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France_Rhone_St. Joseph

St. Joseph has to be one of the most misunderstood appellations in all of France. Granted AOC status in 1956 it was looked upon as the Rhone's answer to Beaujolais. Light drinking easy Syrah's and sometimes concentrated and full-bodied whites. But most of the St. Joseph terroir is not that famous. Acoording to J.L. Chave only 5% of the terroir is really exceptional while 95% is unexceptional. But in recent years many up and coming producers have left their mark and this appellation is gaining notoriety very quickly. Some of my most satisfying Syrah's of the past two years have been from the humble appellation of St. Joseph. 


The best vineyards are across the hill of Hermitage but St, Joseph is much more early maturing than Hermitage. While Hermitage needs ten years minimum to be able to start drinking it, most St. Joseph, red and white, should be drunk up within the first ten years of its life. Hermitage and St. Joseph share the same basic soil types but the difference in excellence of wine is determined by exposure. St. Joseph has an easternly exposure and gets two hours less of sun at the end of the day during the very important ripening season than Hermitage so it is more difficult for the grapes to get to that perfect physiological ripeness. 


The great thing about St. Joseph is most of the wines you can drink relatively young and get a lovely mouthful of Syrah fruit and around 5% of the bottlings will repay a decade of cellar age but that is rare. I love 'em right in the middle with primary fruit flavors and those secondary flavors sneaking up. Great harmony when St. Joseph is at that point. 


Just a quick word on white St. Joseph which represents less than 10% of the wine output of the appellation. The main grapes are Marsanne  and Roussanne and they create a full bodied, tropical, not too minerally wine that can be drunk in the first six years of its life.


There is a mix of traditional and not so traditional winemaking in the region so you have to be careful who you choose. These wines are not going to kill your wallet except from a few producers, which tend to be modern anyway. But if you like modern Northern Rhone wines then you will have no problem ponying up. Most St. Joseph starts at $25 and can go to $100 and even over for special cuvees for certain producers. 


Notable Recent Vintages: 2010, 2009, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2001, 1999, 1998


Top Producers of St.Joseph (in no particular order)

  • Pierre Gonon
  • Yves Cuilleron (beware, some cuvees are oaky and slick)
  • Francois Villard
  • Andre Perret
  • Domaine du Tunnel
  • Eric Texier
  • J.L. Chave
  • Domaine du Chene
  • Dard et Ribo
  • Phillipe Faury
  • Bernard Gripa
  • Raymond Trollat (non-existent after 1995 or 1996)
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