The Rhone rangers

The Rhone rangers

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

Price: $55
Retail: Bacchus, #B1-13 Paragon Shopping Centre, 290 Orchard Road 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.

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