Two Delicious 2011 Northern Rhone Syrahs for About $20

Laurent Combier

2011 Laurent Combier Crozes Hermitage 12.5% ABV $20

My first thought when I had a whiff and a sip of this wine was, “Damn this is a well-made Syrah”.  This is fabulous stuff and another great example of why cool-climate Syrah grown in the Northern Rhone is where it’s at.

On the nose this wine is dusty violets and olives and herbs.  There’s a bit of orange zest even and pretty licorice.  The mid-palate is full bodied but with great balanced acidity.  Wow this is a nice wine.  A wonderful finish too, not much tannin, and nicely integrated with the rest of the wine.

The Laurent Combier winery has an interesting story.  The Combier family were organic fruit farmers in the 1970’s (when nobody else was) who grew grapes until the son of the family, Laurent, who had studied both viticulture and agriculture at the university in Orange refocused the farm and made it more of a viticulturist family who grew apricots and peaches.  They expanded their grape growing and now are about 19 hectares of wine and about 20 hectares of mainly peaches and some apricots.

The grapes are brought in and go through a 25 day maceration in stainless steel tanks and then eventually are transferred to either concrete eggs or into neutral oak.  The result is a pure fruit wine with beautiful body and acidity.  In keeping with their organic philosophy,  the wine also sees very little sulphur.

This is just a deliciously pure Syrah and one that I will seek out again, especially if I can continue to find it for less than $20.


2011 Yves Cuilleron Syrah Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes 12% ABV $18

This is a wine that on the nose just screams old world Syrah.  It’s got a rustic edge to it with a lot of minerality.  On the palate it’s just a tad juicy with dark fruit and hints of tobacco, and has a full mid-palate with some tannins on the back end.  The acidity spikes and makes the wine finish a little like biting into a tart orange.  This is a wine that might be best suited for big food like steak or sausage but would also work with pork or chicken dishes with a rich sauce.

The Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes Syrah is Cuilleron’s entry-level Syrah and comes from the village of Chavanay where his headquarters reside.  Chavanay is in the more up-and-coming area of St. Joseph.  The vineyards for this wine are farmed naturally, if not quite organically.  The grapes are de-stemmed, fermented in open vats and go through a two-week maceration process.  The wine is aged for eight months in oak.

According to my Northern Rhone bible The Wines of the Northern Rhône, Cuilleron has drawn a lot of attention to himself because of his modern wine making although Livingstone-Learmouth thinks that Cuilleron gets considerably more “flamboyant” in his winemaking with his whites.  I look forward to trying more of Cuilleron’s Syrahs as I continue to explore the Northern Rhone in more depth.  For an “entry level” Syrah this is definitely a wine to find and enjoy and for less than $20 it gives a great introduction into the world of cool-climate Syrah.

A disclaimer: 

The truth is that as I begin to peel the onion that is French Syrah, I’m finding out that it’s going to be a slow process.  My notes for the French Syrahs are going to be a little more heavy on the tasting notes rather than the back story of the winery simply because of how far away I am from the story of these wines and how little I’ve researched them so far.  That will all change as I find out more and more.  Perhaps a trip to France in the future?

Now, you may wonder how the hell am I not an expert in Northern Rhone when I profess to be extolling the virtues of cool-climate Syrah.  Well, while I have drunken quite a few of these wines and have a good sense of their flavor profiles, I don’t know that much about the specific producers or the story behind them.  The price point for some of the Syrahs has also been a factor in scaring me off.  But now, I’m delving in, with an eye out for some not-so-expensive iterations.   Please stay with me as I learn more!

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