I don’t do Syrah justice on these pages.

Coming from around the world, the wines often do not get the distribution they need because of a soft market. On the other hand, Northern Rhone reds, which are either completely Syrah or predominantly Syrah, are bought up quite quickly. This shows a continued enthusiasm for the market segment and makes reviews certainly less important.
 
The Northern Rhone produces a fairly broad selection of Syrah, though not in great quantity vis-a-vis many other major wine producing regions. In fact, the three most important appellations in the region, Cornas, Hermitage and Cote Rotie, respectively account for about 100, 150 and 200 hectares of Syrah. To put that into perspective, there are chateaux in Bordeaux that exceed 100 hectares!
 
These Northern Rhone Syrah wines don’t face the market demand of the greatest Bordeaux. In that respect, they are great values in today’s marketplace, but that doesn’t mean that they are cheap. These are some of the greatest expressions of Syrah on earth, and if you’re a Syrah lover, as I am, you’ll want to taste through some of the great names to help complete your understanding of this adaptable variety.
 
I can understand the hesitancy to jump in with prices that easily flirt with triple digits, but there is hope for those wishing to stay within a more reasonable budget. In some of the greatest appellations, there are young producers still establishing themselves, producing wines that can often outperform wines at similar prices. For example, Vincent Paris in Cornas makes Cuvee Granit 60, which clocked in at under $50 for this tasting.
 
Even better options exist if you decide to branch out into some of the lesser known regions, such as Crozes-Hermitage and, in particular, St. Joseph. With these, you do face challenges. These are larger appellations with greater variety amongst producers and sites. There’s a fair share of mediocre wine produced here, but the great news is that much of the best wine from each appellation is priced roughly the same as the mediocre wine. Now, all that’s left is tracking down the wines to try.
 
Rhone image via ShutterstockI can point out several of my favorite wines, and happened to have just tasted eight wines in a blind tasting. The notes are here, but before that, I would like to point out that not all wines are created equal, even if they are the same wine. What am I going on about now? One of my favorite topics: vintage variation.


 
Climate change is certainly real if one judges by looking at wines made around the world, where even modest changes in climate over the course of a growing season can have profound effects. In the short term, these effects have allowed for a new golden age of wine. Never before have there been so many great vintages in the span of a decade or two. Couple that with the improvements in vineyard work and cellar techniques and you, my dear consumer, have an unparalleled opportunity to experience the greatest wines in the world.

2009 and 2010 are back to back vintages that, should you choose to believe the pundits, are the “greatest back to back vintages for most of France since the Spanish Inquisition.”

There is some truth to this, they are two very impressive vintages. 2009 is an example of great ripeness and power, and 2010 shows the flip side by expressing terroir and elegance. It’s doubtful that anyone will truly love both vintages, but they are an ideal pair of vintages for those who are students of the vine.
 
2010 is definitely my style of vintage. It is crisp, focused, not terribly generous in its youth and yet capable of expressing site more than fruit. The cool growing season allowed for slower accumulations of sugars and a gentle ripening of tannins. For those producers who waited to pick, the results are wines with crisp and fresh yet ripe tannins and lovely purity of fruit.

Counterintuitively perhaps, some of the wines seem to show a touch of alcohol at this early stage of evolution. Without the puppy fat of a ripe vintage, the structural elements of the wines tend to be easier to discern. Age should allow these wines to fill out nicely and yield remarkably well balanced wines.
 
This is not to say that many wines are not already attractive, it’s just that the wines that are meant to age are a bit leaner and more severe than one might typically expect. I love this character in a wine if there is a reasonable expectation that the wine will fill out with age. This is one of the pitfalls of blind tastings, you are assessing wines without this knowledge.

For this reason, my notes should be taken with a grain of salt. I’ve left them as written during the blind tasting, but have added an addendum here and there to take the track records of producers into consideration when known.
 
Onto the reviews. 2010 Northern Rhones are compelling wines, well worth seeking out. The quality seems to be spread evenly across the board, especially when considering that my number one wine came from St. Joseph and clocked in at under $35 a bottle.
 
#8 2010 Vincent Paris Cornas Granit 60 $50
My 8/8, the group’s tie for 4th place
 
Fairly oaky on the nose with notes of nutmeg and vanilla over tight floral base notes. I found this to be woody and dull. On the palate, the wine felt flat and tense, badly needing some time in the cellar to calm down the hard, mineral-laden flavors. The fruit did emerge a bit on the finish, but even there the flavors were more on the spicy side, further reinforcing the oaky impression this wine made. I’ve had several vintages of this wine and expect this to improve, but this did not impress me that much. 85pts
 
#7 2010 St. Cosme St. Joseph $30
My 7/8, the group’s tie for 4th place
 
This started out tight and creamy on the nose, with air bringing out vanilla oak top notes over slight vegetal and herbal dark fruit aromas. Lean and focused in the mouth with nice, pure if slightly candied Syrah fruit up front. This turns drying on the short, slightly hot finish. A lot of chalky, dusty minerality emerges with air, but the wine does also get sweeter with that front-loaded fruit. 87pts
 
#6 2010 Alain Graillot Crozes Hermitage $32
My 6/8, the group’s tie for 6th place
 
Rich and spicy on the nose with dark brambly fruit and incipient notes of black pepper, leather, violets and wood smoke all over a nice crushed granite base note. On entry, this is big and smooth with very fine, polished tannins and solid acidity keeping the broad palate impression lively and supporting sweet and sour wild berry fruit. The tannins build on the back end here, a little rustic and dusty, but this manages to retain an elegant, almost feminine feel. This will improve, particularly in light of Graillot’s track record. 88pts
 
#5 2010 Pierre Gonon St. Joseph $33
My 5/8, the group’s tie for 6th place
 
This was fairly complex on the nose with notes of roasted coffee bean, rose petals, a hint of orange oil and some hazelnut elements, over soft notes of green olive and black pepper beef. Balanced if a touch soft in the mouth, this is rambunctiously tannic at this young age but there seems to be enough stuffing to absorb the structure. There’s a lot to like here as the structure and fruit meld in the mouth giving this wine a rather sexy feel, but the tannins do plead for more time. Gonon’s wines blossom with age, so 4-10 years in the cellar should be in order here. 89pts
 
#4 2010 Domaine Barou St. Joseph $22
My 4/8, the group’s 1st place
 
This was decidedly open on the nose with sweet violet notes, hints of peach and grapefruit, all wrapped up in creamy red fruit, accented with spicy notes of rosemary, green tea, coffee and a hint of caramel. Over the course of the evening, these aromatics faded noticeably. On the palate, this is a touch dull and chunky with fairly significant tannins under plum and almost black cherry fruit. This is a crowd pleaser, but I found the palate to be a bit uninteresting, so the points came mostly from the wonderful aromatics. I wouldn’t wait too long to enjoy this. 89pts

#3 2010 Eric Texier Cote Rotie VV $70
My 3/8, the group’s 8th place
 
Sweet animal notes greet the nose followed by grilled meat, rose petal and spicy green cardamom seed and olive notes. The aromatics are really effusive here, adding in sour plum and red berried fruit with air. In the mouth, this is loose on entry, then it firms up quickly in the mouth with super fine-grained tannins and light, aromatic spicy red fruit in the mouth. The mid-palate turns a touch hollow at times but when the fruit does pop, with those oily seed and green olive notes, this shows excellent Syrah typicity and wonderful transparency right through the stony finish. This is fresh and well balanced, so 5-10 years in the cellar ought to allow this to reveal its true depth. Texier’s wines have generally surprised me on the upside so I’m willing to bet that this will be excellent. 90pts
 
#2 2010 Dard & Ribo Crozes Hermitage $45
My 2/8, the group’s 3rd place
 
Big, spicy dark raspberry fruit on the nose is filled with beef jerky, flowers, black pepper and green peppercorn accents along with a hint of Red Hots and a vanilla top note. Soft on entry, this is lively with bright acidity and crisp tannins on the mid-palate. The fruit here is downright alluring with lovely purity of raspberry and strawberry flavors, accented with a nice green peppercorn note and underlying gamy ground beef elements. This is pretty much ready to go and I would enjoy this sooner rather than later as it’s fairly loosely knit already. 90pts
 
#1 2010 Domaine Faury St. Joseph $35
My 1/8, the group’s  2nd place
 
This really smells great, high-toned and filled with stemmy, spicy aromas that accentuate the very well defined wild berry fruit. With air, this just gets better, offering up piercing violet notes, herbal accents of tarragon, spearmint and bay leaf all edged with tarry, smoky aromas. In the mouth, this is very well balanced with soft if chewy tannins and lovely depth to the sweet and sappy red fruit. There are layers of savory flavors on the palate and a long, gravelly element to the finish, which ends on a note of black plum skin and black raspberry fruit. The finish is moderately long with lovely floral lift on the finale. This is a little tense and nervous today but a few years in the cellar should really let this shine.  92pts