If one were to author a book called “The Great Wines of Crozes Hermitage,” it would be a quick read. It is the northern Rhône’s largest appellation, and yet historically there hasn’t been much to write home about. When Kermit first started poking around there in the ’70s, Gérard Chave told him only one grower was making wines of any note (whom, sure enough, Kermit was importing soon thereafter). Thankfully, things look brighter today. The best terroirs are better treated, and some lovely wines are coming from the area. Louis Barruol vinifies several of the finest parcels the appellation has to offer, and the result is exactly what a Crozes should be—a gateway wine, serious but a bit more approachable than its bigger sibling, the grand old Hermitage. This juicy, blueberry-and-leather-infused Syrah with a long finish is ready to drink tonight.
On the wines of the northern Rhône, Kermit wrote in Adventures on the Wine Route, “The best combine a reminder of the sunny Mediterranean with the more self-conscious, intellectual appeal of the great Burgundies farther north, which is not a bad combination.” Like the wines of Provence, Burgundy, and Beaujolais, Kermit was introduced to this region by Richard Olney, an American ex-pat and friend of Alice Waters.
Though technically part of the same region as the southern Rhône and connected by the Rhône River, much differentiates the north from the south. The climate is continental and in general cooler than that Mediterranean climate of the south. The appellations are significantly smaller: Cornas has less than 300 acres planted to vine and Hermitage around 345. The area planted is minute when compared to Gigondas (3,000+ acres) and Châteauneuf-du-Pape (nearly 8,000 acres). Many of the great wines come from steep hillside vines—terraced during Roman times. It was clear to the Romans that great wine could be made here and DNA evidence now shows that Syrah is in fact indigenous to the Rhône.
The terroir is predominantly granite and lastly, blends of the wines are mostly single grape varieties. Only four grape varieties are permitted in AOC blends: Syrah, Viogner, Marsanne, and Roussanne (as compared to the 19 permitted varieties allowed in Châteauneuf). The red wines are nearly all Syrah and Condrieu and Château Grillet must be 100% Viogner. The whites of Hermitage, Saint Joseph, Saint Péray, and Crozes-Hermitages may only be blends of Marsanne and Roussanne.
Let the brett nerds retire into protective bubbles, and whenever they thirst for wine it can be passed in to them through a sterile filter. Those of us on the outside can continue to enjoy complex, natural, living wines.
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