Updated: Jun 22, 2019
By: Cecily Gamba
Happy Wine Wednesday, everyone! It’s that time of week again for the next stop on our educational adventure through all things Rhône. This week’s topic: The Northern Rhône Appellation of Saint-Joseph.
Saint-Joseph is a French wine AOC in the middle of the Northern Rhône on the right bank of the river, and, in terms of geographical coverage, is the region's largest appellation. Saint-Joseph is primarily a red wine region, producing mainly Syrahs, with 10% of production allocated to Marsanne and Roussanne.
Saint-Joseph gained AOC status in 1956, however, the region does have a history that dates back long before that. The wine from Saint-Joseph was originally known as Vin de Mauves, and was a favorite in Louis XII’s French Court from 1498-1515. The first official vineyard records are dated in 1668. The name of the appellation comes from the patron saint of scorned husbands, whom which a vineyard in the region was named after. This vineyard was owned by Jesuits originally, and is now owned by renowned winemaker Guigal. When the region became an AOC, it covered less than 250 acres, but as of 1994, the region had grown to 30,000 acres, a distance of roughly 30 miles.
As with the rest of the Northern Rhône, Saint-Joseph has a continental climate, meaning that the seasons vary drastically between each other, especially in the northern part of the region. Wet winters are complimented by the cold northwesterly le mistral winds. The southern half is more temperate and Mediterranean. For the most part, grapes are planted on fairly steep inclines, which is key for sun exposure and drainage.
Syrahs produced here are generally lighter in style, with fruity flavors and softer tannins, meant for early consumption. The wines can contain notes of pepper, spices, and violets, and can be darkly aromatic. Especially in wines from the hillside vineyards, savory notes can arise, including smoked meats, olives, and herbs.
We recommend trying E. Guigal 2015 Saint-Joseph Vinges de L’Hospice. An impressive example of the region, critic Robert Parker gave this wine 96 points and notes, “the wine still shows hints of cedar and vanilla on the nose but also notes of crushed stone and black cherries. It's full-bodied but kept in check by a touch of granite-like austerity that gives the palate shape and length, while the firm tannins glide away in a silky wash on the finish.”