Sunday, November 30, 2008

J.L. Chave St. Joseph Offerus, 1998

This wine is produced by the negotiant arm of the famous Hermitage producer, J. Chave. Chave also produces a more expensive St. Joseph from his estate vineyards. The St. Joseph Offerus sold for $16 to $18 when it hit my market with the 1997 and 1998 vintages, but it now costs $25 to $30 retail.

The 1998 is showing very well right now. It's deep and dark but with some burnished notes of maturity beginning to show. When first opened, the aromas and flavors were all fresh and bright red fruit and flowers--very pleasant but not particularly complex. With 30 minutes of airing, it developed considerable power and personality. The nose reminds me of a Cote Rotie--smoke, cured meats, grilled tomatoes and concentrated red raspberry--but the flavors are more supple and flowing, more in line with what I would expect from a St. Joseph. All the charm of a young Syrah on the tongue but with the complex bouquet of a mature wine--a perfect combination as far as I'm concerned. This wine will never reach the heights of a Hermitage or Cote Rotie, but it's very satisfying right now.


  1. Are St. Josephs, Hermitage, and Cote du Rotie all considered Cotes du Rhone? Are they different AOCs? Seems like they are all trying for much the same palate.

  2. The big distinction is Northern Rhone and Southern Rhone. The Northern Rhone is a hilly area just south of Lyon along both sides of the River. Virtually all red grapes grown in this area are Syrah, and the appellations are Hermitage, Cote Rotie, Cornas, Crozes-Hermitage and Saint Joseph. Hermitage is a powerful, ageworthy (and expensive) wine. Cote Rotie is a more delicate, ageworthy (and expensive) wine. Gerard Jaboulet called Cornas "a big boy in overalls." Crozes has many of the traits of Hermitage but is generally not as ageworthy or powerful. Saint Joseph is generally known as supple wines for easy and early drinking. All are made from Syrah and only a few miles separate the appellations. Yet they are very different wines because of the soil and micro-climate they come from.

    The Southern Rhone is generally flatter and has a much warmer climate but with the strong Mistral wind that sometimes blows so strong it will knock you off your feet. Whether blowing hot or cold, this wind influences the vines and grapes, in part by making vines work harder to produce grapes. The harder they work, the better the wine.

    Grenache is the major grape in the Southern Rhone, usually blended with Syrah and Mourvedre and other grapes for strength and color. Growers here believe that the climate in the Southern Rhone is too warm to produce high quality Syrah wines (although this area is considerably cooler than the areas which produce Shiraz in Australia).

    Appellations in the South are Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Cairanne, Rasteau, Vinsobres and Lirac. Then there are Cotes du Rhone Villages without a village name and simple Cotes du Rhones.

    Technically, a Cotes du Rhone can be any wine from the Rhone area that doesn't qualify for an appellation. But in reality, it's nearly always a Grenache-based Southern Rhone. CDR is the lowest level of quality because AOC requirements are the least stringent, but there are many very fine Cotes du Rhones.

    Actually, there is an even lower level--the surrounding appellations such as Cotes du Ventoux and Cote du Luberon and Vin de Pays from various areas such as Vaucluse and Principaute d'Orange.

    So tasting your way through Rhone wines is an adventure in geography and climate as well as flavors and aromas. The five kilometers between Vacqueyras and Gigondas may seem short when you're driving. Taste the wines, and you experience a world of difference.

    As far as I'm concerned there is enough variety in the Rhone to keep me satisfied for a lifetime. I could drink no other wine and be perfectly happy, with a new and different taste experience every night.