KNOWN as Shiraz in Australia and other New World wine producing countries, ancient Syrah has been proven to originate in southern France, somewhere in the Rhone Valley. It is high in tannin and low in acidity, and therefore ideal for ageing. It is the main and sometimes single grape in northern Rhone's great reds, while often blended together with Grenache in the south. Originally from Spain, adaptable Grenache does well on poor, sandy soils to produce warm, generous wines, and is the other blockbuster red from Rhone.
Another distinguishing feature of southern Rhone is the unique galet (large, rounded stone) studded soil, famously covering the most prestigious lieu-dits (vineyards) in the AOC of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. These silica rocks retain heat during the day and releases it at night, to hasten ripening, and also help retain moisture during dry summers. They also force the vine's roots to reach deeper beneath the rocky soil.
Says head judge Lim Hwee Peng, "Almost 98 per cent of the entire Rhone production is red wine, with southern Rhone reigning supreme in production volume. It is one of the AOC wine regions that focuses on making wines using a blending approach. Other than Bordeaux, well-crafted Rhone Valley reds are the next range of wines that could live as long as a human being."
In distinguishing between the two main geographical areas, Mr Lim says: "In northern Rhone reds, we are seeking purity, freshness and balance. While in the south, we are seeking fresh ripeness, with balance in alcohol and other expressions. Whether northern or southern Rhone wines, they are easy to fall in love with; but conversely, one can also easily be turned off by a mediocre bottle."
With this feature, we wrap up the selected 50 wines in the inaugural Business Times Wine Challenge, presented by UBS.
E Guigal Crozes Hermitage 2009
Retail: Bacchus, #B1-13 Paragon Shopping Centre, 290 Orchard Road
Tel: 6734 4844
AFTER examining Guigal's Condrieu La Dorianne in last week's write-up, we now look to one of its Syrahs, still in the northern Rhone. This third generation winery and négociant firm has passed from father to son, now in the hands of Philippe Guigal. Crozes-Hermitage is one of the largest appellations, with vineyards on the plains producing fairly typical Syrah. However, it is from the hillside parcels that we get concentrated, long-lived reds. The grapes for this bottle are from vines on Guigal's steep slopes from the villages of Gervans, Mercurol, Larnage and Crozes-Hermitage. The soil is an ideal type of limestone, clay and silt, with sandy gravel for black-skinned, high tannin Syrah. The first vintage was in 1999, with 18 months ageing in oak barrels.
Tasting notes: Complex dark bouquet of cherry, strawberry and oak with hints of pepper and olive. Long oak ageing of this 100 per cent Syrah has resulted in refined, evident tannicity, balanced by meaty black fruit and delicious acidity.
Xavier Gigondas 2010
Retail: Cornerstone Wines, #01-00 Cornerstone Building, 61 Lorong 17 Geylang
Tel: 6732 0555
HE'S the "master of Châteauneuf", the oenologist with star-studded clients all over the Rhone. After 15 years of helping top domains make their best known wines, Xavier Vignon decided to try his hand at making his own wines in 2002. He buys small lots of wines from his clients, especially grapes that he knows are the best - including those from 90-year-old Grenache vines and Syrah grown on the best soils. In return for oenology consultations, some clients even pay him in grapes.
The result is a private label with varied offerings of Côtes du Rhone rouge and blanc, as well as cru appellations including Gigondas and the lauded Châteauneuf-du-Pape Anonyme. Vignon's skills as a master blender since his Champagne days stands him in good stead with his own wines, where he not only blends wines from many parcels, but also across vintages.
Tasting notes: While weighing in heavy on alcohol, this 100 per cent Grenache enjoys a floral elegance and spice notes that carry through the big, rich body. Pure black fruit and fine texture reveals the elegance and complexity of old vines.
Domaine Georges Vernay Blonde du Seigneur 2009
IT is always a pleasure to come across one of winemaker Christine Vernay's bottles. Vernay's father, who is credited for saving the Condrieau appellation in the 1960s - mentioned last week in the review of the Condrieau Las Terrasses de L'Empire - passed on the business to his daughter, who introduced organic management to the vineyard. While reds have traditionally taken a backseat to the whites in this domaine, it is the reds under Vernay that have received increasing acclaim. This alluring Côte Rôtie Blonde coast style, comprising 95 per cent Syrah and 5 per cent Viognier, comes from 30-year-old vines on granitic soils. The low-yield crop goes through Vernay's careful regimen: complete destemming and longer, warmer fermentation before 18 months ageing in barrel. The hilly terrain makes mechanisation impossible, and only 15,000 bottles are made.
Tasting notes: Mineral, cherry and raspberry aromas soar in this elegant wine with ample ripe fruit concentration. While powerful in the style of northern Rhone, there is a harmony derived from fine, framed tannins and persistent palate.
Château de la Font du Loup, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010
Retail: J&D Burleigh, 3 Clementi Loop, Level 3
Tel: 6744 2765
THIS family domain has been around since the Napoleonic register, and is today run by the fourth generation of founder Jean-Roch Melia. The unusual name originates from the wolves (du loup) of nearby mountains that would come to drink from the spring, or fountain (font) in the heart of the domain. Their 20-hectare vineyard is fortuitously located at the foothills of the Plateau de la Crau, which is covered with galets, pebbles that imbue the soil with minerality and aromatics. Owner-winemaker Anne-Charlotte and husband Laurent Bachas have set out to make elegant, delicate Châteauneuf-du-Pape with a blend of 65 per cent Grenache, 20 per cent Mourvédre and 15 per cent Syrah. The estate is given over to organic management, through ploughing and hoeing, and organic manure from sheep and grape pomace. With just 2,500 cases made, you'd be lucky to get your hands on a bottle.
Tasting notes: While approachable now, this succulent stunner can be kept till 2032, says Wine Spectator. An earthy, dark profile of herb, licorice and blueberry opens to plum and smoky black tea flavours, kept in check by bright acidity that cuts to a long finish.
Domaine de la Vieille Julienne Châteauneuf-du-Pape les Trois Sources 2010
Retail: J&D Burleigh, 3 Clementi Loop, Level 3
Tel: 6744 2765
THIS Domaine's Châteauneuf- du-Pape Reserve has scored 100-points from Robert Parker four times - 2001, 2003 2005 and 2006. The man to credit is gentle winemaker Jean-Paul Daumen, who believes in natural wine-making methods and has obtained Demeter biodynamic certified status since he took over the family business.The 108-year-old Domaine was established in 1905. Like most producers, Daumen's family sold its harvest away to négociants, up till the 1960s when Daumen's father Maxime built cellars and expanded the winery.
He now oversees 10 hectares in northern Châteauneuf-du-Pape and 5 hectares in the south in Côtes du Rhone lieu-dit Clavin for Vieille Julienne, with vines that are 60 years old on average, with some Grenache above 100 years.
This blend is made from 70 per cent Grenache, 10 per cent Syrah and 20 per cent Mourvédre, Counoise, Cinsault and other white grapes.
Daumen also has a new artisan winemaking project, a modest, lower priced label named Daumen, where he works with good fruit and very little intervention.
Tasting notes: Look past the heavyweight alcohol and embrace exotic aromas of dark berry and potpourri with liqueur-like intensity. The expansive build and finish integrates acidity and tannin, in a great vintage wine that will hold another 20-25 years according to Wine Advocate.