Posted by: tomciocco | August 7, 2013

CROZES-HERMITAGE – THE NORTHERN RHONE’S BIGGEST STAGE

Right in the neighborhood, up the hill from the source of this evening’s wine is the long-lived Hermitage, which is arguably the Northern Rhone’s finest appellation. Downriver a few clicks is the formidable Cornas. Quite a bit further upriver one arrives at the elegant St. Joseph,  and all the way upstream, you arrive at the sun-soaked vineyards that produce the powerhouse wines of Cotes Rotie. And then there’s the “big one” – Crozes-Hermitage.

All of these wines are made from predominantly if not 100% Syrah, but big differences appear among them thanks to a little (actually big) thing called terroir. Elements like elevation, soil, compass orientation, and slope make these wines what they are. And if you’ve ever compared these native Northern Rhone Syrahs with Shirazes from anywhere in Australia you know what I’m talking about. In the conventional grand scheme of things, Crozes-Hermitage, along with being the biggest Northern Rhone red appellation in terms of acres (or hectares, depending on your location) under vine, is thought to be the Rhone Valley Syrah for the people, and in the end, it’s mostly true, but that said, Crozes-Hermitage still offers the drinker a unique expression of Syrah despite its somewhat prosaic reputation.

Unlike the poor, rocky soils in Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage’s celebrated neighbor situated at higher elevations, this appellation’s richer alluvial clay and limestone soils produce juicier and more direct wines that are further pushed into the plusher expressions of Rhone Syrah by its flatter terrain and overall warmer climate. But anybody who has done a price comparison amongst Northern Rhone reds knows that wines from the top spots like Cote Rotie and Hermitage typically cost a small fortune to get into your shopping cart. But because of Crozes-Hermitage’s geographical extension (think “economy of scale”) and the ease with which its flatter vineyard sites can be harvested this less prestigious zone gives the drinker a big fat slice of what many of the very finest (and priciest) appellations have on offer at a fraction of the price. It’s not always the case, but when value is the object, in the Northern Rhone, bigger is indeed better.

To match the dark and masculine flavors of this wine, I served it with a first course of a black olive, caper, and anchovy tapenade with raw “boats” of endive to scoop it up, and then a main course of pan-fried flank steak with a wine, butter, scallion, roasted garlic and rosemary sauce with some braised broccoli florets in the side.

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Cave de Clairmont Crozes-Hermitage 2009

Opaque deep purple color with magenta at the rim. The nose is a forward pastiche of blackberry and blueberry fruit followed by rustic notes of licorice, damp black earth, dried dark flowers, bacon drippings, raw celery, and wood smoke. The palate has a stiff, grainy tannic structure with a distinctly chewy texture and flavors of strawberry jam, plums, currants, apple butter, black tea, leather, cracked pepper, and espresso coffee. Long, dry, and powerful finish.

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