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Stephane Rousset's Crôze-Hermitage "Les Picaudières" is certainly one of the finest wines of Crôzes-Hermitage, and is one of the greatest values in the Northern Rhône. This isolated steep vineyard of granite terraces is a carbon copy of the Hermitage hill a few miles to the south, and the wine it produces ages beautifully, becoming the magical Syrah that we love from the region's most traditional estates. Sadly, there is no Crôzes-Hermitage available from the Roussets in 2020, although their excellent 2020 Saint-Joseph will arrive in June. 2019 is a great vintage for this wine and although it can be enjoyed as a young wine, peak drinking will be approximately 2027 to 2040 - don't miss it!
The family goes back eleven generations in Erome and Stéphane's great uncle was the legendary Raymond Roure, from whom the Roussets purchased the "Picaudières" vineyard in Gervans. Talk of terroir in Crôzes-Hermitage often turns to the difference between the granite hills of Serves, Gervans and Erome in the north of the appellation (with smaller outcroppings in Larnage and Crôzes) and the deeper soils in the plains of the central and southern region. The producers in the plains "excel in the nearest the northern Rhône comes to a new-world style" while the steep granite slopes of the northern villages produce leaner, age-worthy wines "a situation nearly identical to that of Hermitage with it's southward-facing hillsides and generally granite soils." The Roussets own one-half of "Les Picaudières," with terraces cut out of the granite and a high percentage of old vines, planted in high density, dating back to the 1930s. (Quotes from drinkrhone.com)
The Roussets still grow apricots on the lower slopes and this mixed-use tradition in the Northern Rhône is in full-swing at Domaine Etienne Becheras "Le Prieuré d'Arras" just across the river in Saint-Joseph. The estate has 4 hectares along the Rhône with apricots and truffle oaks grown in a wild-environment. The 6 hectares of vines are partially in Saint-Joseph climbing up the steep hillsides just north of Tournon in walled terraces on soils of decomposed granite. The remaining 2.5 hectares are in Crôzes-Hermitage on hillsides around Mercurol with sandy granite and alluvial soils with galets roulés. "These are true, countryman's wines, with genuine local feel, real wines of terroir" says drinkrhone.
The 2020 Becheras Crôzes-Hermitage is a very satisfying glass of Syrah, very different from the Rouuset "Picaudières," as the terroir around Mercurol gives a more supple and lushly fruited wine. The 2020 vintage gave beautiful wines in Crôzes, a bit brighter and softer than the 2019s - this is very delicious now and over the next 5 to 8 years. "Superbly accompanies farm chicken" says the Becheras website "and different charcuteries, terrines or caillettes*."
The 2018 Becheras Saint-Joseph "Tour Joviac" is classic southern sector Saint-Joseph from steep terraces cut into the granite hillside. The vines are 25 years-old, planted very densely (8,000 per ha) and are worked manually. There is a severe sorting, the grapes are mostly de-stemmed and the wine ages in used small barriques for 2 years. As Albert Dervieux-Thaize once told me "a good Syrah should smell like the gut of a warm hare" and there is a bit of that in this very authentic wine, along with violet, cassis, black-raspberry, pepper, licorice and earth, with firm tannins and great texture from the granite soil. This is reminiscent of the Gonon "Les Iles Feray," from similar terroir just to the south. The 2018 vintage in Saint-Joseph gave densely fruited wines but with soft tannins and good freshness - we found this very authentic wine to be wonderful now but another 6 to 8 years of aging will be very interesting.
We're very happy to have these classic Northern Rhône wines on our shelves, both for current drinking and for cellaring of 5 to 10 years - stock-up! Sorry, last minute shipping delay, The wines are now Pre-Arrival, expected by 4/22.
(Caillette - An overgrown pork terrine, mixed with winter greens. Jean Gonon served us a delicious example while explaining the intense controvery between the Ardeche and the Drôme as to how it should be made)
Les Picaudières is perhaps the best vineyard in Crôzes-Hermitage, formerly owned by Raymond Roure and now tended by Stéphane Rousset. It's a steep slope of granite terraces, isolated in an oak forest facing due south and protected from the wind. (In the opinion of Livingston-Learmonth in "Wines of the Northern Rhône" wine from Les Picaudières is "certainly better" than many Hermitage from the eastern part of the hill.) The vines range from 20 to 80 years-old. The grapes are hand-harvested and mostly de-stemmed. The wine ages 16 months, 40% in foudre, 60% in burgundy barrels, new to 5 year-old." In the Northern Rhône, this ranks near the top for bang to buck consistently and for terroir expression. The 2019 Crôzes-Hermitage Picaudières has a densely layered nose and palate: a quick decant reveals brambly aromas of hedge fruit (wild blackberry, blackberry, and huckleberry), pomegranate seed, and a bit of pencil lead, game, and crushed violets. The palate is similarly layered and concentrated—not extracted—boasting black fruit, Telicherry peppercorn notes, and black tea flavors astride a deeply-pitched and mouth-wateringly tangy mineral core. The prominent (and ripe) tannins that lurk beneath all that dark fruit indicate a long and bright future for those who have the patience to cellar this beauty. Lovely with a decant, but the balance is here for 15 -20 years in the cellar and beyond. Highly recommended! John McIlwain
(Pre Arrival, expected 4/22) The Becheras Crozes-Hermitage "Le Prieure d'Arras" is from Syrah vines grown on hillsides around Mercurol, just east of Hermitage on sandy/granite/clay and alluvial soils with rolled stones. The terroir here gives a more open and accessible style of Crozes-Hermitage showing complex, beautiful fruit as a young wine and capable of aging for 6 to 8 years. The 2020 Becheras shows lovely ripeness with floral aromas of blackberry and raspberry confit with hints of game and earth. The palate is supple and satisfying with nice freshness, balancing the acidity and mineral frame with lush berry liqueur, earth and spice. This is a delicious traditional Syrah and an excellent value.
(Pre Arrival - expected 4/22) The Etienne Becheras Saint-Joseph "Tour Joviac" is 100% Syrah from 20+ year-old vines planted 8,000 per hectare on decomposed granite hillsides in Arras, in the southern zone of Saint-Joseph just above Tournon. The grapes are destemmed, there is a 5-6 day pre-fermentation crop cooling, then a 20-25 day concrete vat vinification, followed by 2 years of aging in 1-5 year old 228-litre oak casks. This is an authentic Saint-Joseph really showing the distinctive granite terroir with slightly gamey deep red and black fruit aromas, with floral and licorice notes. The palate is expansive and ripe with black raspberry and red currant above dusty granite, spice and earth notes. This is a bit similar to the Gonon "Iles Feray" but more supple and ready to drink due to the de-stemmed grapes and the lush fruit of the 2018 vintage - it's a very satisfying glass of Northern Rhone Syrah to drink over the next ten years.