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Sometimes, wines like this über-classic Saint-Joseph are just what the doctor ordered: If you love the meaty, spicy, floral, mineral, smoky (I could go on) characteristics of Syrah as grown in the granite soils of the Northern Rhône, this wine is like coming home after a long trip. It so happens that Vignobles Verzier is in Chavanay, at the extreme northern end of the Saint-Joseph AOC zone—where it bleeds over into Condrieu and comes tantalizingly close to the Syrah Shangri-la of Côte-Rôtie—and this bottle has some lofty pretensions despite its modest price. Gorgeous aromatics, deep and satisfying black and blue fruit, smoky earth, cured meat, black pepper...this is a one-stop Master Class in top-quality Rhône Syrah at a price that really defies logic. Jump on this!
Verzier is a perennial favorite of ours—a family-run property that embraced “natural” winemaking (with minimal sulfur additions) long before it was fashionable and which consistently delivers some of the most soulful and age-worthy wine in the appellation. Looking to add to your cellar without going broke? This is as shrewd as it gets when it comes to “collectible” northern Rhône red.
Saint-Joseph is one of most iconic landscapes in the world, with a staggering array of terraced vineyards that were painstakingly created over generations. Vignobles Verzier is headquartered in the village of Chavanay—located in the cooler, more ‘continental’ northern reaches of the AOC catchment area—and they can trace their origins here back to 1828. Farmed organically since the 1960s and certified since 2010, the estate, called “Chante-Perdrix” (“singing partridge”), is run by hands-on proprietors Philippe and Isabelle Verzier. Philippe took control of the farming operations at just 19 years old after the death of his father. At the time, all grapes were sold off to cooperatives, but Philippe took it upon himself to begin estate-bottling. Today, his son Maxime assists with winemaking and is eager to continue the family tradition.
For “Empreinte” (“footprint”), the Verziers select fruit from southeast-facing hillside vineyards that reach upwards of 1,000 feet in elevation. Soils are largely granitic with light sand and vines are an average age of 25 years old. With organic practices in place since the mid-1960s, you can find them using organic compost and herbal tea treatments in their pruned vineyards. Grapes are hand harvested, twice-sorted, and 90% de-stemmed in the winery. A long, natural fermentation of 3-4 weeks takes place in a combination of stainless steel and concrete vessels with a once-daily pump over and punch down (for greater skin contact and overall immersion). The wine is then transferred into 500-liter demi-muids for 12 months before being bottled with a light filtration.
Although we’re talking about 2020 here (a hot year in France that rendered many classic red wines unrecognizable), Verzier once again delivered a wine of classical (not outsized) proportions. In the glass, it displays a vibrant dark crimson core with purple reflections, delivering ripe blue and black fruit alongside savory elegance. If you are a northern Rhône Syrah lover, this is one of the most classic and honest representations you’ll find, and one that will age gracefully for years. Freshly-picked blueberry, black raspberry, and huckleberry are melded together, followed by crème de cassis, damp violets, wildflowers, underbrush, black pepper, wild mushrooms, leather, olive tapenade, and exotic spices. Tannins are soft and fresh waves of acidity persist throughout, making this accessible right now, though it will unfold gracefully over the next 5-7 years. You can expect increasing layers of savor and earth as years pass by, so we highly advise that you save a few bottles to open some years down the line. When consuming, decant 15-30 minutes and serve in Burgundy stems alongside lamb burgers with a fresh olive tapenade. Cheers!
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