If you want to experience the classic flavors of northern Rhône Syrah, then here is a textbook example. Velvety black fruit coats the palate like a fine pulp, while sensations of cracked pepper and pulverized schist stone provide an incisive, mouth-watering precision that can only be achieved from cool-climate Syrah planted in thin, rocky soil. The soil in question is mica-schist situated just outside the boundaries of the Côte-Rôtie appellation, in a parcel above Ampuis called l’Arsélie. Unable to blend the fruit into his Côte-Rôtie, Lionel Faury has bottled this cuvée—whose name, a pun on the vineyard site, translates roughly to “zealous art”—separately since its inception nearly ten years ago. Now approaching twenty years of age, the vines have their roots firmly entrenched in these rocky soils, resulting in a wine with the depth, nuanced aromatics, and milled-stone minerality of great Côte-Rôtie—all while maintaining inviting youthful fruit. Fermented with roughly 50% whole clusters and bottled by gravity without filtration, this cuvée conveys the lifted spice, savory, and floral elements that we love about traditional northern Rhône reds. Lionel allows the terroir to express itself to its fullest, making this an ideal point of entry to experience authentic Côte-Rôtie—even if officially speaking, it isn’t Côte-Rôtie at all.
Along the steep, narrow valley that traces the northern Rhône, the appellations of Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu and Saint-Joseph take their place among the great wines of France, and Domaine Faury is one of the region’s most artisanal producers. When Philippe Faury took over the domaine in 1979, the family was selling wine, peaches and cherries, and the bulk of their clientele was local. Over the years, Philippe increased their holdings to over 11 hectares and began to sell internationally. He shared his savoir faire with his son, Lionel. Since 2006, Lionel has taken over the reins, though father and son still work side by side. Every method they use encourages the grape towards greatness with the ultimate respect for its fragility.
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.
For the wines that I buy I insist that the winemaker leave them whole, intact. I go into the cellars now and select specific barrels or cuvées, and I request that they be bottled without stripping them with filters or other devices. This means that many of our wines will arrive with a smudge of sediment and will throw a more important deposit as time goes by, It also means the wine will taste better.
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