Pity St. Joseph--- the underdog of the Northern Rhone.
Last June I heard so many sob stories from producers about how hard it was to get any attention. Of course I was very sympathetic but also surprised because out of the five red wine appellations in the north, St. Joseph is one of my favorites especially from the hearts, hands and hectares of Dard et Ribo, Gonon, Chave, Herv Souhaut and Bernard Faurie.
So how did its syrah get a bad rep? How is it that Cote-Rotie and Hermitage get all the glory? (With honorable mention given to Cornas and the Most Improved to Crozes-Hermitage?)
The main reason is that St. Jo is a big boy of an appellation. In 1956 there were six communes all around the town of Mauves but by the Summer of Woodstock twenty-five villages were allowed and not all of them had the gorgeous crushed granite that makes Northern Rhone syrah the real shit. The other reasons have to do with misconceptions; it seems as if Parker just doesn't ever reward the wines with high points and that's what his readers look for. St. Jo does not have snob appeal.
Last June I visited Jean Gonon of Domaine Gonon in Mauves. His wines were exciting and so it was lovely to discover he too was a sweetheart. He works without chemicals. He has a natural approach in the cellar and despises new wood, and except when he gives in to a replacement there is no new oak used here (and some barrels are as old as 40 years of age.) He works steep granitic soils. He's a brave man who lives openly n the fiercely heterosexual Northern Rhone. So, what's not to like?
I babbled on happily about him, trying to entice an importer friend, Mike, here in NYC, to pick him up for distribution.
Mike said to me, "I already have a St. Jo."
Would he have said he already had a Cote Rotie or an Hermitage --St. Jo's snootier neighbors? I should have told him he had one St. Jo, but it wasn't a very inspired one. Because to my palate, it's the truth.
When Chambers Street Wines snared Gonon for their shop I burst into applause. Oh joy, oh joy two of my top St. Joe's are in the New York City at Chambers Street Wines the Gonon and Dard et Ribo. To bad at $25-$32 they are in the price range of 'special treat.'
Last night I drank the 2004 Gonon with a friend I will call The Owl Man. The wine needs time. It is certainly a wee too young. Mr. Owl Man took a whiff, initially smiled, inhaled the aromas of smoky bacon and took a drink. He frowned and said “ I can’t stand new oak.”
“Quiet, Alice," I said to myself. " You must not punish people for confused palates.”