The first time I experienced Syrah, I was training as a food runner at Eleven Madison Park. The year was 2008. The wine director at the time, John Ragan, was teaching the staff about a new glass pour from St. Joseph in the northern Rhône Valley (I don’t remember the producer). I put my nose into the glass, and the aroma of fresh black pepper was so overwhelming that I sneezed. “Who in the world...” I thought, “would want to drink this stuff???” Ten years later, the answer is ME!
The same qualities that scared me about Syrah in those days are the exact same qualities that I’m slightly obsessed with today. (This phenomenon also happened to me with blue cheese.) Aromas of black pepper, cured meat, sanguine (blood) and rosemary overwhelm the senses—all of which make Syrah a divine pairing with game meats and rustic French country cuisine.
Karen MacNeil, author of “The Wine Bible,” penned some of my favorite descriptions of Syrah: “These are dramatic wines with incisive, earthy, and gamy flavors. Pepper seems to pace back and forth in the glass like a caged animal...but pepper is just the beginning. From there the wines explode with aromas of exotic smoky incense, forest, and leather, while the flavors of black plums, blackberries, and blueberries pile on. The fervor of these flavors is due in part to the age of the vines. Many are at least forty years old and some broach a hundred.”
As we spoke about in our Elevations & Extremes article, the spiritual homeland for Syrah is the northern Rhône Valley of France. Some of France’s most iconic producers call this region their home. Jean-Louis Chave, Alain Graillot and his son Maxime, Louis Barruol, Alain Voge, and the almost unattainable Auguste Clape, Domaine Jamet and Thierry Allemand.
Jean-Louis Chave, French Winemaking “Royalty.”
Jean-Louis Chave is an unassuming, soft-spoken, almost shy, country boy. His wines are the opposite. The Chave family began making wine in the northern Rhône in the late 1400s. As Andrew Jefford writes in The New France, “The Chave line ... could make a fair claim to be France’s winemaking royal family: in no other of France’s great terroirs is the largest individual landholder so deeply rooted in time and place, so supremely competent, and so modest a custodian of the insights and craftsmanship of the past.” In addition to producing benchmark wines from Hermitage, the Chaves also produce wine from St. Joseph.
The Graillots, Father & Son, Old School & New School.
Maxime Graillot is one of our favorite “new” producers from this region. Maxime’s father, Alain Graillot, started making wine in Crozes-Hermitage in the mid 1980s, after returning from Burgundy where he worked with the legendary Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac. Maxime worked with his father from a young age, and in 2004, started making wine under his own label. Alain’s style could be considered more traditional (he does not de-stem, so wines have more of a “green” quality), while Maxime’s wines have a bit more fruit and power behind them—representing the best of old-school and new-school Syrah.
Thierry Allemand, Insane Wine from the Wilderness.
Thierry Allemand, of Cornas, makes some of the best wine. In the world. Hands down. Without a doubt. Desert island wine. Don’t care how hot it is. I would drink his wine on the surface of the sun. Allemand is synonymous with Cornas, meaning “scorched earth,” an AOC known for being “lesser” in quality compared to the other villages of the northern Rhône. This reputation is due in part to negociants making hard, tannic wines and not giving the care to Syrah that it deserves.
In the 1980s, quality winemakers started making their way into Cornas, with Allemand at the helm. Allemand started acquiring abandoned parcels. The work was grueling: clearing out brush, building terraces, replanting vines—and it was a full 15 years before he was able to devote himself and make a living from the vine. He had previously been an electrician. Like the best vineyards in the northern Rhône, soils in Cornas are comprised of granite and limestone. Allemand certainly deserves the cult status that he and his wines have earned.
By Lindsay Furia - The Cru
SYRAH WE LOVE
FROM THE NORTHERN RHONE
Côtes du Rhône “Les Peyrouses” 2016 : $29 BTL
St.Joseph "Les Vinsonnes" 2014 : $45 BTL
Cornas "Vieilles Vignes" 2014 : $95 BTL
Côte-Rôtie "Besset" 2015 : $100 BTL
St. Joseph 2016 : $50 BTL
Crozes-Hermitage 2016 : $45 BTL
Crozes-Hermitage Domaine des Lises 2015 : $35 BTL
St. Joseph Equis 2015 : $45 BTL
Cornas Equis 2014 : $75 BTL
NEED SOME WINE?
ORDER WINE FROM SUNDAY READS HERE.
Someone from the H&C team will be in touch shortly to confirm your order and arrange shipping / delivery.
I am sure this reading has made you thirsty. Feel free to reach out and let us curate some incredible wine just for you.