Thursday, April 8, 2010

When in Rhône... J.C. Marsanne '06 Crozes-Hermitage & '06 Saint-Joseph

It doesn’t get any better than spending an afternoon visiting vineyards in the Rhône Valley.

Today was no exception...

I was lucky to take visits to four « vignerons » in the area, including one in the ancient village of Mauve – the cradle of Saint-Joseph wines.

During the visit, I tasted two wines from Domaine J.C. Marsanne – their 2006 Saint-Joseph red 100 per cent syrah - and there 2006 Crozes Hermitage red, also syrah.

Before I entered the rustique - and I use that word with some generosity - domaine, I greeted by the matriarch of the small estate that includes a farmhouse made of ancient grey Rhône alluvium. She was plainly dressed in typical French Old World grandma attire and seemed to be a bit bothered by us as she was trying to finish up some gardening. If this was the welcoming committee, then you know a visit to Domaine Marsanne was going to be interesting.

She guided me, my brother-in-law who comes from Pau in the southwest and my father-in-law who is a proud Drômois into the cave underneath the rocky abode. Both of my nearest of kin knew a bit about wine, but not too much about Saint-Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage.

Domaine J.C. Marsanne 2006 Saint-Joseph Syrah
The first wine was the 2006 red, a classic syrah from the area which was consistant with the vintage – peppery with decent structure and tanins that were starting to fade.

It was only 12 euros a bottle so I went for it. The madame said I could open it up in September. Personally, I would wait until mid-2011 to even think about it, as I would like the pruin flavor to start appearing as it approaches the apex of the aging process. It had the red fruit on the front end, but not too much.

For just over a ten-er I was presently surprised by its value. Saint-Joseph wines like this, coming from the lower growing area near Mauve, seem to have a better reputation than in the area upriver near Condrieu. The right bank of the Upper Rhône, where Saint Joseph’s is grown, is blessed with hearty syrah, and this Saint-Joe was no exception.

Try this wine and pair it with Guinea Fowl and wild mushrooms. Keep it away from steak and think about pulling an « Obelix » and trying it with wild boar. Don’t fret if you open it up a bit earlier than my perscribed 2011 deadline, just decant it and let it sit for two to three hours before you indulge.E questo è il resto.

Domaine J.C. Marsanne 2006 Crozes Hermitage

Croze Hermitage is the bastard son of Hermitage and a lower grade syrah that is considered « cru ». It’s syrah, of course, but the wine lacks the depth, finesse, complexity and structure of its cousins on the right bank where Cornas, Saint-Joseph and Côte Rôtie rule the roost.

But it wasn’t too bad. I enjoyed how light it was. It reminded me of a Côte du Rhône with an attitude – a little more fruit and a bit more round. At 9.50, it would be a good buy if you plan to have a good capon or a free-range roasted chicken. The Guinea Fowl is a possible combination too, but the Saint-Joseph mentioned above might be better suited for that bird.

Chez Marsanne have done a good job of keeping it simple, just two wines. But just stick with the Saint-Joseph if you have to choose. The Ardechois win this weeks battle, but their main departemental rival Drôme always has their ace in the whole - Hermitage – ready to take on their western neighbors at any time.

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