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Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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Crozes-Hermitage, the northern rhône’s biggest appellation, regularly producing more than eleven times as much wine as the much more distinguished vineyards of hermitage which it surrounds, and still considerably more than the similarly priced, and similarly extended, appellation of st-joseph across the river. Like both these appellations, Crozes-Hermitage is usually red and made exclusively of the syrah grape, although a certain proportion, just over a tenth, of full-bodied dry white wine is made from the marsanne grape supplemented by roussanne. Up to 15% of white grapes may theoretically be added to red Crozes at the time of fermentation. Although some bottlers have treated the appellation with little respect for quality, a nucleus of excitingly ambitious producers such as Belle, Colombier, Graillot, Pochon, and Tardieu-Laurent emerged from the late 1980s to provide thoughtfully made Crozes-Hermitage of real distinction and mass. The best reds are softer and fruitier than Hermitage because the soils are richer (and because it is more difficult to justify barrel maturation at Crozes prices), but they tend to share more of Hermitage’s solidity than average St-Joseph. A more typical red Crozes, however, exhibits the burnt rubber smell and sinewy build of overstretched Syrah, although the co-operative in the town of Tain l’Hermitage, two-thirds of whose production is Crozes-Hermitage, should not be underestimated. Les Chassis, between the autoroute south of Tain and the river, provides some of the finest red Crozes, including jaboulet’s Domaine de Thalabert, which was for long the appellation’s principal standard-bearer. Parts of Gervan just north of Tain enjoy a mesoclimate very much closer to that of Hermitage than the flatter vineyards to the east, which are some of the few in the northern Rhône which can be harvested by machine. The clay-limestone alluvial soils of Crozes-Hermitage seem generally less well suited to white wine production, although there are some successful vineyards around Mercurol. The appellation, which dates from 1937, takes its name from a small village just north of Tain without any particular vinous claim. Total vineyard area in production expanded by about a quarter between 1990 and 2005 and by the early 2010s was more than 1,500 ha/3,700 acres. The best reds can be kept for five years or more (and in good years can happily survive for ten) but the average Crozes, red or white, is probably at its best drunk young.