Do Northern Rhone Syrahs Have to Break the Bank?

The Rhone Report: About Rhone and Rhone-Style Wines and Winemakers is part of an ongoing series.

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The classic red wines of the Northern Rhone Valley are some of the world’s greatest. Hermitage, Côte Rôtie and Cornas reds are the finest expressions of Syrah on earth.

But the best of them have gotten to be very expensive, especially in American dollars. Recent vintages of Hermitage from Jean-Louis Chave are now more than $200 per bottle (and his scarce, top cuvee, Cathelin, is over $1,000). Guigal’s Côte Rôtie La Landonne, La Mouline and La Turque are nearly $250 per bottle, and even the Guigal Côte Rôtie Brune et Blond bottling is over $75. In the less heralded appellation of Cornas, the wines of well-regarded producers such as Auguste Clape are now approaching $100 per bottle.

Is a lover of great French Syrah forced to spend a fortune or to convert to domestic Syrahs?

Happily, some lesser known Rhone Syrah sources have been producing even better wines in recent years. These wines have the classic northern Rhone Syrah characteristics and very much display their unique terroir. At prices well below the more famous stars, they actually offer reasonable value for the money. With the prices of the better California Syrahs steadily creeping up, these lesser known Rhone Syrahs deserve to be better known.

Crozes-Hermitage

Consider Crozes-Hermitage. Long regarded as unqualified to even bear a name related to the famous, nearby Hermitage appellation, the vineyards of Crozes-Hermitage are relatively flat as contrasted to the steep slopes of Hermitage itself. The area of Crozes, on the east side of the Rhone River, is much larger, so the quantity of wine produced is much greater. The broad area encompassed within the appellation is far from homogeneous. Some of the soils are more granitic and some are more clay. It is necessary to seek out specific producers who grow in specific sites.

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.