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The Northern Rhône may not be the first region we think of for great values, as Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage, Cornas, Saint-Joseph and Condrieu can be extremely expensive and of dubious quality, given the influence of fashionable oenologists and the uninspired work from many of the established "brands." Of course there is great wine here from the likes of Gonon, Faurie, Balthazar, Texier, Allemand and others but for those seeking affordable examples to enjoy on a daily basis, the choices are somewhat limited. Chambers Street works with four estates in the Northern Rhone that offer superb value and outstanding wines, products of great farming and traditional vinifications. Although the wines of Domaine Pierre Gonon are rarely available, we offer three other estates whose delicious wines can be enjoyed regularly at a modest cost.
Domaine Barou, Charnas Alexis Barou converted his estate to organic agriculture back in 1975 as he didn't find as much flavor in his cherries once they had been sprayed. His son Emmanuel, with wife Agnes, currently have about 3 hectares in Saint-Joseph, 1 hectare in Condrieu and 6 hectares of Vin de Pays in Charnas from which they produce elegant, unforced traditional wines - along with delicious organic cherries, peaches and apricots. Their farming is exemplary, using their own compost, keeping the soil covered, plowing as little as possible and using plant-based preparations against oidium and mildew. The Saint-Joseph parcels are in Limony, on de-composed granite, and Charnas, on stone covered firm granite. The Condrieu vineyard is on a steep south-facing granite slope with clay soil. 2014 is an excellent vintage here that produced balanced wines withh gorgeous fruit that will drink beautifully over the next three to five years.
Philippe and Veronique Grenier began Domaine des Amphores in 1992, working in organic agriculture from the beginning. Located in Chavanay, just south of Condrieu, at the northern end of Saint-Joseph, they produce an especially lovely Saint-Joseph Blanc from 80% Roussanne as well as Saint-Joseph rouge, Condrieu and Vins de Pays. Their Vin de Pays "Detour" Blanc, a blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Clairette, is a fabulous everyday white.
Domaine Stéphan Rousset in Gerome, Crozes-Hermitage, has become a favorite of Chambers Street customers, and for good reason - Stéphan and his father Robert possess some of the finest terroir in Crozes, all on south facing slopes of granite and limestone. Their vineyard work is very good, plowing with a horse where possible and vinifications are careful and traditional. They produce complex, structured wines that are close cousins to Hermitage, and delicious cherries as well!. 2013 was an excellent vintage for the Roussets, especially for the "regular" Crozes-Hermitage - we have about ten cases left of this outstanding Syrah, certainly one of the best values in the Northern Rhone. It's drinking beautifully now and will benefit from three to five years of aging. The Roussets also make a small quantity of excellent Saint-Joseph from a half-hectare of "Les Rivoires" in Tournon - it's also quite successful in 2013, about two cases remain.
From 40 year-old Syrah vines in Charnay, just outside the Saint-Joseph AOC, on living soils tended organically for forty years by Marie-Agnès and Emmanuel Barou. Plowing by tractor or weeding by hand on the steep slopes. Hand-harvested, wild-yeast fermentations, aging one year in 4 to 5 year-old barrels. The 2014 "Vernes" shows lush raspberry and blueberry fruit with hints of musk, violet, citrus and spice, really pretty and fresh. Black and red fruits on the palate with pepper, smoke and saline minerals with bright acidity in the finish. This is rounder and more forward than the 2013 - really a classy Syrah showing the granite soils and great farming — enjoy over the next few years, served cool. This wine is simply delicious and a sensational value!
Domaine Barou has been organic since the 1970s and also produces cherries, apricots and peaches. The Saint-Joseph vines are in Limony, on thin granite soils. Shallow plowing ("griffage") is done in the summer, with rye and clover growing between the rows in winter. The grapes are 80% de-stemmed, fermentations are with wild yeasts, aging is primarily in old barrels. The 2014 Saint-Joseph "Un Autre Monde" is astonishingly pretty with lush, deep aromas of blackberry liqueur, dark chocolate, blueberry and raspberry, warm earth and musk - you get the idea! The palate shows black fruits, firm acidity and mineral flavors with hints of cocoa, licorice and mint, supple and cool with a lovely finish of black fruits and minerals. Perhaps the best Saint-Joseph yet from Emmanuel and Marie-Agnes Barou - drink over the next three to five years, simply delicious!
From 20 year-old Viognier vines in Charnas, just outside the Condrieu AOC, always tended organically. Pale gold color, lovely aromas of lime-flower, lemon, mango, pear and spice, quite pretty and more subtle than most Viogniers . The palate is refreshingly light and balanced with lemon, almond, stone and exotic fruit flavors with crisp acidity. Forget those flabby Vin de Pays Viogniers from the south of France or (gasp) California, this is a serious wine that's quite delicious and incredibly inexpensive for the quality. This would be a great aperitif or serve with a seafood salad, Thai foods and mild cheeses...
From two excellent parcels in Limony, at the southern end of Condrieu. Here the wines tend to be a bit richer and more spiced than those from the center or north of the appellation. The Barou 2012 is a very rich and complex Condrieu with floral, white fruit and buttery aromas. The palate, although rich, and with some oak presence, has good mineral and saline character with bright citrus fruits and earth on the finish with notes of pear and spice. A great apéritif, or with patés, foie gras or full-flavored cheeses...
Domaine des Amphores, a long-time organic estate in Chavanay, just south of Condrieu, produces excellent Saint-Josephs as well as red and white Vin de Pays. "Detour" is made from Roussanne, Clairette and Marsanne - it's a delicious Northern Rhone wine and one of the best values in the store. The aromas are quite floral with white fruits, lemony citrus, hay and brown spice. The palate is supple and silky with pear, citrus and mineral flavors with lemony acidity in the long finish. Delicious by itself and will accompany salads, quiche, fish, chicken and mild cheeses.
From 100% Syrah in Chvanay, just outside the Saint-Joseph zone, tended organically since planting. The Amphores Syrah "les Iris" shows lovely blackberry and blueberry aromas with citrus and floral notes. The palate is light and refreshing with very pretty fruit - the flavors of Northern Rhone Syrah in a bright ready-to-drink style. This will be a great accompaniment to grilled foods and picnics, served quite cool.
Since its inception in 1992, Philippe and Véronique Grenier have practiced organic farming on their tiny estate in Chavannay, in the AOC Saint-Joseph just south of Condrieu. Their 2014 "Altitude 300" is a beautiful white Saint-Joseph made from 80% Roussanne and 20% Marsanne. The lovely aromas show the Roussanne, with hay, stone, pear, almond and lime-flower. The palate is round and balanced showing stone, apricot, white fruits and dried herbs — really pretty, with saline acidity and white fruits lingering in the finish. This is an outstanding northern Rhone white to drink over the next 5 to 8 years and a superb value!
(From young vines, planted in the 90's, always organic, and from parcels of old vines, converted to organic, in Chavanay, below Condrieu) Lovely floral blackberry and black cherry aromas with earth, musk and spice—really quite pretty. The palate is medium-bodied with bright acidity showing blueberry, citrus, violet and mineral flavors. This is a great value northern Rhône Syrah to serve cool with grilled foods, chicken and pork, which should develop nicely over the next 5 or 6 years.
From a one-half hectare parcel of 60 year-old vines in "Les Rivoires" on the lower slope in Tournon, granite soils. Aged 12 months, 30% foudre, 70% 2 to 5 year-old barrels. Although normally overshadowed by the Rousset's superb Crozes "les Picaudieres," the 2013 Saint-Joseph is a great wine of terroir and one of the better Saint-Josephs we've tasted from this vintage. The wine shows bright aromas of red currant and blackberry/blueberry with smoke, earth, meat and violets, really lovely. The palate is well structured with firm acidity framing black fruits, licorice and mineral flavors, finishing with black cherry, citrusy acids and stone. This is a serious Saint-Joseph that will benefit from decanting, best perhaps 2020 - 2025+. David Lillie