Grapevine Archive for Saint Joseph
My visit to Chave was somewhat upset by the news that one of the great faces in the Rhône story had died. This was Pierre Gonon and his funeral on the Friday was very well attended.
I went to see his sons, Pierre and Jean, the following day. They insisted on seeing me, showing a 2010 of extraordinary finesse. In honour of his father maybe, I tasted a red from the over-ripe 2003 vintage which was quite wonderful and still tasting so young.
Why Saint Joseph?
Saint Joseph is a new appellation dating back to 1956. The name itself comes from the best known vineyard, Lieu dit Saint Joseph, which occupies a steep granite slope to the south of Tournon. Before the Appellation the wines were sold as Côtes du Rhône with the name of the village (Tournon, Mauves or Saint Jean being the best known). Some of these wines were prized with prices that sometimes exceeded those of Cornas for instance. The Saint Joseph Appellation was extended to cover vineyards to the north and therein 20 more miles of granite slopes, all the way to the border with Condrieu.
But the heart of Saint Joseph remains in the south around Tournon and Mauves. The best wines all come from very steep slopes which means everything must be done by hand. For the time being the wines are less revered than Hermitage or Côte Rôtie but that is good news, as they remain great value for money.
I can remember my first visit to Chave back in 1987. I tasted Hermitage, vineyard by vineyard, finishing always with the mighty Bessards. Saint-Joseph was never more than an afterthought in the line up, tasted if at all between the white and red Hermitage.
How things have changed. Slowly, Gérard and his son Jean-Louis began reclaiming once famous slopes below their ancestral home of Lemps. Then Jean-Louis started to buy wines from friends and neighbours, and eventually grapes as well. The new wine was given the name Offerus and is a textbook Saint-Joseph which the Society has bought in every vintage (the 2004 is still available at the time of writing).
The picture is of a steep part of Saint-Joseph called the Tête de l’Aigle or ‘Eagle’s Head’ after the striking outcrop of granite that stands in the middle of it. This is part of an estate recently acquired by Jean-Louis Chave. This came when Jean-Louis bought the Florentin estate, the heart of which was the historic Clos de l’Arbelestrier (a source of exceptional reds in particular). With it the Chaves have become masters in Saint-Joseph once again, with a clear intention of making great wine.
So back to my visit: now not just Hermitage is tasted vineyard by vineyard, but also Saint-Joseph, which revealed just how complex this patchwork of largely granite slopes can be. The two vintages tasted were 2010 and 2009 though I did have a little look at a somewhat embryonic and promising 2011.
Both ’10 and ’09 were clearly outstanding, though quite different: 2009 is full and sundrenched with an underlying tannic structure of some substance. 2010 is, if anything, blacker and more intense, but more mineral and shot with a life-affirming seam of acidity. Look out for the 2010 Saint Joseph Offerus which we will include in the Opening Offer due out in January.
We then dined together in a perfect little restaurant where the cooking is simple, homespun and delicious. Jean-Louis bought a bottle he happened to stumble over in his cellar. It was a Cornas from Noel Verset and a 1978 to boot. Completely sensational. For anyone with decent vintages of Verset’s wines in their cellar, there is no hurry!