Mejeans, AOC Cornas, 2011: the vineyards face south or southwest, so this area is protected from the Mistral. It feels the warmer winds from the south, so the grapes ripen early and are picked early. These wines must be left before drinking to be at their best to let the tannins soften (at least 5 years old to 10 or 15 years). A stunningly spicy peppery and red fruit nose. Graphite, ink, pencil-box, touch of cocoa, rich and long length. John in heaven. (Milford Wine Centre in Farnham £24).
Bernard Faurie Hermitage Cuvee Assemblage AOC Hermitage 2004: Not as deep in colour as the Cornas, and not noticeably brown on the rim, despite the age. A hugely elegant perfumed wine, which is unique in N Rhone and Hermitage in particular. Leather, coffee, slightly smoky, vastly different to the other wines tasted this evening. (John Harris collection £150+ for this vintage if you bought it now, originally cost £27)
This tasting was enormously enlightening, due mainly to the very clear difference between Northern and Southern Rhone, which I had not appreciated. The Northern area is highly restricted in its permitted grape varieties and methods, but the good growing conditions (granite-based soil and not too much heat) mean it can produce wines of very high quality. The wines that Nina presented were a lovely selection and showed very different characteristics. A good evening all round.
Notes by Sally Harris