Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

St-Joseph, ambitiously expanding and improving northern rhône right bank appellation producing mainly red wines from the syrah grape and less than 10% full-bodied dry whites from the marsanne and, occasionally, roussanne grapes. The vineyard area increased sixfold during the 1970s and 1980s although a more stringent development plan was put into place in the early 1990s as the better producers realized that the reputation of this relatively new appellation (1956) would hardly be enhanced by the produce of the new vineyards on the plateau. The appellation now extends from condrieu in the north (where there is some overlap) to a small pocket of St-Joseph vineyards between st-péray and the town of Valence. It totalled 875 ha/2,160 acres in 1996 and 1,211 ha by 2013. The heart of the region, however, is the stretch of old, terraced vineyards around the town of Tournon (including the communes of Vion, Lemps, St-Jean-de-Muzols, Tournon, Mauves, and Glun) just across the wide river Rhône from the hill of hermitage. The wines are lighter and certainly faster maturing than the northern Rhône archetype across the river, not so much because the soils are very different—on the best sites granite predominates, supplemented by sand and gravel—but because St-Joseph’s east-facing vineyards simply lose the sun up to two hours earlier in the crucial ripening season. For this reason, locals view St-Joseph as their answer to beaujolais, a fruity wine for drinking in the first three years or so. Those less accustomed to the sheer weight of a good northern Rhône red may prefer to drink them at between two and six years old, depending on the character of the vintage, but the best wines of Bernard Gripa, chapoutier, and Chave can easily repay a decade’s bottle age. Red St-Joseph can be a delightfully transparent expression of Syrah fruit, and is one of the most flattering northern Rhône reds to taste young but others can be too light and insubstantial to be worth the price premium that St-Joseph can, often inexplicably, command over the other basic northern Rhône appellation crozes-hermitage.