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The enthralling combination of sumptuous fruit, savory spices, and meaty minerality is what makes Syrah one of the most cherished varieties in the wine world. Throw in intoxicating perfume and ravishing texture and it is no wonder so many of us swoon over the best versions of these truly distinctive wines. Christophe Pichon’s 2019 Saint-Joseph checks off every one of those boxes with aplomb, and it gives us one more reason to swoon…a terrific price. There are precious few red wines that can offer this level of complexity, depth, and sheer pleasurability for just $30. It’s a perfect wine for tonight and for your cellar, so stock up while you can because it is also quite limited!
The Northern Rhône Valley is one of the oldest wine-producing regions in France. Hundreds of years ago, both Bordeaux and Burgundy would purchase Rhône wines to plump up their own light, often-underripe wines. Of course, the region fell on hard times in the 20th century, but that has changed significantly in the past few decades. Rhône superstars like Gentaz and Verset are now impossible to find (and sadly, both domaines are long gone), but a new generation of talented winemakers has been receiving universal praise from the press. Christophe Pichon is both very talented and, with his sons now joining him, he has the next generation on board, too. Yet somehow, his estate, covering 16 hectares in Saint-Joseph, Côte-Rôtie, Cornas and Condrieu, still flies under the radar. The good news is that this means pricing has changed little in the past decade, making his whole range some of the very best values in classic Northern Rhône wine.
The Pichon estate is straightforward and traditional, using mostly old-school methods of farming and winemaking with a few “modern” upgrades. The 30+-year-old Saint-Joseph vines are planted on a steep, terraced hill near Chavanay, which is generally considered to be the best terroir of the appellation. All the fruit is destemmed prior to fermentation in stainless steel tanks. It then undergoes aging in barrique barrels, just 10% of which are new, for 12 months. In 2010, Christophe updated and expanded the cellar, adding more space, better temperature control and some new equipment. This allows him and his sons to make wines that are clean, polished, and pristine but without shedding any of the wild, gamey characteristics that make Syrah so distinctive and irresistible.
The 2019 vintage was terrific in the Northern Rhône. It started with several months of heat and little rain, but unlike 2017 and ‘18, the rains did come, leading to a cooler end of the summer and a longer ripening season. That means the Pichon Saint-Joseph has a dreamy balance of power and finesse. It’s also in a lovely spot at four years of age, but should age gracefully for another five years or more. If you open it now, I would decant for about 30 minutes and serve at 60 degrees in a Bordeaux glass. Aromas of violets, lavender, black raspberries, wild blueberries, smoked meat, black pepper, and cured olive all mingle with a deep, rich texture and flavors of cassis, peppercorns, and game. The tannins are ripe but not overpowering, and there is a surprising lift on the lengthy finish. Throw some lamb merguez on the grill and you have a perfect late summer pairing, but be sure to grab enough to save for the fall and beyond, because this sort of Northern Rhône value is exceedingly hard to find.
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