Do you know the way to Saint Peray?

The sleepy village of St Péray, facing the town of Valence on the opposite bank of the Rhône, wakes up for two things – the grape harvest and its annual wine fair. The marsanne and roussanne grapes are picked around mid-September and are used to make the village’s still and sparkling white wines (there’s no such thing as red St. Péray); the fair is squeezed in at the start of the month, before the rush starts.

One good thing about the fair is that just about all the village’s growers turn up, plus a fair few others from neighbouring Cornas, Crozes-Hermitage and St Joseph, so you can taste just about everyone’s wines in one go. Even better is that it’s far less crowded than the similar fair at Ampuis where the hoards turn out to taste Côte-Rôtie (see previous blogs for my thoughts on that particular nightmare. Or maybe you’ve guessed already?).

With so many wines tasted, I’ll just give you a snapshot. And talking of snapshots, sorry in advance for the photos. The light was horrible and most of them turned out a jaundiced yellow colour.

Domaine Chaboud, St. Péray Cuvée Marsanne 2011 – Lime flower (tilleul) and green plum fruit (slightly sulphurous too). Fresh and relatively light, although there is some cream on the palate and a hint of bitter almond. Not long, but ok. The Cuvée Roussanne is slightly more aromatic, but not much more interesting.

Vignobles Verzier

Vignobles Verzier, Chante Perdrix, St. Joseph Blanc 2011 – Nose is honeyed (marsanne influence?). Palate is mineral and dry. Bright and fresh with some grapefruit. Decent length.

The same producer’s Condrieu “Authentic” 2011 is still a little closed on the nose. Typical viognier fruit, but discreet. Palate is a bit more giving – there’s ripe pear. For now, fairly simple but tasty. True to its grape.

Verzier St. Joseph Rouge “Empreinte” 2010 has a whiff of Elastoplast about it, something slightly medicinal that reminds me of cabernet franc. The palate has lightly grassy red fruits. Fresh, bright, no heaviness. Pleasant drinking.

And Côte-Rôtie “Indiscrète” 2010 has obvious oak and raspberry fruit. Almost Burgundy-like in texture.

Jacques Breyton

Jacques Breyton

Domaine Breyton is an organic producer based in Beaumont-Monteaux, within the Crozes-Hermitage appellation. The Blanc 2011 (70% Marsanne, 30% Roussanne) has a clean, bright, clear nose, but the palate has a touch of bitterness. The Tradition Rouge 2011 is slightly briary, slightly sweaty. Not massive, it goes for fruit on the palate. The “Fût” 2011 got 8 months in oak, 30% new. It is more structured, more closed. The fruit is darker – more brambly. Tradition Rouge 2010 is a bit coarse, but hearty and authentic. The 2009 is fuller again and richer on the palate. But the tannins are high and it feels like the fruit is only just managing to cover them.

Alain Voge’s St. Péray “Harmonie” 2010 is 100% marsanne. There’s a fairly typical marsanne nuttiness and a dash of butterscotch, all mixed with orchard fruit. Decent acidity, too.

Domaine Pierre Finon

Domaine Pierre Finon is in Charnas. His St. Joseph Blanc “Les Jouvencelles” 2011 is a 50:50 marsanne/roussanne blend. It’s still subdued on the nose, but the fruit on the palate is good and there is a chalky, mineral undertow giving the wine a bit of tension. This should be more expressive in 6 months or a year.

The Vin de Pays Viognier 2011 from Finon has strong (if slightly blowsy) aromatics – think old lady’s boudoir, with lots of lavender and violet on the nose and apricot fruit. This is better than I’ve perhaps made it sound. The Condrieu 2010 is (naturally) also 100% viognier. It is made in a more serious style, more steely but less aromatic.

The St. Joseph Rouge “Les Rocailles” 2010 is still a young bright purple. Well structured with blackcurrant and bramble on the palate. This is good. With the St. Joseph “Caprice d’ Héloïse” 2009, the domaine was looking for more extraction, more stuffing. Well, they certainly succeeded in that. Big, rich and powerful.

Domaine Delubac had come all the way from my neck of the woods, Cairanne to be exact. The Cairanne “Les Bruneau” 2010 (I think!) was just showing the first signs of age in its colour. The blend of 50% grenache, 25% syrah, 15% mourvedre and 10% old vine carignan is warm, hearty, delicious. There are fruits of the forest flavours and a full, ripe texture. the “L’Authentique” 2007 was ageing gracefully. The 50:50 blend of grenache and syrah is rich and round, but there is a mineral side. Really well put together.

Alain Verset

Alain Verset had a lovely line up of Cornas. He only makes 6-7,000 bottles a year, so not much to go around. The Cornas 2009 is still dark in colour and tight. There is dense fruit here. Rich and ripe. Impressive, it just needs time. The Cornas 2008 was always going to be overshadowed in the power stakes, but it is better for drinking now. Yes, it was a “difficult” vintage (for which, read horrible) and the wine has some acidity, but it is still lovely. But the star of the show was the Cornas 2006, which came in at only 12.7% alc. There’s a fantastic nose of raspberry liqueur and farmyards (oh, ok – shit). The palate is silky and refined and totally denies Cornas’s reputation for rusticity. On the back of this, my advice would be to buy whatever vintage one can find.

Mickaël Bourg

Mickaël Bourg has just over 1ha (about 2½ acres) of vineyards, so this is small-scale stuff. His St. Péray 2011 is 100% marsanne. The nose shows marsanne’s honeyed side but the palate is bright and clean, mixing lemon curd, cream and greengage fruit with a lively finish. His Vin de Table is a gamay/syrah blend from vines planted in St. Péray. It shows very juicy fruit, more syrah than gamay, and would make excellent autumn drinking on days when the sun is shining and an al fresco lunch is possible (so that’ll be almost every day here). The Cornas 2010 has a dark, brambly fruit nose and high tannins. It needs a bit of time certainly, and it’s not the most refined Cornas, but it’s well constructed and enjoyable. And at 20€, the price is right. The Cornas 2009 is no more open than the ’10. Very concentrated, its big, opaque, dense. Wait 2 or 3 years (at least). A young producer to watch out for.

Catherine Le Goeuil

Catherine Le Goeuil had also made the trip from Cairanne (with her young son, who was keen to practice his English and his selling skills). She farms organically, growing grenache, syrah, mourvedre and carignan. The wines were new to me but have been picked up by the famous US merchant Kermit Lynch. The Cairanne 2010 has lovely round fruit, red berries and cassis. Ripe and full, but soft and gentle, it has a natural sense of balance. Delicious. The generic Côtes du Rhône can’t quite compete with that but it’s well made and very tasty.

Domaine de la Favière showed their Vin de Pays Viognier 2010 (a bit stinky, but decent fruit underneath) and their Condrieu 2010 (which felt like there was some residual sugar, even if none actually existed) but, to me, more interesting was the St. Joseph Blanc 2011. Ripe and aromatic, the one third roussanne, two thirds marsanne blend has a rich yellow plum palate but great freshness. It’s half the price of the Condrieu but, dare I say it, twice the wine.

Patrick Jasmin

Domaine Jasmin showed its Côte-Rôtie 2010. Patrick Jasmin said that the blend of 95% syrah/5% viognier was raised “traditionally” with a 25-28 day fermentation/maceration.  He didn’t seemed the cheeriest of chappies, but the wine was delicious. Refined, elegant but concentrated on the nose, the palate is silky but rather darker than I expected – black fruits, even a touch of mulch and black olive. This feels like living wine with real personality.

And that’s it. I visited more, including “my” producers Christelle Betton and Johann Michel. But their latest releases are covered in the recent blog “Up North – Part 2“, so feel free to click on the link and go there if you want to read about them.

Happy hunting, happier drinking and santé,

Paul

Note: This is one of the more wine heavy blogs of Rhône Wine Tours. If you’d like to read more about the wines and winemakers of the region, you can click on the link and go to our website. Heaven forbid, you may even decide you’d like a guided tour or a delicious tasting of some of the wines I’ve been warbling on about.

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