Monday, January 7, 2019

Pure Pleasure from the northern Rhone

Rhone wine star Francois Villard
Northern Rhone winemakers are far closer to their Burgundy confreres spiritually and in style and elegance than they are to their famous colleagues downriver in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. 

It's like night and day.

Lordly Chateauneuf is a delicious smorgasbord of different grapes while, by contrast, single-variety Syrah (almost alone) rules the north's reds, just as Pinot Noir rules Burgundy. The most famous Rhone white is single-variety Viognier (almost extinct not too long ago) while Burgundy boasts the world's most sublime 100% Chardonnay.

François Villard is one of the stars of the northern Rhône. He caught the wine bug as a chef then became a sommelier then full-time winegrower in 1991, starting in the tiny appellation of Condrieu. He now owns 37 hectares of vines across five crus. His wines are vibrant, high-energy, fresh and never too oak-heavy.

Good example red would be his St Joseph Poivre et Sol, a 100% Syrah, vibrant and elegant with a delicate spiciness, finesse and depth. Like all Francois' wines, it's on small allocations and is sometimes available in Ontario, like his other offerings, via Woodman Wines and Spirits, 416 767 5144 or at the LCBO. Villard's Certitude Croze-Hermitage 2015, also 100% Syrah, is available in a few LCBO stores at a very reasonable $40. WineSpec calls it "fresh, pure with a beam of cassis and cherry paste flavors backed by light-handed toast, a bright iron edge and a flash of violet." I call it finesse. His white Les Terrasses du Palat from Condrieu is 100% Viognier, wonderfully aromatic with minerality, amazing freshness and a hint of salinity on the finish.

Francois achieves this magic light touch by not over-extracting the red grapes by too much punching down the skins into the tanks and careful control of the "whole bunch"  fermentation -- including only perfectly ripe grape stems to give soft tannins and fine balance.

For maturation, as you might expect, it's only by careful aging in Burgundy oak barrels. Naturally!