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Visiting the Northern Rhone Valley

Syrah is my favorite varietal, so I was very excited to visit its “homeland”, the Northern Rhone Valley in France.  Syrah is the only red varietal used in all five of the appellations located in the Northern Rhone:  Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Saint Joseph, Cornas and Côte-Rôtie.

My husband and I stayed in Tain l’Hermitage, a beautiful town set right on the Rhone River.  Hotel Les 2 Coteaux was the perfect spot to call home while we were there.  The view from our window had vineyards, the river, and an adorable pedestrian bridge that connects Tain l’Hermitage to its twin city Touron-sur-Rhone.  The proprietor was very kind and made us feel at home immediately.

Our first tasting was at the famous Rhone Valley producer Maison M. Chapoutier, often referred to simply as Chapoutier.  They have a beautiful tasting room right in Tain l’Hermitage where we tasted many of their wines from the Northern and Southern Rhone.  My favorites included the 2010 Côte-Rôtie Les Bécasses, which has violets, spicy earth and bacon, the 2011 Les Granilites St Joseph Blanc, big on the palate with honey, apricots and nice minerality, and the expensive but unbelievably impressive 2010 Le Pavillon Emitage, with a deep purple color, dark fruit flavors, superb concentration and a long finish.  This wine needs to spend many years in the cellar before cracking open.  Another fun fact about Chapoutier is that their labels are also in braille!

Our next visit was Cave de Tain, also right in Tain l’Hermitage.  While waiting for them to open after lunch, we witnessed some vineyard workers across the street.  It was fascinating to see the use of horse and plow in the fields.  This is not an uncommon practice in the Northern Rhone, because of the steep hillsides and the popularity of biodynamic and organic farming practices.

At Cave de Tain we tasted a large range of Rhone wines, from everyday bottlings for as little as 5 euro, a nice Cornas at 23 euro, all the way up to a nice Hermitage in the 70 euro range.

Next on our list was Domaine des Remizieres located in Mercurol.  This is a family winery with some wonderful wines.  The 2011 Cuvee Christophe Crozes-Hermitage is 100% Syrah and is quite aromatic with plenty of dark fruits and some licorice and earthiness on the nose.  The palate is lush with fruit and some pleasant toastiness.  The 2011 Saint Joseph is lush with fruitiness and vanilla.  It can be drunk young (I’ve already consumed the bottle I bought and wish I had more!), but will get even better with a couple of more years in the bottle.

Our final tasting in the area was at Domaine des Entrefaux, which is located in the village of Chanos-Curson.  This winery is set in a beautiful location, up on a mountain overlooking vineyards.  The tasting room was perfect, complete with a table and chairs in which to sit and an adorable wine dog.  The gal pouring for us was delightful, and I had the opportunity to use my much practiced, although somewhat limited, French.  We communicated fine, though, and had a wonderful tasting.  Known as one of the most reputable producers of Crozes-Hermitage, it wasn’t surprising that we were thrilled with the quality of the wines we tasted.  Father and son team Charles and Francois Tardy have 21 hectares of Syrah and 5 hectares of Marsanne.  They began using organic practices in 2000 and received official organic certification in 2012.  It was difficult to pick a favorite.  I bought a bottle of each of the 2011 Crozes-Hermitage Les Pends Rouge and Blanc.  I couldn’t wait to open the red, so I’m drinking it tonight. There is blackberry, cassis and some white pepper on the palate.  At only about $20 a bottle, this wine rocks!

If you’re a fellow lover of Syrah, the Northern Rhone Valley is a must visit.  The people are lovely, the views are incredible, and the wines are very special.


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